CHELMSFORD — Percy Yip first taught his daughter chess when she was 6, but she wasn’t supposed to be able to beat him within a year. She did, and she’s beaten most other adults that have come her way, too.
Carissa Yip isn’t just a local phenomenon at places like the Wachusett Chess Club or MetroWest Chess Club, both places where she’s beaten people who’ve been playing since long before she was born. She’s presently rated the best 8-year-old girl chess player in the country, and she’s been invited to represent the United States at an international tournament in Slovenia in November.
Larry Christiansen, a three-time United States champion and four-time runner-up who’s also written 10 books on chess, has seen Carissa’s ability firsthand. She’s always asking questions, always wants to learn, and has a great problem-solving ability, he said.
“She has an amazing level of concentration, which is very rare for someone 8 years old,” said Christiansen, a grandmaster who has taught Carissa in person and online since last year. “It’s amazing, really.”
Carissa, who just finished third grade, is confident without being arrogant, and she’s polite and well-spoken. When her father talks proudly about her accomplishments, she doesn’t hesitate to cut in and finish his sentences, but she also holds his hand and smiles when he talks about how talented she is.
Christiansen called her “intimidating,” despite being so small that she sometimes has to lean over the chess board to make her move.
“She terrorizes the older crowd,” he said. “But when the game’s over, she goes back to being a charming young girl.”
The United States Chess Federation lists Carissa as the best 8-year-old female player in the country. Even among chess players of any age, she’s considered better than 85 percent of them, her father said.
She plays most Wednesday nights at the Wachusett Chess Club in Fitchburg, and otherwise doesn’t play very often, but she also reads books about chess. She plays on a small board with magnetic pieces and a larger board, but nothing fancy. She also plays occasionally against the computer.
Those who have seen her play — and many who have been beaten by her — are in awe of how good she is, Percy Yip said.
A girl who also enjoys swimming, playing golf and playing the piano, Carissa likes chess because of how it challenges her to think, she said. She enjoyed it right away but said it has become more fun as she learns more about it and is able to work with talented chess players like Christiansen, a Cambridge resident who is a member of the Boylston Chess Club in Somerville.
It took her only six months to be able to beat her father, and she said it made her feel proud. “I finally beat my dad at something,” she said with a laugh.
The 12-day international tournament, called the World Youth Championships, will be held in November in Slovenia. The cost will be $4,000 or so, and her family and supporters are planning a fundraiser to help cover the cost.
George Mirijanian, program director for the Wachusett club and past president of the Massachusetts Chess Association, said Carissa is so good that sometimes during games she’ll walk around and watch other games while it’s her competitor’s turn. “There are very few players who will do that,” he said, calling it a sign of how advanced she’s become.
Carissa, considered a Class A chess player, also learns a lot when she loses, Mirijanian said. When Mirijanian has beaten her, she’s asked to go over the game and learn from her mistakes. Among the 40 or so club members at Wachusett, she’s probably the fifth best, he said.
“She’s phenomenal,” Mirijanian said, predicting Carissa will earn an expert rating — one of the highest possible — in a matter of a few years. “She’s very gifted.”