At 14, Wesley So is Philippines’ new ace!

GM Wesley So, Philippines

The Philippines has had a tumultuous time rebuilding their chess community after vicious infighting. Young Filipino GMs Mark Paragua and Wesley So certainly are bright spots. More on So later.

I remember seeing Paragua (pa-ra-gua) playing at the 2000 Chicago Open as a 16-year old upstart. He was tactically sharp and gave an impressive exhibition of his blitz skills. I asked him how old he was. He said humbly, “Sixteen.”

After earning the GM title, he had to toil in a contentious chess environment in the Philippines, but emerged as the #1 player. Paragua’s progress seemed sluggish and when I saw him at last year’s World Open he was clearly out of form (despite a stunning 7-move mate against IM Jay Bonin). I actually interviewed him and he sounded unsure of what his future would bring.

While Paragua revamps (now at 2537 FIDE), a new player has surfaced… and his name is Wesley So (2540). So is the 7th youngest player ever to earn the GM title and is now the #1 Filipino. According to a ChessBase article last year, So is known for his tactical ingenuity and sacrifices pieces at will.

In 2006, at the tender age of 12, So became the youngest chess Olympian as he joined the RP Men’s Team to the 37th World Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy. In December of the same year, he also became the country’s youngest National Open Champion, and in May 2007, he succeeded in becoming the youngest National Junior Champion.

The Philippines has five Grandmasters with the veteran Eugenio Torre (2519) being the first and most well-known. Rogelio Antonio, Jr. (2529) has also been the nation’s top player (and 2nd GM) and Darwin Laylo (2496) is the other player from the GM quintet. (Correction: Buenaventura Villamayor and Nelson Mariano II are also GMs but as of April 15th, do not appear on the federation list.)

With the latest FIDE rating list out, So is on 2540 which puts him just outside the top 20 juniors. It appears as if Asian juniors are rising fast… China, India, Vietnam and now the Philippines. So will add flavor to an already interesting cast of rising young stars.

See Sun Star article!

IM Rodolfo Tan Cardoso, “GM Wesley So, Renaissance Kid of Philippine Chess,” ChessBase, 10 December 2007.

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

14 Comments

  1. Daaim, I’d like to add that there are two other active Filipino
    GMs you didn’t mention: GM Bong Villamayor and GM Nelson
    Mariano II. Still, thanks for featuring GMs Paragua and So. More
    power to you and all chess-enthusiasts.

  2. Hello,

    Just want to add another Filipino GM, Rosendo Balinas.

    Balinas was the stongest Filipino (and probably Asian) before Torre, although he got his GM title a couple of years after Torre, making him the 2nd Asian GM in history. He passed away about 10 years ago.

  3. To the chess officials and the government especially, we are the land full of potentials. Let us support our youth and try to come up with developmental projects that will craddle this special gifts. We have wasted a lot, starting from the inventions upto our skilled and talented humanware. We need to focus on the things that will uplift our country once again. We need to get back what is rightfully for us.
    Congratulations Wesley So and to the grandmasters of the Philippines for bringing back the pride that once we have!

  4. Jaser A. Marasigan, “Master of the game,” Manila Bulletin, 12 August 2008.

    Life goes on and on and on, checkmate after checkmate, for this 14-year-old Filipino grandmaster!

    He is the world’s youngest chess grandmaster (GM), the seventh youngest GM in chess history, and the country’s top chess player. And he is only 14 years old!

    Wesley So is now the highest ranked chess player in the Philippines, with an ELO rating of 2577. Amazingly, this makes him ahead of other notable Filipino grandmasters such as Mark Paragua, Rogelio Antonio, Jr. and Eugene Torre.

    Considered as the world’s strongest chess player in his age group, this Pinoy chess prodigy is currently at the 2008 World Junior Chess Championship for Boys and Girls in Gaziantep, Turkey.

    “Hindi ko po naisip na one day pwede pala akong mag-compete. Unexpected po. Masaya po ako na nakakatulong ako sa pag-promote ng chess at saka inspiration po for younger players,” meekly says Wesley.

    WHIZ KID

    Wesley was born in Manila on October 9, 1993, the second among three siblings. His parents, William and Eleanor So, are both accountants, no wonder this whiz kid loves numbers. “My favorite subject in school is Math. May connection ang Math and chess. Sinusulat po namin sa score sheet ‘yung moves in the game,” he explains.

    He was six years old when his father taught him to play chess. By the time he was nine years old, Wesley was already competing in junior active chess tournaments. What was thought would just be a pastime has become almost a vocation.

    Wesley’s aggressive and tactical style of play caught the attention of former Philippine chess champion IM Rodolfo Tan Cardoso. “This young lad… would sacrifice a queen or any other pieces in his arsenal to get a winning attack,” Cardoso describes Wesley’s play. ‘’Wesley cannot even afford a decent training given by well known GM-coaches, he has to rely on his pure talent and diligence.’’

    In 2006, at age 12, Wesley became the youngest member of the national men’s team to participate at the 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy. Later that year, he became the youngest National Open Chess Champion. In May 2007, he became the youngest National Junior Open Chess Champion.

