A Rising Chess Star: An interview with Alice Lee

by Tatiana Flores
5/28/2023 – In an exclusive interview for ChessBase, American Fide Master Alice Lee talks to chess journalist Tatiana Flores about her ambitions in chess as well as in her private life, gives some insights into her training routine and answers the big questions about her future in chess. | Photo: Alice Lee, ready for the start of the 4th day of the American Women's Cup 2023. | Photo: St. Louis Chess Club, courtesy of Alice Lee.

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Born in the United States in 2009, Fide Master Alice Lee has already attracted considerable attention with her impressive achievements in chess. Coming out of the difficult pandemic stronger than before, she shone at the American Women's Cup 2022 and 2023, the latter of which saw her win a game against tournament favourite GM Irina Krush. Lee has also proved her online chess prowess to the world, defeating GMs such as Matthias Blübaum and Bogdan-Daniel Deac in the recent 2023 Pro Chess League.

As well as being a three-time World Youth Champion, one of the highest rated players in her age group and improving at a dizzying rate, Lee enjoys going to school and focusing on her current successes with her family.

Are there any players you look up to or who inspire you?

I look up to a lot of players, but my biggest role model is definitely Judit Polgar. I really admire the way she plays. She's such a great player and then there's all the things she's achieved.

How are your successes in chess received at school and in your everyday life?

Yes, at school I usually try to keep a low profile, so many people don't actually know about my achievements. Some people know that I play chess - especially some people in the chess club - and that's cool! But most people don't. As for my everyday life, I know that my parents are very happy with the progress I have made so far, but I still have a long way to go and hopefully I will continue to improve.

Lee, enjoying some ice-cream between rounds with her older brother in 2022. | Photo: courtesy of Alice Lee.

Would you like to become a professional player one day and make a living from chess?

It's definitely an option I've considered, but I haven't decided yet, especially as I'm not sure how high I'll get. I think the next few years will determine my decision, so that I can better see where my level is and whether I want to make chess my career or do it on the side.

Who trains with you and how do you prefer to study chess?

Hmmm (laughs). I can't really reveal my coaches but I train with them regularly and they have been very helpful in my improvement over the last few years and I really appreciate the help they have given me and I have received. I have also been training with the Kasparov Chess Foundation. I'm currently having a training session with their Young Stars programme and I'm really looking forward to it!

What have been the most difficult obstacles you have had to overcome in your chess career so far?

Yes, I think the pandemic was something that was definitely difficult for me, especially as I was kind of locked in for a year and a half without playing any over-the-board chess... It's kind of hard to stay motivated, especially if you don't play any over-the-board tournaments. But I'm very happy that after that I was able to come back to over-the-board chess and continue to improve.

Please tell me about your most memorable tournaments and games.

I think that my most memorable tournament was probably The American Cup. I’d actually say it was The American Cup 2022. So… that was last April and like my really first high-level tournament that I played in. It was a really good experience for the first time I was playing at this tournament, and I was very happy to achieve this especially since I was paired against a lot of my idols, and that was super cool.

A clear win for FM Alice Lee with Black against IM Stavroula Tsolakidou at The American Cup 2022.

How do you feel about random people criticising you, commenting on your chess skills or debating whether you'll ever become a GM?

I try not to read what people say about me, so as not to put pressure on myself to achieve something someone says I should or shouldn't. On the other hand, I do appreciate the positive comments. So yes, I usually avoid reading comments, but I do appreciate the support that many have given me.

When (or in what tournament) do you expect to earn your final IM-norm and the nine rating points in classical chess you’re missing to become an International Master? (At the moment of the interview Lee’s classical FIDE rating was 2391.)

I actually reached 2400 live rating recently in the last tournament I played last month, which hasn't been rated yet. I'm playing a few tournaments from the end of May through the summer, so I'm hoping to get my final norm in one of those.

Is there any particular success you would like to achieve in chess one day?

I would definitely say that I'd like to become a GM, especially since I think it's within reach if I keep improving. However, that's like a really big goal that won't happen for another three years, so for the moment I'm trying to focus on smaller goals, trying to improve my chess. For now I'm hoping to get my IM title which is within my reach and that doesn't put as much pressure on me, but I still have goals I'd like to achieve.

Alice Lee smiles proudly with her second WGM norm. Photo: courtesy of Alice Lee.

You have been awarded a Frank P. Samford, Jr. Chess Fellowship in 2022, one of the most important chess fellowships in the United States. How has it helped you?

This has helped me a lot as I've been able to travel to more chess tournaments, take more lessons and training, and buy more chess equipment than usual. So I'm very grateful to the US Chess Trust for giving me this scholarship. It's also a great honour for me to be awarded the scholarship alongside many other talented individuals like GM Abhimanyu Mishra and GM Christopher Yoo, and also IM Carissa Yip, who has also been my idol for a really long time, which is also super cool. These young talents have also inspired me to improve in general and of course this community has helped me a lot in my chess improvement.

What would you like to improve or change in the chess world for yourself and future generations?

For me it has been really nice to see the popularity of chess increase so much in the last few years. Chess is like a really wonderful activity that combines creativity and critical thinking, so regardless of level it has been really nice to see the popularity increase.

There have been a lot of streamers who have influenced chess online, like me with ChessKid, but I'd like to do something to improve the popularity of chess by playing a really nice game or just being somebody whose games somebody can look up to. I hope to inspire more people to play chess and enjoy the game.

Lee at the 2022 American Women's Cup, one of her favourite tournaments so far. | Photo: St. Louis Chess Club, courtesy of Alice Lee.

Thank you for your time, Alice! The ChessBase team and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

The interview was conducted in English via Zoom on 04 May 2023.


More by Tatiana Flores...

Tatiana Flores was born in Andorra in 1998 and moved to Germany with her family when she was 14. She works as a chess journalist, poet and multilingual author. Besides chess, she is also passionate about literature and music. See also her website under tatianaflores.de/.