Chess is booming in the US, and the number of youths playing and swelling the ranks is becoming more and more evident. The talent pool is there too, as can be seen by the burgeoning number of homegrown prodigies appearing and developing. And the latest who could be on a fast-track to international chess stardom is 11-year-old Christopher Yoo, who became the youngest player in history to win the CalChess State Championship, the official championship of Northern California, held at the Berkeley Chess School over the Labor Day Weekend.
With an unbeaten score of 5.5/6, that also included a crucial win over pre-tournament favourite and multi-time champion, GM Enrico Sevillano, Yoo dominated the CalChess Championship to take clear first ahead of the experienced field – and in doing so, he created a little history along the way by smashing the previous record set at the age of 16 by current US Champion Sam Shankland, who on hearing that his record had been broken, tweeted a congratulatory: “Kid’s got game!”
Yoo first hit the headlines in late 2016 by making US Chess history at the 9th David Elliott Memorial in Allentown, PA, when he broke Max Lu’s record to become the youngest-ever US Master as he surpassed the 2200 rating barrier, just 30 days shy of his 10th birthday. Now, after capturing the CalChess State Championship at 11, Yoo is now looking to hunt down his third and final International Master norm – and from there, possibly even a crack at Sergey Karjakin’s long-standing record of youngest-ever grandmaster in history, which the Ukrainian/Russian set in 2002 at the age of 12 years and 7 months.
The next event on the “Yoo watch-list” is the upcoming Washington Chess Congress or perhaps the Saint Louis Chess Club Fall Classic, both in early October, where the 11-year-old will be looking to hunt down his third and final International Masters norm. Prior to capturing the CalChess Championship, Yoo gained his second IM norm in mid-August at the Berkley Chess School GM norm event.
And instrumental in gaining that second IM norm was claiming the impressive scalp of Grandmaster Conrad Holt, and with the brutal demolition job coming from his own home preparation, with a well-worked-out opening novelty of 14.f5!? – a clever, yet very simple TN that could well see a popular line of the French Winawer coming under a dark cloud.
Photo: Christopher Yoo, CalChess Champion at 11! | © US Chess Federation
FM Christopher Yoo – GM Conrad Holt
Berkeley Summer GM Norm, (9)
French Defence, Winawer Variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 The French Winawer sees White’s pawn structure damaged – but in return, he has lots of space to rapidly develop his pieces menacingly on the kingside. If the attack fails, then, long-term, Black will have an almost winning endgame advantage with the better pawn structure. 6…Ne7 7.Qg4 0-0 8.Bd3 Nbc6 9.Bg5 Qa5 10.Ne2 Ng6 If 10…cxd4 11.0-0 dxc3 12.Qh5 Ng6 13.f4 White has a very dangerous kingside attack already rolling. 11.0-0 Qa4 12.f4 c4 13.Bxg6 fxg6 14.f5!?N A nifty piece of home preparation from Yoo, with the emphasis of his novelty being on keeping the momentum for a direct assault on the Black king by voluntarily vacating the f4 square for the knight to come into the attack. It also serves another crucial function: it stops Black from playing …Qxc2-f5 with the queen tracking back to defend. And this is a novelty that could well through a big dark cloud over this line for Black. 14…gxf5 15.Qg3 b5 16.h4 a5 The crux of this position is this: if White’s attack doesn’t crash through, then Black wins the endgame with his queenside pawns – but crucially, Black first needs to survive on the kingside before he can even begin to think of entertaining thoughts of an endgame win! 17.h5 Qxc2 When all is said and done, Black’s problem in dealing with Yoo’s novelty of 14.f5, is just how to bring his queen back into the game? And this process seems to be hampered by his throwing his queenside pawns up the board. 18.Nf4 Yoo’s intentions are quite clear – and not too subtle, either! There’s now a threat hanging in the air of h6, Bf6 and Nxg6 bludgeoning a way through to the Black king. 18…Ra7 19.h6 Rff7 I think Holt really had to bite on the bullet here with 19…g6 20.Bf6 Ne7 and make his stand here. But then again, not easy to contemplate such a rearguard action, especially when White has 21.Rfb1! Qa4 where White has all the space and the attacking possibilities, leaving Black struggling to find useful moves in such a dangerous position. 20.Bf6 g6 Black’s position looks to be totally compromised now. If 20…b4? 21.axb4 axb4 22.Rxa7 Rxa7 23.cxb4 Nxd4 24.Qg5! there’s no way to prevent Bxg7 and Qd8+ winning. Also fraught with danger is 20…Qb2?! 21.Rab1! Qxa3 22.Rxb5 Qf8 23.Bxg7 Rxg7 24.hxg7 Rxg7 25.Qh2 Rg4 26.Nh5! and White is easily winning. 21.Nxg6! [see diagram] This obvious piece sacrifice soon wins, as Black can’t coordinate a defence. 21…hxg6 22.Qxg6+ Kf8 23.Rf3! Threatening Rf3-h3 and simply pushing home the h-pawn. 23…Qb2 24.Rd1! A nice prophylactic move, stopping in its tracks Black trying to hang on with …Nxd4 and …Qxd4+. White could easily have won with 24.Raf1 Nxd4 25.Rh3! – but in a sign of maturity that bellies Yoo’s age, it’s nice to see from one so young denying his helpless opponent such shots. 24…Ne7 25.Bxe7+ The clinical win was 25.Bg7+ Ke8 26.Qh5! and Black can’t stop the h-pawn – but by now, and with so many ways to win, Yoo had seen his own preferred route to victory. 25…Raxe7 26.Rg3! The threat is Qg8 mate, forcing Black’s next move. 26…Ke8 27.h7! With the rook now pinned to the king, the extra queen is always going to come in handy! 27…Kd7 28.h8Q 1-0