    Wesley finally achieved his Grandmaster norm on December 8, 2007 at the 3rd Pichay Cup International Open, emerging as the youngest Filipino GM at the age of 14 years, one month, and 28 days. He also became the 7th youngest to achieve the GM title in chess history, narrowly beating French GM Etienne Bacrot by a few days.

    He got his first GM norm in the Offene Internationale Bayerische Schach Meisterschaft in Bad Wiessee, Germany and his second GM norm in the 2007 World Junior Chess Championship in Yerevan, Armenia.

    He recently won in the $ 45,000 Dubai Open Chess Championships, “The Sheikh Rashed Bin Hamdan Al Maktoum Cup,” at the Dubai Chess Club in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He finished with six wins, one loss and two draws after nine games, taking home a fourth ($ 4,500) of the combined prize of $ 18,000.

    “Yung sa Dubai ang pinaka-memorable sa akin. First time ko pong maka-champion sa international open tournament. Tapos po maganda yun trophy,” he enthuses.

    Despite his superstar status, Wesley does not act like a gifted brat spoiled by fame. “Kailangan humble po para mag-improve pa.”

    CHECKMATE

    Inspite of his illustrious chess career at such a young age, Wesley is determined to complete his studies.

    He use d to go to a regular school, at St. Francis of Assisi College System in Bacoor, Cavite, but because he’s always in tournaments abroad, his parents decided to enroll him in home study instead. He’s now in junior high school.

    “Kaya po ako nag-home study ngayon to give more time sa chess para pagdating ng college mag-aaral po muna ako. Sa La Salle sana. Tapos pagkatapos ng college, saka ako babalik,” he shares.

    Beneath the harmless demeanor, Wesley is a tiger at training. His training regimen includes an hour of jogging everyday, apart from the long hours he spends in front of the computer studying the strategies of other chess players and practicing on a simulated chess game.

    “Wala po akong coach ngayon, puro self-study. Binili lang po ako ng mga libro ng father ko. Dun ko po nakukuha yung mga techniques. Tapos jogging in the morning and evening. Kailangan din po kasi ng stamina sa chess. Kasi usually per game, tumatagal ng four hours or more,” he relates.

    HIGH IQ NOT NECESSARY

    Wesley believes that one does not need to have a high IQ to be a good chess player. He just has to work hard, be patient and disciplined. “Mahirap din po minsan. Pero nae-enjoy ko naman kasi yung ginagawa ko kaya ok lang. Wala din naman pong expectations yung father ko. Ok lang na matalo. Ang importante you gave your best in the game,” he adds.

    He has also been pitted against two of the local grandmasters. He won three times against Paragua and three draws against Torre.

    “Usually before the game, may dala akong laptop. Pwede mong tignan yung games ng kalaban mo. Naka-install na yun dun. Pwede mong paghandaan yung kalaban mo. Makikita mo yung weak points niya. Wala naman akong gaanong strategy. I just give my best in every game. Tapos kung malakas yung kalaban, mag-iingat ng konti,” he says.

    Wesley still goes around like a regular teenager though. He likes to watch movies, listen to Linkin Park and Evanescence, and play online computer games. Likewise, he enjoys all the travels that he’s been doing and making friends along the way.

    “Yung father ko po ang parating sumasama sa akin sa mga competitions ko abroad. Every time na umalis kami, kasama siya. Ang favorite ko sa mga napuntahan ko is Munich, Germany kasi may snow. First country kong napuntahan na may snow,” he laughs.

    According to his manager, Reginald Tee, Wesley has been performing around 2700 rating in his recent tournaments. This indicates that he has a chance to surpass Kasparov as the strongest ever player and be a world chess champion.

    “Ang goal ko maka-reach ng top 10 in the world. Yun lang naman talaga ang goal ng isang chess player,” Wesley says.

    And what about girls?

    “Itutuloy ko lang ang chess career ko. Bawal muna mag-girlfriend,” he giggles.

    Source: https://www.mb.com.ph/YTCP20080812132170.html

  5. i have played wesley so a couple of times in the phils. before when he is still an IM and i can say that he improve a lot and maybe he can be one of the super GM in the world today

  6. Filipinos will begin to do big things in chess. All of Asia is improving quickly and in 10 years will be a force. It is producing so many strong players from Philippines, Vietnam and of course, India and China.

  7. i want to include my friend,grandmaster Rogelio Antonio as one of the strong and potential player in the phils. he was the 5 time phil. open champion before.

  8. can i get so’s contact number or even his yahoo mail account. the organizer of chess club in naic cavite wishes to talk to him. thanks

  9. The World Open is almost here! I haven’t made it to this fantastic tournament in a few years, because I’ve been sick. I won’t be there again this year, but I look forward to hearing about the exploits of GM Wesley So and the other Filipino players in the open section! Speaking of Asian players, I’ve noticed that the Idian and Chinese players bring much fireworks to the Big tournament as well! What I’d like to see arranged is a match between Wesley and our US Open Champion!

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