Jimmy K. Laking
The chess grandmaster Wesley So, once of the Philippines and now of the United States, is basking on a pedestal.
A masterful performance this October saw him winning the US 2020 chess championship with a score of nine wins out of 11.
His score was considered awesome since the second-placer, Jeffrey Xiong put on a incredible display of immense talent, only to lag at 8. 5 points overall. The win netted So the amount of 40,000 American dollars.
In September, he pocketed the equivalent of 2.5 million pesos when he shared first place with world champion Magnus Carlsen at the St. Louis rapid and blitz tournament.Early on this year, I predicted that 2020 would be a banner year for So. His overall performance in 2019 and early this year was basis for optimism.
So, a native of Cavite who migrated to the United States in 2012 placed third in the prestigious Tata Steel Chess Tournament held in Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands) on January 10-26, 2020.
The tournament is called the “Wimbledon of Chess” since it never fails to attract the game’s elite players.
So topped this tournament in 2017. This was also the same year he wrapped up the United States Championship, ramping his rating to 2808, No. 2 in the world behind Carlsen.
World champion Magnus Carlsen won the Tata Steel Chess tournament twice in a row in 2018-2019. This year, Carlsen placed runner-up behind the American Fabiano Caruana who became champion for the first time.
So’s victory over chess sensation Alireza Firouzja (rated 2723) secured the third place finish. Firouzja is regarded as the next big talent in world chess. Only 16 years old, Firouzja is a native of Iran who now plays for France.
On April 16, 2020 the chess prodigy defeated Carlsen in the Banter Blitz Cup to claim the $14,000 prize. The online “quickfire knockout contest” mandated the players to comment verbally on their moves and on their opponents during the game.
So expressed confidence his relatively bad form in the last few months would take a turn for the better.
“It’s a good way to start the year,” he said.
So’s win over Firouzja “reminded the chess world that he is one of the strongest technical players in the circuit.” He accomplished the feat by preserving the bishop pair which he wielded in exemplary fashion to the endgame.
So’s ascent to world elite status began in the Philippines where he leaped from strength to strength. In 2008, he was the youngest player to pass the 2600 ELO international rating.
His talent was obvious even as a kid and it was probably just as well that he migrated to the United States. It is also my opinion that the Philippine Chess Federation simply was not up to the task of handling a chess genius in its midst.
It was a path which several Davao chess players in the 1980s, namely Marlo Micayabas and Peter Tidoy, also chose but probably with not much success in their sojourns abroad.
At one time, So sustained a 56-game winning streak that began in early 2016 to January 2017.
His earnings from 2016 to January 2017 was estimated at more or less $500,000.
His previous rating of 2808 shot up to 2822. Compare that to the highest-rated Filipino player, Julio Catalino Sadorra, who has 2596. Eugene Torre, this country’s leading chess player for decades, is ranked only No. 4 at 2581.
So’s secret: “I think the secret is that if you keep working and you have a clear view of your vision and your goals, then the results will come.” He said this after his victory at Wick Aan Zee.
That, no doubt, is as good an advice as any to young chess players determined to make their mark in the game.