Jennifer Yu blew away the competition at this year’s U.S. Women’s Chess Championship – and she is only 17! Hailing from Northern Virginia, she is the first teenager to win the competition since 2000.
The competition, held in St. Louis in March, was dominated by Yu, according to chess experts. Yu won the national title with a round still to spare, which makes her one of the country’s best players.
Along with the prestigious title, Yu also won $25,000 in prize money when she beat out both professional adults and other girls.
“She blew the competition out of the water,” said Jennifer Shahade, a two-time U.S. women’s champion, and a commenter and writer on competitive chess. “Her performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen in U.S. women’s championships… Jennifer’s basically playing at the professional, grand master level at just 17 years old.”
Elina Groberman was the last teenager to win in 2000.
Yu will now go on to represent the U.S. internationally in the Women’s World Cup of chess next year.
“If her opponent misses an opportunity, she pounces on it immediately,” Shahade said. “She never gives up.”
Yu has had significant success before this, due to her daily, hour-long practices. She has been playing since she was seven years old. She juggles her chess practice with homework, exercising and playing the piano.
In 2014, Yu won the gold medal in the girls’ 12-and-under group at the World Youth Chess Championship in South Africa after going undefeated in 11 matches. She was the first American girl to win a world title in 27 years.
Yu has been winning tournaments and national competitions since 2011.
Chess is dominated by men, even though women have historically been interested and talented in chess.
As of May 2015, there are only two women who rank in the top-100 chess players worldwide. The United States Chess Federation states on its website that it has 85,000 members who are ‘predominantly male’ and of 1,479 total grandmasters, only 31 are women.
While male chess players have been claiming for decades that men are somehow innately better at chess, American psychologists found that girls as young as six are aware of the stereotype that ‘good chess players are usually boys’ and that awareness of the stereotype affects the way girls play.
The psychologists found that when girls played against boys who presented a challenge, they lost more than they statistically should have.
The world’s first female chess grandmaster, Susan Polgár, has said that lack of gender diversity in chess also keeps girls from progressing further. There are very few female chess coaches which poses logistical problems for young women. Most parents aren’t comfortable letting their daughter spend hours alone with a chess coach or traveling to tournaments.
Polgar also believes that it’s better for women to be coached by other women because male coaches can have difficulties having trouble understanding a girl’s mindset.