Luneta Chess Plaza
January 1, 2015
Wild, Wild Wes
This is my first blog in 2015.
And I decided to write about the best Filipino athlete today. No, it isn’t Fil-Am Daniel Caluag, the Incheon Asian Games BMX gold medalist and the 2014 Philippine Sportswriters Association’s Athlete of the Year. Nor is it Gabriel Moreno, the eagle-eyed archer who struck gold in the World Youth Games in Nanjing, China. And sorry, this isn’t about Manny Pacquiao and why Floyd Mayweather keeps running away from our boxing champion. I would like to write about Gilas Pilipinas and their 2014 odyssey but no, this isn’t it either.
Because I’m devoting it to chess, my first love, and Wesley So, one of my favorite personalities.
You see, So should be the story of the year if you add the good and the bad.
Let’s start with the good.
You probably know by now that the 21-year-old, Cavite-born So is now 10th in the world with a galactic rating of 2771, which is the highest rating reached by any Filipino. Filipino chess legend Eugene Torre made the quarterfinals of the Candidates Matches but never skyrocketed in the ratings department that far. So should go further up chess’ pecking order soon as I’m confident he’ll do good in the ultra-competitive 77th Tata Steel Masters in Wiijk an Zee on Jan 10 (Phl time) in The Netherlands where he will face off with the best woodpushers in the world including men’s world champion Magnus Carlsen and women’s titlist Hou Yifang. He made it that far by winning four tournaments–the Capablanca Memorial in Cuba, the ACP Golden Classic in Bergamo, Italy, Millionaire’s Chess Open and North American Open both in Las Vegas–and finished second in the Edmonton Cup in Alberta, Canada all in a year. You may include his sixth place finish in last year’s edition of Tata too if you’re counting his exploits. Add all that, and, boom, we have a potential world chess champion in our midst. And I’m talking about Wesley. Easily, So is the best performing Filipino athlete in 2014. Bar none.
Now the bad.
So has changed federations. Meaning, he will represent the United States in all tournaments he plays. Not the Philippines, our beloved country. It got worse when he didn’t play for our national team that got massacred in the Olympiad in Tromso, Norway and instead accepted the coaching job of the US team. I never hid the fact that I disliked this decision. Some view it as utter betrayal. Some, however, viewed it as an end to justify the means, which is to become world champion or at least challenge for it. And don’t give me that crap that the decision to switch allegiance catapulted So from No. 28 last year to No. 10 now. That’s a complete bull. So will get there even if he did not change feds. You got to be completely ignorant or wetting yourself if you believe it. It is talent, my friend. Whether its bad advice or a product of ugly sports politics in our country or both, it’s all water under the bridge now. So has decided. And we have to live with it. End of the story. Besides, So always stresses he is a Filipino. That is good enough for me.
Just as when we started to be resigned of the possibility that So will never return, we heard this recent news that So has dropped out of Webster University and out of the arms of former teacher Susan Polgar to turn full-time professional. As for the reasons why So left, we can only speculate. To tell you honestly, people, I know the reasons. But I will never tell. Nor will I give a hint. I have mixed feelings though about So’s premature departure from Webster because I would have wanted him to have an education. Again, it has been decided already and we can’t do anything about it. But it all gives us a ray of hope. A sunshine to us Filipinos.
I guess Ely Tumbaga of Chessbase.com is right. Wesley is shooting for the stars.
Let him be.
Photo courtesy of Wesley So