Did Yoo know?

by Antonio Pereira
2/19/2019 – Child stars are a common sight in the chess world these days, but getting to know them more closely remains to be an enticing activity. At 12, Christopher Yoo already earned three IM norms to become the youngest American IM in history. And if he gets three GM norms in less than twenty months he will overcome Sam Sevian, United States' youngest ever grandmaster. Let us explore some curious facts about the future star. | Photo: David Llada / American Chess Magazine

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An Innocent Man

Few 12-year-olds can boast to have reached the heights that Christopher Yoo has attained in the chess world, but perhaps fewer have confessed to consider Billy Joel as their favourite singer. Twenty-three years before Christopher was born, the Piano Man released "An Innocent Man", a suiting description for Yoo, who still looks at the chessboard with kid's eyes, probably unaware of his exceptional achievements. 

Christopher goes to tournaments with his father Young-Kyu Yoo, and has worked with first-class coaches such as Boris Avrukh and Zviad Izoria. He took part in the latest "Young Stars" program organised by the Kasparov Chess Foundation, held in Manhattan. This goes to show that this is a good time to be a chess prodigy in the United States, especially due to the resurgence of the game propelled by Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield's work at the Saint Louis Chess Club.

Young-Kyu Yoo | Photo: David Llada / American Chess Magazine

The February FIDE ratings list places the Korean-American as the eighth highest U-14 rated player in the world, a good omen if we take into account he will remain in that age category during two more years. 

His achievements in chess are outstanding, but he is also quite an interesting kid. Aviv Friedman found out ten things you might not know about Christopher. They are listed below.

1. He is undefeated in simuls

While most up-and-coming chess players — some much older than Yoo — find facing strong grandmasters in simultaneous exhibitions to be a great opportunity, Christopher is already the one dealing with multiple boards at a time. So far, he has given four simuls, drawing only once — he has a record of 51 wins, 1 draw and 0 losses. Being on the spotlight does not seem to bother him.

2. California's youngest ever champion

This feat might not sound that impressive until we find out that he surpassed the record by five years, and that the previous record-holder was none other than Sam Shankland. Besides Sam, previous U.S. champs Nick de Firmian and Larry Christiansen also grew up in the Golden State. Is Christopher the next in line?    

Current U.S. chess champion Sam Shankland | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

3. Youngest player to beat a 2700-GM

If any doubts remain regarding the kid's strength, this fact is enough to convince any naysayer out there — in round three of this year's Bay Area International Open, Yoo took down former world blitz champion Le Quang Liem. The Vietnamese star currently has a 2710 rating and, despite his loss against Christopher, ended up sharing first place in Burlingame.

Christopher won the game in style, sacrificing a piece in the middlegame and showing good technique to convert from a rook and knight endgame:


4. He enjoys studies

Of course, Christopher enjoys playing quick-paced games online, but he also likes Dvoretsky's books! In fact, his favourite chess book is "Studies for Practical Players", a collection of studies that "is directed at developing resourcefulness, fantasy and the readiness to sacrifice material in pursuit of the goal — winning!" The book was co-authored by the late world-renowned trainer Mark Dvoretsky and International Grandmaster of Composition Oleg Pervakov.

Curiously, his father mentioned during a 2016 interview: 

...[Christopher] did not use to enjoy [bullet and blitz] because he hated blundering and making what he called hand slippers.

5. Favourite book: Wonder

Raquel Jaramillo, under the pen name R. J. Palacio, released in 2012 a children's novel called Wonder, described by Common Sense Media as a "moving, uplifting tale about a disfigured boy with inner beauty". There is more to life than chess competitions...

Christopher Woojin Yoo | Photo: David Llada / American Chess Magazine

6. Favourite film: Shaolin Soccer

It is no wonder that Christopher feels identified with a tale that deals with young kids trying to improve their sportive skills.

7. He can solve a Rubik's cube in 35 seconds

The combination puzzle invented by Ernö Rubik remains to be one of the world's top-selling puzzle game. It is hard to find anyone in the world who has not stumbled with the difficult task of solving the brain-teaser, but few have taken the time to actually learn how to do it — or how to do it at an increasingly quicker speed! Christopher can do it in 35 seconds, and all chess spectators should be glad that he did not choose that game as his main focus. There is no kidding around in speed-cubing...

8. He could have chosen tennis

Competitive people tend to excel at all sorts of disciplines, and Yoo is not an exception. Besides speed-cubing, he also enjoys playing tennis. His coach actually told him that he has enough talent to become a pro player!

9. A generous boy

Christopher is not all about defeating strong opponents at chess events — he is also a generous young boy. In fact, he insists on giving money to every homeless person he crosses paths with.

The path to tactical strength

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10. He is afraid of spiders

We all have fears, even some of the best athletes in the world — for example, former number one tennis player Andy Roddick is strangely afraid of rabbits. Again, Christopher is not exception. Although he is not afraid of facing a 2700-player's preparation in the Caro-Kann, he is shaken by the presence of spiders.


Antonio is a freelance writer and a philologist. He is mainly interested in the links between chess and culture, primarily literature. In chess games, he skews towards endgames and positional play.


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