CHELMSFORD — By the time she was 7, she could beat her father at chess. She later taught herself how to play blindfolded, plotting often complicated moves in her head. Now, at 9, Carissa Yip has her sights set on becoming the youngest female master of the game.
The US Chess Federation, which has nearly 51,000 players, recently gave the Chelmsford girl a skill rating above 2,000, making her the youngest female player to achieve expert level since the federation began keeping records more than two decades ago.
It also puts her nearer to the 2,200 rating that would earn her a coveted master title.
Soon to be a fifth-grader at McCarthy Middle School, Carissa is modest about her accomplishments. “It’s not really a big deal,” she said. “Unlike being a master, becoming expert really doesn’t mean much.”
Carissa’s father, Percy, started teaching her in the first grade and said she began trouncing him within a year of learning the game. At first, he brushed aside suggestions from chess players and other parents that she was gifted. But that changed when she started winning competitions, he said.
“I started to accept that she was very talented,” Yip, a software architect, said from Hong Kong, where he, Carissa, and her mother were visiting relatives.
The young star began playing competitively at the MetroWest Chess Club, Boylston Chess Club in Somerville, and later Wachusett Chess Club, where she is currently the top-ranked player. Earlier this year, she won the state championship for the under-11 group. In December, she heads to the United Arab Emirates to compete in the World Youth Chess Championships.
‘She loves beating adults, which is funny to watch.’
Longtime masters say Carissa is a formidable opponent.
“Carissa is very talented and has a fierce will to win,” said Larry Christiansen, of Cambridge, a chess grandmaster who has been teaching her. “But she also has an outgoing personality that really makes her a crowd favorite.”
Christiansen said he began playing chess at about the same age as Carissa, and said her ranking — in the top 7 percent of all players in the federation and the top 2 percent of female players – far exceeds where he was at the age of 12. While she hasn’t beaten him yet, he said the young player keeps him on his toes.
“She loves beating adults, which is funny to watch,” Christiansen said.
George Mirijanian, program director for the Wachusett club and former president of the Massachusetts Chess Association, has played against Carissa — and lost to her — and called her progress in the past three years phenomenal.
“It’s extraordinary what she has done in such a short period of time,” he said.
Mirijanian, who has taught numerous youth chess teams, said unlike many young talented players who like the thrill of fast-paced games, Carissa takes her time before making moves.
“Young players love to move quickly,” he said. “But she methodically examines the board before moving. And she sees things that many adult players don’t.”
Her father recalls being stunned when she played blindfolded, where she was told the other player’s moves and had to respond without seeing the chess board or pieces, something usually practiced only by grandmasters. “She never got any training in blindfolded chess,” Yip said. “She just played for fun.”
Carissa hopes to reach a rating of 2,100 by the end of this year.
Time is on her side in her pursuit to become the youngest female chess master, observers say. Five-time US women’s winner Irina Krush has the record for becoming a youngest master at age 12. And Bobby Fischer, considered to be one of the greatest chess players of all time, was 13 when he achieved the master title.
“She has a bright future ahead of her,” Christiansen said. “But it’s still early to see exactly how far she will go. There are a lot of people who reach a certain point and burn out. Sometimes all it takes is a tough loss. For some, the pain of losing in many cases outweighs the joy of winning.”