Seventeen-year-old Ashburn resident and chess sensation Jennifer Yu is competing in the U.S. Junior Championship in St. Louis, a prestigious, invitation-only tournament at the famed Saint Louis Chess club.
Still in high school, Yu is considered one of the world’s best chess players. Her interest in the sport began when she was in first grade and attended an after-school chess class. Hooked, she played in her first chess tournament when she was only seven and her first international tournament when she was 10. In 2014, Yu won a gold medal at the World Youth Championship in the girls under-12 section, becoming the first American to do so in 27 years. She has also won the National Girls Tournament of Champions three times. Last year, she competed for her first time in the U.S. Women’s Olympiad team. These successes culminated this spring when she shocked the world by being the first teen to win the U.S. Women’s Championship in almost 20 years.
Yu described the championship as the “most impactful” one of her young career.
“It’s a really publicized tournament, so they have really good cameras on every board, live commentators, and it’s broadcast on Youtube,” Yu said. “Somehow, everyone at school found out about it. There were some random people I didn’t know coming up to me to ask about it.”
The U.S. Junior Championship runs alongside the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and the U.S. Senior Championship. Each tournament will field 10 players. For the U.S. Junior Championship, the prizes range from $500 for 10th place to $6,000 for 1st place. Yu qualified into the tournament as a wildcard, having a higher invitational rating than any of the girls competing in the girls tournament. She will be competing against nine male opponents instead; eight of whom have higher invitational ratings than her.
Yu said she’s not worried about her competition since she’s “played against most of the people already.” She added that there’s been increased promotion of chess to girls in recent years, so the make-up of the open championship might look different in the future.
“Especially in the U.S., the girls are getting stronger and younger,” Yu said. “In the US Women’s Championship this year, seven of us were 18 or younger, when two years ago there were only one or two of us.”
Yu recently became a woman grandmaster, but she has already set her sights on a new goal: international master. This title requires three norms —outstanding performances against titled players— plus an ELO rating above a certain point. Because she already has the three norms, if Yu performs well enough at the tournament, she can become an international master.
Yu said it was a “struggle” to balance school and chess her junior year, since she participated in two week-long major tournaments during the school year. She said her goal is to go to a “traditional” college and pursue a career in the medical field, but she is strongly considering taking a gap year first.
Covering all the action in St. Louis will be the expert commentary team of Woman Grandmaster Tatev Abrahamyan, Grandmaster Robert Hess, and Grandmaster Jesse Kraai. The team will be providing game analysis daily via an online broadcast stream starting at 1 p.m. To tune in for the broadcast or for more information, visit uschesschamps.com.