So Many Questions

San Mateo Chess Club

April 12, 2015

So Many Questions

When you lose a game in just six moves via forfeiture in a top caliber tournament like the US Chess Championships, there is something wrong with that person.

That is what’s happening with Grandmaster Wesley So, who on early Saturday (Philippine time) found his ninth round game against GM Varuzhan Akobian forfeited after failing to heed the warning of the tournament arbiters and repeatedly scribbled “motivational advice” on his scoresheet and a separate paper. It was So’s fourth defeat of the tournament against four wins and a draw for 4.5 points, a full two points clear off the pace. Whatever happens in his last two outings, it will be an utterly disappointing performance for a player who came into the Category 16 tournament as the second highest ranked player behind US No. 1 GM Hikaru Nakamura. Now, So is losing rating points as if it’s a taxi meter here in Manila–fast and costly. To date, So has lost 18 rating points and has dropped to No. 9 in the world. He if he can’t put a stop to his free fall, he’ll sink into the abyss even further.

So later apologized for his actions saying “I did not know it was against the rules.” We will not dwell on whether or not the punishment is justified, but as to what is really happening to So.

And so what is the problem, really?

Some say it’s burnout after participating in so many tournaments–most of it he won–that catapulted him from at the bottom of the Top 100 to as high as No. 5 in the world just a week ago.

Later, it was found out that all his problems were rooted to family matters.

We will extract some quotes from a story from chess24, one of the more popular chess sites today. And here it is:

Well, some of the background was revealed in an article in the Star Tribune, where Wesley So is quoted as saying after the forfeit:

“There are personal problems in my family. Trying to fix them during this tournament caused a lot of stress and tension. It diverted a lot of energy from the board when I should be focusing on my game.”

As we mentioned in our Round 1 report, since dropping out of university Wesley So has been living with a family in the small town of Minnetonka, 8.5 hours’ drive north of St. Louis. Wesley’s mother, Leny So, has previously gone on record to express dismay at her son’s choice:

“Unfortunately, there were poor advices given to Wesley which is not to our liking. I have a negative feeling as a mother that this is a very huge mistake on Wesley. It hurts me terribly.”

It seems she now came to St. Louis to try and change Wesley’s mind, with the Star Tribune citing Lotis Key, the mother of the family that took him in:

“So’s mother and aunt came to St. Louis and contacted So minutes after his arrival at a hotel. Key said they began, in strident encounters over the course of several days, to insist that he return to college or face losing complete contact with his family, including his sisters. At one point, So’s mother and aunt confronted him outside the chess club after his game, trying to grab his arm and yelling at him when he wouldn’t go with them to talk, according to Key and So. That led to an apology by So to the club for the scene, and a request that the mother and aunt be banned from the tournament site.”

Key also suggests tension with Paul Truong, Susan Polgar’s husband and the Marketing and PR Director of the Webster University chess program, after So believed Truong had helped reserve a hotel room for his mother:

Key and So said the former coach, Paul Truong, was angry over losing one of the world’s top players from his team when So left Webster. “Wesley fell apart after that, knowing that his own biological family was working with his worst enemy,” Key said. “Paul will never forgive Wesley for leaving Webster.”

Truong denied any active role in the appearance of Wesley’s mother at the tournament:

Truong acknowledged that he had e-mail contact with So’s mother about a month before the tournament in which “she asked me if she could come down.” He said he replied that the tournament was open to anyone to watch. But he denied reserving a room or otherwise engineering their trip, saying that Key’s allegations are “absolutely 100 percent false” and that Key is manufacturing excuses for So’s losses.

In the context of the above it’s no surprise to find So himself commenting:

“Nothing is going right for me in this tournament. I’ll be glad when it’s over… There’ll be other U.S. championships. My goal for next year will be to win it.”

Sportsmaryosep’s prognosis: The chess24 story left us with more questions than answers like why was So’s mother, Lenny, not interviewed? It would have been interesting to hear her side of the story. I’m also intrigued by Lotis Key’s accusation that Truong had a hand in the issue. I mean let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he has. But Leny So? For heaven’s sake, she’s Wesley’s mother. Why would a mother want to harass Wesley? Mothers want the best for their child or children. I know, I know. Wes is in the right age to decide for himself. But your mother? Why would Wesley ban his mother from the tournament? Everything is discomfiting, to tell you all honestly. I mean, it pained me still that Wesley abandoned representing the Philippines in favor of the US. I was also a little uncomfortable that he gave up his education at Webster University. Now this. It made me feel that Wesley jumped from the frying pan and into the oven. I just hope Wesley finds a way to get out of this convoluted tangle and the mess he created. For his sake.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar


(Photo courtesy of Lennart Ootes of chess24)


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