July 21, 2014
Written by Ed Andaya

WITH or without the blessing of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP), GM Wesley So is set to become one of the world’s most important chess players.

This was the consensus of most chess experts from all over the world, even listing So as one of the newest threats to world champion GM Magnus Carlsen of Norway in the new few years.

So’s meteoric rise to the top of the chess world was largely fuelled by his sensational triumphs in the 49th Capablanca Memorial in Havana, Cuba last May and the ACP Golden Chess Classic in Bergamo, Italy two days ago.

So’s clear victory in the six-round, seven-player ACP tournament also put him in No. 12 on the live rating list with 2755, an all-time high.

He is also now the youngest among the world’s top 12 players.

So lauded his coach-trainer, SPICE founder GM Susan Polgar, for his success.

“In chess, it is more important to be smart and intelligent than just playing instinctively. Playing aggressively is not the same as playing well-calculated moves. A competitor got to have strategy, they need to set up goals,” said So in his blog.

“ It’s like boxing, where you need to know when is the best time to defend, and when to attack. And if all else fails, never give up. This is one of the things that I learned from my coach.”

The dramatic rise by So from No. 98 two years ago to No. 12 this week also coincided with the 90th anniversary of FIDE, the world governing chess body once headed by another Filipino, the late Florencio Campomanes.

The all-time high achievement by So also came exactly 40 years after GM Eugene Torre made history by becoming Asia’s first grandmaster in the Nice, Olympiad in 1974.

The 20-year-old Filipino champion, who is set to transfer to the United States Chess Federation (USCF) in a determined move to pursue the world chess title, also finished a strong runner-up finish in the Edmonton Chess Festival in Edmonton, Canada.

Last year, So also made history by winning the country’s first-ever gold medal in the 27th Summer Universiade, also known as the World University Games, in Kazan, Russia.

“This week a new name jumped into the contenders — Wesley So,” said Leonard Barden, the revered chess columnist of the widely-read British newspaper, Guardian.

“The Filipino was a GM at 14 and has long been recognized as a fine talent, and is a cult player in his homeland with thousands of fans who follow his career,” wrote Barden.

“Their outlet is the website, whose online database includes profiles and discussion pages for players. Several top GMs have 500 chessgames pages, but So had notched up a remarkable 6,100 pages at last count, as enthusiasts dissect his every move and offer long screeds of advice.”

Added Barden: “So is currently a sophomore student at Webster University in St Louis, the city which its billionaire resident Rex Sinquefield has made into a chess Mecca with a luxurious club open daily and hosting major tournaments. The US Senate has declared St Louis the nation’s ‘chess capital’.

“Webster hired the former world woman champion Susan Polgar as its chess coach, and the product is the strongest college squad on the planet, fielding a galaxy of masters and GMs from several countries. So’s team mates include Le Quang Liem, 23, Vietnam’s world blitz champion, and Ray Robson, 19, the best young US talent.

“The question now is whether So, a Filipino, can maintain his momentum and whether he will follow other GMs who have transferred from Asia and Eastern Europe to the West. His surge also poses a question to Maecenas Sinquefield, who would like to stage a world title match in St. Louis.”

Albert Silver of Chess Base also noted So’s remarkable rise.

“So has now moved to 2755 on the live ratings list, and world no.12, a remarkable progression for the 20-year-old,” said Silver in his report of the ACP tournament

“With the short draw, So secured first place and its special prize: a gold bar. Thanks to his tournament performance of 2844, So gained 7.6 rating points, jumping to the 12th place of the world ranking with a rating of 2755,” reported chess writer David Kaufmann.

Well-known chess analyst Eliseo Tumbaga said So’s triumph in ACP can only enhance his prospects of getting more invitations to high-level tournaments in the chess capitals of the world.

“He (So) is unbeaten in the 25 games of his last three tournaments held over the past 2-1/2 months and his official rating of 2755 in the next FIDE rating list will be an all-time high in his young career,” said Tumbaga in his comment posted in Chess Philippines.

“With good coaching and more opportunities to play at the highest levels, he can only rise in the ranks of the world’s chess elite. He is now the second-ranked Asian behind former world champion Viswanathan Anand of India, and it is quite remarkable that he is now just two rungs below another former world champion, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia.”

Tumbaga, a former sportswriter of Times Journal, said So is expected to play in bigger events once certain issues on his request for transfer to the USCF are resolved.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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