He came up just short in his quest for a grandmaster norm last month, but I wouldn’t want the under in the over/under on when IM Christopher Yoo claims the highest title in the chess game.
The 14-year-old California phenom tied for second at the GM norm tournament held at New York City’s famed Marshall Chess Club, a point behind Philippine GM Mark Paragua. Unfortunately, Yoo’s 6-3 result fell just a half-point short of qualifying for one of the three norms needed for the GM title. But his strong play — including a talent for defeating the strongest competition — makes the promotion seem just a matter of time.
Yoo even dealt Paragua his only defeat of the event, in a hard-fought battle that shows just how tough it is to beat a really good player. Yoo harpoons a piece early in this Najdorf Sicilian, but bringing his catch safely into the boat proves a major struggle.
Yoo as White exploits his opponent’s loose opening play on 10. Be2 Nc5?! 11. e5! dxe5 12. Nc6!, when 12…bxc6?! 13. Qxc6+ Ncd7 14. Qxa8 0-0 15. Rh3 would leave Black with no compensation for the loss of the exchange.
The tactical disruption of Paragua’s defense pays dividends on 16. Qe3 Bd7 (taking away the c5-knight’s last retreat square, but the alternatives were no less bleak; e.g. 16…b5 17. b4 Nb7 18. Nxe4, or 16…Qc7 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. b4 Nd7 [Nd3+ 19. Bxd3 Qxc3? 20. Bb5+] 19. Nxe4, with a clear edge) 17. b4 Nd3+ 18. cxd3 Qxb4 19. Bxf6 gxf6 20. dxe4 — White wins a piece for a pawn, but the fight isn’t over. Yoo now must protect his own exposed king, while his knight on c3 comes under particularly heavy pressure.
Black’s major pieces line up on the c-file, but White activates his extra piece just in time (30. g5! fxg5 31. Bg4) and gives up a third pawn to kick-start his own attack on Black’s king: 37. Ne3! Rxf2 38. Rd6 Rc3 39. Nf5+ Kh7 (Qxf5?! 40. Qxc3 Qxe4 nets four pawns for the rook, but White has 41. Re1 Rc2 42. Rxe4 Rxc3 43. Rxe5 Rc1+ 44. Kb2 Rh1 45. Rf5 Rxh5 46. Rb6, winning), and now 40. Qa4! Qc8 41. Rxh6+ Kg8 42. Ne7+ would have been a quick knockout.
Instead, the fight goes on after 40. Rxe6!? Rxa3 41. Rxh6+ Kg8 42. Rxb7 Rfxa2+ 43. Kb1 Ra1+ 44. Kc2 R1a2+ 45. Rb2, retreating just in time to stave off perpetual check. Despite harrying checks on his king, Paragua nearly saves the draw in the finale: 54. Rf6 g4 55. Rh6+ Kg8 56. Rg6+ Kh8? (Kh7! 57. Ng3 a5 would have made White’s job much harder) 57. Nh6 e4 58. Nxg4 Rf5 59. Nf6, and Black resigned because the mate threat costs him his rook.
The game that cost Yoo his norm came three rounds later against fellow IM Hans Niemann, when White’s greed appears to get the better of his positional sense. We pick up this Berlin Ruy Lopez from today’s diagram, where Black has just castled long. With the kings on opposite wings, White’s first priority should be that undeveloped queenside, but instead Yoo went with 14. Bxh6?! (winning material but also opening some very dangerous kingside lines) d5! 15. Bxg7 17. Nxg7 dxe4! (offering a piece for even more open lines) 17. Qxd6 exf3.
Mandatory now appears to be 18. Qf5! Rhg8 19. Qxd7+ Rxd7 20. gxf3 Rxg7+ 21. Kf2 Rh7 and White has decent survival chances. Instead things go south quickly on the game’s 18. Nf5? Rdg8 (Rhe8!, exposing White’s severe back-rank vulnerability, was perhaps even stronger, as in lines such as 19. Nc3 Qd2!) 19. Ng3 (g3 f2+ 20. Kxf2 Rxh2+ 21. Kg1 Rg6 22. Qe5 Rh1+ 23. Kf2 Re6, with a raging attack) Kb7 20. a4 (maybe tougher was 20. Qf4, though Black has the edge on 20…Rg4 21. Qd2 Rd4 22. Qe3 fxg2 23. Nc3 Qh3) Rxh2! (breaking through — 21. Kxh2 loses to 21…Qg4! 22. Qe5 f2! 23. Re4 f1=Q!, when taking either queen allows 24…Qxg2 mate) 21. Ra3 Rxg3, and the rout is on.
It’s over on 22. Rb3+ Ka7, and White resigns as 23. Kxh2 Rxg2+ 24. Kh1 Qh3 is mate.
French superstar GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who just missed out on qualifying for next week’s FIDE candidates tournament for the right to challenge titleholder Magnus Carlsen later this year, will be in the field after all.
Azeri GM Teimour Radjabov, citing doubts about holding the tournament during the coronavirus scare and the presence of two Chinese players in the field, will not play in the event, and Vachier-Lagrave, the No. 8 ranked player in the world, has been invited as a last-minute replacement.
Yoo-Paragua, Marshall CC GM Norm tournament, New York, February 2020
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qf3 Be7 8. O-O-O Qa5 9. h4 Nbd7 10. Be2 Nc5 11. e5 dxe5 12. Nc6 Qc7 13. Nxe7 Qxe7 14. h5 h6 15. Bh4 e4 16. Qe3 Bd7 17. b4 Nd3+ 18. cxd3 Qxb4 19. Bxf6 gxf6 20. dxe4 Rc8 21. Rh3 Rg8 22. g4 e5 23. Qd2 Ba4 24. Re1 Kf8 25. Re3 Kg7 26. Qb2 Qa5 27. Kb1 Rc6 28. Ka1 Rgc8 29. Rc1 Qc7 30. g5 fxg5 31. Bg4 Rb6 32. Qa3 Bd7 33. Bxd7 Qxd7 34. Nd5 Rbc6 35. Rb1 Rc2 36. Rd3 Qe6 37. Ne3 Rxf2 38. Rd6 Rc3 39. Nf5+ Kh7 40. Rxe6 Rxa3 41. Rxh6+ Kg8 42. Rxb7 Rfxa2+ 43. Kb1 Ra1+ 44. Kc2 R1a2+ 45. Rb2 Rxb2+ 46. Kxb2 Ra4 47. Rd6 Rxe4 48. Rd8+ Kh7 49. Rd7 Kg8 50. Rd8+ Kh7 51. Rf8 Rf4 52. Rxf7+ Kh8 53. Rf8+ Kh7 54. Rf6 g4 55. Rh6+ Kg8 56. Rg6+ Kh8 57. Nh6 e4 58. Nxg4 Rf5 59. Nf6 Black resigns.
⦁ David R. Sands can be reached at (202) 636-3178 or at email@example.com.