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10-year-old Minnesota girl puts the chess world in checkmate

Alice Lee, a 6th grader from North Oaks, is already a National Master— but she has her sights set higher.
Credit: Courtesy Alice Lee and family
Alice Lee in the final round of the 2019 Ruth Haring National Girls Tournament of Champions.

NORTH OAKS, Minn. — Alice Lee started playing chess when she was in first grade, tagging along to a chess club with her older brother. For the first few years, she didn’t know how talented she was. 

“It would have been a surprise to me when I was younger that I would ever become this good,” she said. 

“This good” is what made Lee, when she was eight years old, the second youngest girl to ever be named Chess Expert by the United States Chess Federation in its 81-year history. 

This weekend, she will compete virtually in the 2020 U.S. Girls' Junior Championship, hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club. She will be playing against nine girls who represent the strongest female chess players under 20 in the U.S., all of whom are older than she is. 

But Lee isn’t worried about that.

“They’re strong players, I’m glad I get to play them,” she said. “Even if I lose, I’ll still learn a lot.”

Losing isn’t something that Lee does often, though. She won the National Girls Championship U8 section at seven years of age, and went on to place 5th in the Girls U8 section in the 2017 World Cadet Chess Championship. She won the National Girls Championship U18 section at the age of 9, and was the gold medalist in the 2019 World Cadet Championship in the Girls U10 section. 

Lee now 10 years old, holds the title of National Master in the U.S., putting her among the top 30 female chess players in the country. 

Lee works hard for all of those titles, putting in three hours of practice each day. She plays practice games online and against friends, and studies chess tactics diligently so she can keep getting better and better.

Even with as much time and effort as she devotes to the game, she still finds it fun to play. 

“There’s a lot of people you get to meet," Lee said. "I’ve met people at tournaments, like Garry Kasparov, he’s a former world champion, and I’ve actually met some of the people I'm going to play this weekend. I also like that you have to concentrate when you play, so it helps you focus. Chess gives you time to learn and get better and reach a goal.” 

Lee has one goal in particular for her chess career—  and she knows how she plans to get there, one tournament at a time.

"I was happy when I was named Chess Expert because then I started thinking bigger," she said. "That gave me inspiration to go even farther. I hope to become a GM, a Grand Master, the highest rank you can get. It's a lifetime goal. I have to work hard and learn. Playing games, like I'm doing this weekend, is part of that. Just a lot of practice and studying."