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Chelmsford, Mass. • Only three years or so since first picking up the game of chess, 9-year-old Carissa Yip can already look down at 93 percent of the more than 51,000 players registered with the U.S. Chess Federation.
She has risen so far up the rankings that she has reached the expert level at a younger age than anyone since the chess federation began electronic record-keeping in 1991, a new level she reached in recent weeks.
Her father, Percy, who taught her until she began beating him within a year, said she could reach master level in as soon as a year.
"Some never reach master level," he said. "From expert to master, it's a huge jump."
But Carissa, who will be a fifth-grader at McCarthy Middle School this fall, has improved by leaps and bounds.
She first played competitively at the MetroWest Chess Club and Wachusett Chess Club, at the latter of which she's the top-ranked player. Last fall, she competed in an international competition in Slovenia, and in December, she'll play the World Youth Championships in the United Arab Emirates.
Carissa is hesitant when asked about her accomplishments, saying she doesn't spend much time thinking about them.
But she also set a goal for herself this year to reach 2,100; an expert is anyone over 2,000. Anyone at 2,200 is a master. She also wants to one day become the first female to win the overall championship not just in the female category, her father said.
"It's not like the rating matters," Carissa said.
She later demonstrated her ability by playing with her back to the board, reading her moves to her father and keeping track of the whole board in her head. She has been called an intimidating player in an ironic way, because she's far short of even 5 feet tall.
Her U.S. Chess Federation ranking places her in the top 7 percent of all players registered with the group and the top 2 percent of female players.
Closer to home, Carissa has impressed others who have been playing chess for far longer than she has been alive.
"This was not a record she won by a few days," said Nathan Smolensky, the president of the Massachusetts Chess Association. "It was a significant margin. So it's very impressive."
Among other younger stars at the Boylston Chess Club in Somerville, where Yip has played, most are in their teens and are boys, Smolensky said.
"Even they say they were nowhere near this strength when they were that young," he said.
Carissa also has three years to reach the next level, that of master, in time to set the record for youngest to reach that step as well, Smolensky said. Five-time U.S. women's winner Irina Krush has the record for becoming a master at age 12.
George Mirijanian, program director for the Wachusett club and past president of the Massachusetts Chess Association, said Carissa and Percy Yip, both Wachusett members, both got a standing ovation when they arrived at the club last week after Carissa reached expert level.
"In my more than 50 years with the club, I had never witnessed such an exuberant outburst from club members," Mirijanian said. "They are really proud of Carissa and what she has accomplished."