IM Carissa Yip: Reflections on a Roller Coaster of a U.S. Women's Championship

Editor's note: This article has been updated on January 12, 2024, to include the author's own annotations of her first three games (against GM Irina Krush, WGM Jennifer Yu, and now-IM Alice Lee, respectively). More of Yip's annotations from both her own tournament games and others from the 2023 U.S. Championships can be found in the January 2024 issue of Chess Life magazine.  

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all photos courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC


After a final game against Ruiyang Yan, I shook hands and stopped on my way out to glance at Begim Tokhirjonova and Jennifer Yu’s game. A photo taken by Lennart Ootes captures the moment: two players, deep in concentration, while I stand to the side armed with a tote bag and a look of defeat.




My 2023 U.S. Women’s Championship roller-coastered me through nail-biting positions, time pressure scrambles, and lucky surprises to ultimately land on top of the leaderboard. This year was one of the strongest U.S. Women’s I’d ever played, facing a field with GM Irina Krush, 2023 Cairns Cup Champion IM Anna Zatonskih, young stars FM Alice Lee and FM Ruiyang Yan, and multiple former U.S. Champions. Two days prior to the event, I’d returned to the country from Mexico, where I’d become the World Junior Co-Champ Silver Medalist. Though usually two straight weeks of chess exhausts me out, I’d had a disappointing finish and was ready to jump back into the fight for another title.

The tournament started out strong: the first three games, I’d believed, were against my most critical competitions: the top seed, the reigning champion, and the rising prodigy. I had a topsy-turvy game against Krush in round one, with mistakes in time trouble, but we reached move 40 with the position in my favor.



Unfortunately, I was unable to find the correct finish, and we agreed to a draw after an opposite-colored bishops endgame. Rounds two and three, I played nice attacking chess, managing to surprise both Jennifer and Alice in sharp openings:




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Yip (R) with podcaster and 2023 U.S. Champion GM Fabiano Caruana


Scoring 2½/3, I entered round four against Begim. At the time, I didn’t know that nearly all the marbles were on the line in this game. So even though I missed a few sizable advantages and even an outright win in the endgame, I wasn’t too disappointed. Overall, I was pleased with my performance: I was playing good chess, staying at the top of leaderboard, and surely I would grab the sole lead if I kept it up. Both Begim and I entered the first rest day being the only leaders at 3/4.

This, very surprisingly, turned out to be a trend. For four days, I returned to my hotel room with a win and the hope that this would be the day I grabbed sole lead. And for four days, I watched Begim play spectacular chess and also return with a win. Going into the second rest day, after round eight, we were both at 7/8.

During this streak, in the middle of the event, I played some of my favorite games from the tournament. Below is my game against WGM Thalia Cervantes.



However, during this rest day rendition, I was feeling considerably less relaxed: round eight had been extremely lucky for me, as I’d managed to somehow save and then win a losing position against WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan. Meanwhile, Begim had defeated two former champions, Zatonskih and IM Nazi Paikidze, with fantastic play. Here, my nerves came out to play, and I worried the title was no longer within my grasp. I had to step up my game, and I threw myself in prepping for my last three opponents with urgency during the rest day.

Game nine, however, was a disappointment. After reaching a great position after the opening and then making my way to a winning position up a pawn, Nazi showed great resilience. With a few imprecise moves by me, and some great defensive ideas, I couldn’t eke out more than a perpetual. Meanwhile, Yan, who’d been drawing all her games up to this point and was one of my hopes for stopping Begim, blundered out of the opening and was down significant material. And so, I lagged behind while Begim kept steamrolling, now at 8/9.


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Photo courtesy Lennart Ootes/SLCC


The second-worst moment of my tournament was after game nine, when I believed I had little to no chance left to win the championship. Being unable to clean up my game was a blow to my confidence, and I spent nearly an hour flopped on my bed in despair. The only way I could really pull myself together was to binge some Netflix, and after my brain fog lifted, I decided that things were not done for yet. With two games to go, Begim was facing strong opposition, and there was no guarantee that she would go 2/2. Meanwhile, I had tough games lined up as well, but all I could do was to ensure I played well and won the rest of my games.

In round 10, I faced Anna Zatonskih. I was surprised on move three and burned a bit of time contemplating what to do. Eventually, we transposed into a Modern setup, where I managed to generate just enough play against her kingside that she made too many concessions, and I achieved a winning attack against her king.

That day, same as usual, I went back to my room and tracked Begim’s game online. After some back and forth, as well as a missed three-fold repetition, I watched Begim blunder and Krush convert it into a win. With this round, I leapfrogged Begim to enter the final round with 8½/10, with her still at my heels at 8/10.

In my last game, all I needed was a draw to clinch at least a playoff. The night before the round, I furiously prepared against Yan’s Najdorf, hoping to catch her off-guard right out of the gates. But it was her who surprised me, with a Four Knights Sicilian. We reached a fairly balanced position out of the opening, and in time trouble both she and I made some mistakes, but we reached an equal endgame where I was pressing. Yan was an excellent defender though, giving up a pawn for an active rook, and we reached an endgame in which I had two connected passers but my king was at risk for a perpetual. As I spent a few moves to stop the perpetual, Black took the opportunity to also push her passed pawn. And we reached a final critical position, where with three minutes on the clock, instead of taking a draw, I made the wrong game-time decision to try to win. As soon as I made my move, though, I saw instantly how it was losing. And before those last three minutes were up, I resigned.



Begim and Jennifer’s game was quite complex, but I evaluated Begim to have the advantage with two passed pawns. So I took a lonely trek back to my hotel room, sky as gray as my mood, the whole while contemplating all the mistakes that had brought me to this position. I considered a stop at my favorite store for a pick-me-up cupcake, but ultimately was too disappointed in myself to do so. If only I’d separated myself from my emotions and made the right decision to take a draw… if only I’d managed to convert against Paikidze, Krush, and Begim most of all … if only I were a better chess player!

Back in my room, I was too anxious to follow the broadcast (which was delayed anyway), and could only pace around my room. After about twenty minutes of this, I received a call from an unknown number. Spam caller… can’t handle that low in a time like this :(, I despondently decided, and declined. Two seconds passed before my phone started ringing again. I declined once more. Another few seconds passed before my phone started blowing up with texts: The club wants to interview you… you’re going to be the U.S. Women’s Champion! was the first I saw.




I nearly dropped my phone in shock but pulled it together and ran to tell my Dad (who was in the next room watching the game). When my phone rang for the third time, I picked up the call and was informed by club staff that Jennifer was up significant material, I was likely going to win, and the club wanted me back at commentary. After a brief celebration with my dad (this mostly consisted of excited shrieks by me), I made my way back to the club. On the walk over with club staff, the official news came that Jennifer had won.

The thrill of having won the championship overwhelmed the regret I’d had about my last round.  In the span of thirty minutes, I’d gone from being convinced I’d thrown away the championship to the knowledge that I was the 2023 U.S. Women’s Champion. From the lowest of lows to the highest of highs! Suddenly, the sky was blue and the birds were beaming. I got myself a little cupcake. All was well.

Review all of Chess Life Online's coverage of the 2023 U.S. Championships here