Moscow Open: The four-year-old veteran

by Albert Silver
2/5/2015 – We have all read the tales about Kasparov at age four solving a problem on his own, Capablanca beating his father at the same age, and though we never question them, they remain a bit of folklore that is hard to visualize. Meet Timur Yonal, champion of Kosteniuk's children's chess school, competing at the Moscow Open, and... he is just four years old!

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Timur Yonal is not learning the pieces, nor is he the mascot of the Moscow Open. He is there as an experienced competitor, who has been playing for over a year already, and very successfully too.

At just four years old, Timur Yonal already has plenty to brag about - he holds 20 cups of various tournaments, as well as the title of champion of Alexandra Kosteniuk's children's chess school. With so many successes, Timur's mother, Natalia Yonal agreed without hesitation to let her son participate in the Moscow Open. Not the main event of course, but the Children's competition for under-9, the youngest division, where he can and will meet children twice his age.

Four-year-old Timur Yonal fills out his scoresheet at the Moscow Open

"We wanted to participate last year but Timur was still so young, and I was afraid that parents would not be allowed to attend the tournament. As it turned out, everything is organized so wonderfully: parents accompany the children to the tournament hall and then wait for them in special classrooms. If I had known this, we would have come in 2014."

Timur Yonal explains, "My grandmother taught me to play when I was three years old. Now I have reached the second rank."

His mother adds that even though he was still not speaking fluidly, he could already play chess."He literally demanded chess going to bed, and could play all day. So I decided to bring him to Alexandra Kosteniuk's chess school. Because he was so young, they refused to accept him at first, but once they saw that he already knew how all the pieces moved, they sent him directly to the second year group."

For Timur, playing is a stretch, but not of the imagination, just his arms

Timur's first coach was Eugene Akmaeya. Thanks to his excellent preparation, perseverance and diligence, Timur took the silver medal in the school championship in December 2013, and in May 2014 he took first place.

His mother explains, "He doesn't have a fit when he loses, and he rejoices when he wins. For each victory, I buy him toys. We can say that he thus wins toys."

Currently Timur is inscribed in a chess school at the Central House of Chess in Nikolay Konovalov's group, and he also has private classes with Julia Dogodkinoy. Every weekend, the young athlete participates in various chess competitions, which take place in TSDSH and Anatoly Karpov's chess school.

A little help to get it straight

At the Moscow Open Timur knew he would face opponents twice as old as himself, and prepared for it very seriously. His mother recounts, "Timur prepared specifically for the tournament and solved 250 chess problems in two days. In the family, we actively support him, and his eagerness to play chess seems to grow every day."

Timur Yonal in the fifth round of the Moscow Open

Timur Yonal is the youngest participant ever in the event, but he has handled himself with aplomb, loving every minute of it, and after six rounds has 2.5 points.

Report by Albert Silver and Natalia Gorozhanina
Photos by Monica Dubinkayte and Galina Popova

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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