An interview with Carissa Yip

by Tatiana Flores
2/21/2022 – In an exclusive interview with Tatiana Flores, Carissa Yip talks about her chess career, her studies, some of her most important games, memorable chess moments, and shares her chess schedule for this year! | Photo: Austin Fuller (Saint Louis Chess Club)

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An interview with WGM & IM Carissa Yip

The American player was born on September 10, 2003, in Boston, and learned how to play chess from her father at the age of six, and was quickly able to beat him. National and international success and records followed soon: highest rated eight-year-old girl in the country, youngest female player to qualify for the USCF (United States Chess Federation) title of Expert in history, youngest Female National Master, and at the age of ten she became the youngest female player ever to defeat a grandmaster. In 2019 Carissa became a Women Grandmaster and in 2020 she became an IM. Last year she won the 2021 U.S. Women's Chess Championship in St. Louis with the superb performance of 8½ out of 11, finishing 1½ points ahead of her rivals.

What do you love the most about being a chess player?

I think I love the opportunity to travel the most and so to explore the world, meet a lot of different people and become friends with many of them. That’s something very precious to me.

Which are the biggest benefits chess has brought to your life?

Like I said; I’ve met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for chess, but I think chess has also really shaped my own mental framework and way of thinking since I’ve been playing ever since I was a child. I also think it somehow built this basis of rationality, critical thinking and problem solving skills which I might not be able to have if it weren’t for chess.

You are the youngest American woman in history to earn the title of International Master. Would you say this has been the biggest success in your career so far?

Yeah, definitely! It’s been what I’ve been working for since I’m like 12 or 13 so it’s been probably the biggest accomplishment so far in my chess career along with winning the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship 2021.

Last year you’ve become U.S. Women’s Chess Champion with a very strong performance! How did this feel and what do you expect from the U.S. Championships 2022?

It was actually a very interesting experience because it was the first time it was in person since 2019; the 2020 edition was held online. Tournaments during Covid are always complicated and pretty different, and I didn’t play that many in the last two years. It was also interesting because they usually hold it in the spring which always coincided with my school’s spring break, but in 2021 the tournament was in the middle of my first semester.

I appreciate a lot that my school allows me to go to chess tournaments, but they usually only let someone take like five days off a year, but the tournament was two weeks long! Thus, I had to file a special petition when we finally found out the dates of the tournament, so even getting to the tournament was complicated. And school is keeping me very busy, so I hadn’t practiced in quite a few months, maybe two or three, and I think at first I was feeling pretty rusty and I think that showed in my games, too. Eventually, I found my stride, and I think I started playing well.

For this year’s U.S Championship I hope that I’ll be able to defend the title. I’m not quite sure when the tournament will be held this year because Covid’s still going on and whether it will be online or in person … I think that’s everything I can say regarding that. Everything’s still very up to chance, but I think the field will be somewhat the same and hopefully I’ll be able to play and to play well.

IM Carissa Yip at the 5th round of the 2021 U.S. Women's Chess Championship
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Austin Fuller

How would you describe your playing style?

I think my playing style is definitely tactical or aggressive. I really wouldn’t call myself a super solid player; I think I normally fluctuate often. The evaluation of my position also fluctuates a lot which might not be really a good thing for me (laughs), but I try to keep things dynamic and risky, so I think this is good in the sense that in my games I feel like it’s never really over. There are always tricks, tactics that I could go for.

Some people might say that a position is positionally lost, but as long as there’s a sparkle of hope in the position I feel like I can keep going as long as I keep the dynamic play up. I think I do best in those situations where the position is just full of life, possibilities and ideas.

Please tell us something about your most notable games and chess moments.

I would say one of my most memorable games is my win against Ju Wenjun at the Cairns Cup in 2020. All in all, this tournament was probably one of my most memorable too, because I started by losing the first four games, which was super embarrassing! It was the first time that I played a tournament with such good players, with the best women in the world and I was doing pretty badly.

But in the second half I sort of pulled myself back together and my highlight of the tournament came which was winning against Ju Wenjun with the black pieces – probably one of the highlights in my chess career so far. Another memorable moment for me was when I beat my first GM! I was ten years old, and I still remember the game pretty clearly; it wasn’t the best game ever, but it was very enjoyable at the time.

 

What plans and goals do you have in regard to chess and your academic education?

In chess I would at least like to become a GM, that’s like the next step up. I hope to continue playing chess while studying. I’m about to go to college next year, so I’m still thinking a lot about that. I’m not quite sure what I want to study yet, but there’s still time for me to decide and consider everything. At the moment I’m leaning towards a double major with something like computer science with either philosophy or history.

Yip at the 7th round of the 2021 U.S. Women's Chess Championship
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Lennart Ootes

How do you manage to combine your school and studies with chess?

I try to make time for a little bit of chess study every day. Recently it’s been pretty hectic with the senior year and everything going on, but I’m hoping to get back into this routine of doing a few hours of chess work every day.

What projects do you have for this year and what tournaments do you plan to play?

I’m not quite sure about the tournaments because everything’s online, but I’m still chatting with some people, working towards my own improvement, and hopefully there will be tournaments in summer in which I can play to try to get some norms. That’s the plan right now but we will have to see which tournaments will actually take place.

What would you like to improve or change in the chess world?

In recent years the chess community’s attitude towards women playing in the chess world has improved I think, but it definitely could go further. So what I would like to see are more women in the game and less misogynists.

IM Carissa Yip playing WIM Ashritha Eswaran at the 2021 U.S. Women's Chess Championship, Round 9
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club, Austin Fuller

Thank you very much for your time Ms. Yip! The ChessBase team and I wish you all the best for your future endeavors.

The interview was conducted via Zoom on January 11, 2022, in English. Tatiana Flores transcribed it.

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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.

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