Carissa Yip’s grandmaster pursuit
A rising Stanford sophomore is the second-ranked woman in U.S. chess and close to achieving grandmaster status – but don’t try to define her by the game. “There are so many other things I’m interested in and passionate about.”
Once a chess game starts, Carissa Yip, ’26, becomes immersed – creatively exploring various theories and options over and over.
Tournament games can take four to six hours. “In general, it’s hard to concentrate on one thing for that long, but with chess, the time goes by so quickly because I’m always thinking about all these different possibilities on the board and it’s kind of like a repeated puzzle,” Yip said. “I always find that part of the game really fun.”
And the 19-year-old Stanford student is getting close to achieving grandmaster status, the highest title a chess player can attain and one that they retain for life.
Yip grew up in Boston, and to join her school’s chess club, her father taught her how to play at age 6. Within months, she was beating her father.
Yip’s accomplishments in chess soon began stacking up. Among them, at age 10, she made history as the youngest female player to qualify for the U.S. Chess Federation title of expert. The following year, she defeated chess grandmaster Alexander Ivanov at the New England Open and became the youngest female player to ever beat a grandmaster.
In 2015, at age 11, she became the youngest female national master. In 2019, she won the North American Junior Girls’ Championship and earned the International Chess Federation title of woman grandmaster. At the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) Cup that year, Yip became the youngest American woman to earn the title of international master, a title just below the level of grandmaster.
And in 2021, Yip won the U.S. Women’s Championship while defeating four former women’s champions in the tournament, becoming the first woman to do so.
Now, Yip is the second-ranked woman in the U.S. and the country’s youngest female international master and woman grandmaster, a title under grandmaster and awarded only to women.
While her chess career has taken her around the world, it also took her on an unexpected adventure last year when she was invited to appear on The Price is Right.
Yip doesn’t play in tournaments during the school year and tries to keep her student life separate from her chess life.
“I’m hesitant of making chess a defining quality,” she said. “There are so many other things I’m interested in and passionate about. It’s been a profession for the last few years, but it’s not really my whole life, and I don’t want to make it my entire life.”
On the Farm
At Stanford, Yip is happily exploring classes and campus.
“I have a really good dorm community that was a pretty defining part of my experience so far,” she said. “Everyone’s super close with one another and I like living in such close proximity with a bunch of your best friends.”
As a freshman, Yip participated in Structured Liberal Education (SLE), a residence-based academic program that encourages students to live a life of ideas in an atmosphere that emphasizes critical thinking and interpretation.
Yip isn’t in a hurry to declare a major but said she is considering computer science with possible minors in the humanities.
“Chess is a very analytical game and I’m interested in computer science because it’s a lot of the same sort of problem-solving,” Yip said. “It also has similar creative ties to the liberal arts so comparative literature, religious studies, and creative writing appeals to me too.”
She joined the Stanford Asian American Association where she serves on an advocacy committee and the Stanford Chess Club where she gets recognized from her chess career. “It’s a really great community of people and a few members are actually friends I grew up playing chess with,” Yip said. “It’s nice to see some familiar faces.”
In the game
Yip said she hasn’t played in a while since school has been keeping her busy, but she’s making up for it now. This summer, she’s back home in Massachusetts and competing in tournaments everywhere from Philadelphia to St. Louis. Then, she’ll head to Europe to play more tournaments before returning to campus in the fall.
Yip has close to 2,400 points from the International Chess Federation (often known by its French acronym FIDE). To become a grandmaster, Yip must rack up 2,500 points and attain “norms,” or a high level of performance in a chess tournament.
Although she’s close to attaining the lifelong title, Yip said she hasn’t thought too much about it. “We’ll see where it takes me,” Yip said. “If I am able to get grandmaster, then I’ll be around the top 10-20 women in the world, and I might look a little more closely at playing some very high-level tournaments amongst the world’s best players.”
Around 2,000 people have achieved grandmaster status since FIDE created the title in 1950. Of those, only 40 are women as of 2022.
“There’s definitely a large gender disparity in chess,” Yip said. “I remember when I was just starting out, I would show up to my local club and I’d probably be one of a couple of women there of 100 people or so. When you get to a high level, that also really narrows, and you’ll find a lot less women competing at top level as compared to men.”
Initiatives to support more women in chess have been launched in recent years, Yip said. “I think it’s definitely gotten a lot better since 10 years ago when I was first starting out,” she added. “I would like to see more women in the game.”
While she’s always thinking of the next move on the chess board, Yip doesn’t feel pressure to nail down her future. “I’m really against the idea of college being a stepping stone to your career,” she said. “I just really want to learn a lot and see where my career takes me. Nothing is set in stone right now. I’m still figuring it out.”