Jessie Yan’s Journey to Chess Mastery

Jessie Yan is one of the champions in the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

Courtesy Jessie Yan

Jessie Yan is one of the champions in the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

There are only ten minutes left. The clock is ticking, and sophomore Jessie Yan’s thoughts are constantly churning with the countless moves she can make. It’s the last round, and the only thing she’s focused on is the game board. Spotting an opportunity, she advances her piece across the patterned board, making a beeline for victory. She corners the king. Checkmate!

Jessie has been playing chess since she was four years old when her parents gifted her a chess set. She later signed up for chess clubs within her area. After playing the game for 11 years, she’s grown particularly fond of blitz and bullet chess, which both rely on a fast-paced playing style. In these categories, Jessie has amounted to a blitz rating of 2267 and is currently ranked in the top 250 players out of the active players in the US.

In July of 2019, Jessie placed third in a 10-day competition, the U.S. Girls’ Juniors, earning a $1,500 prize.

“I think that was my first big breakthrough,” Jessie said. “I wasn’t expecting to get invited, but I somehow did, and everyone there was really good. I got third place, which was way better than I thought.”

Jessie placed sixth during the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, and although she thought it wasn’t her best performance, she learned an important lesson from that match.

“I had a disastrous tournament, but it was also a lot of pressure to think I had to win every single game,” Jessie said. “It’s just easier not to think about the results. Take it one game at a time.”

Recently, Jessie has been working hard, practicing daily on chess websites and in person. When not at chess tournaments, Jessie is always looking for ways to improve—especially when it comes to playing with people at her school, like her friends and even her teachers.

“I don’t think you can even call it a chess game when you’re playing against her,” English teacher Babak Shahrivar said. “I played her once, and she immediately squashed me. I don’t think she had to think during the game at all.”

To others, Jessie may seem this way when playing as well: laid-back and at ease. On the contrary, Jessie never stops thinking of possible strategies during a game, studying many tactics chess has to offer. This sort of dedication to the game often lends itself to stereotypes of being “socially awkward” or “overly studious,” but in actuality, Jessie is a sociable and fun person to be around, constantly cracking jokes.

According to sophomore Sandy Xu, Jessie enjoys tutoring kids and helping her friends progress in their own chess journeys.

During matches, Jessie strives to stay true to her own tips: reduce a game’s significance beforehand to avoid too much pressure during the game.

“Every game is just a game,” Jessie said. “One game is not going to decide whether you’re going to get into Harvard or not. Just try your best in every game.”

Because Jessie often attends tournaments and lessons, she isn’t able to spend as much time at school with her friends. Regardless, Jessie’s parents, friends and coaches are very supportive of her passion for chess, especially when they see her enjoyment and love for the game.

“Chess is part of my identity now, so it’s kind of hard to give it up,” Jessie said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re good or if you’re bad. You can always connect with someone else, and it’s really good to help make friends.”

Many of Jessie’s most memorable experiences and closest friends have been formed through the chess community over the years, whether it be in online chess forums or tournaments and classes. Jessie encourages everyone as she offers advice to her younger self: play more, be more confident, and most of all, just enjoy the game.

“It’s not really about how well you do in the end,” Jessie said. “But that you have a lot of fun on the way.”