By Limuel S. Celebria
Filipino Super GM Wesley So, fresh from his celebrated conquest of the 2020 US Open, has emerged winner of the Skilling Open Championship after bloodying the nose of World Champion Magnus Carlssen.
Wesley and Magnus engaged in a fierce give-and-take in the finals, both scoring two victories apiece while handling the white pieces on the first day of the face-off. On the second day, the two again engaged in a take-no-prisoners exchange with each player scoring a kill, this time while pushing the black pieces. The match went to a tie-break, two-game, blitz format with Wesley scoring the first win and drawing in the second game.
The Skilling tournament, played on-line, featured 16 of the world’s highest-ranked chess players in the preliminaries. The top 8 advanced to a knockout, quarter and semi-final matches. So gave the boot to Super GMs World No. 10 Teimour Radjabov and World No. 20 Hikaru Nakamura to climb to the finals against Carlssen.
As per Wikipedia: “The Skilling Open is the opening leg of the Champions Chess Tour, which spans 10 star-studded online chess tournaments played over 10 months.
“The 2021 Champions Chess Tour will, for the first time in history, determine the world’s best chess player over a full competitive season of online chess. Beginning in November 2020, the Champions Chess Tour will feature monthly tournaments culminating in a final tournament in September 2021. The best chess players in the world will compete in a total of ten tournaments of rapid chess. In the end, the tour champion will rightly be considered the strongest online speed chess player in the world.”
Wesley’s Skilling victory, which earned for him a US$30,000 prize, followed his masterful annexation of his second US Open championship in late October. So went unscathed in this tournament scoring nine points out of a possible eleven. Experts and analysts are comparing Wesley So’s performance to the legendary world champion Bobby Fischer who annihilated the competition in the 1963-64 US Open with a perfect 11/11 score. In 1966, Fischer again mesmerized the field with a 9.5/11 performance. So’s 9/11 score in this year’s Open is the third-best score in the US National Championships history. So’s first US Open title came in 2017.
Also, Wesley is the current World Fischer Random Chess Champion. He secured the c‘ship in November last year, humiliating Magnus Carlssen in the finals with a lopsided 13½–2½ score. Unlike standard or classical chess, Random chess, also known as Chess 960, is played with the pieces (or officials) placed in no particular order in the back rank. This eliminates the tactical edge of memorizing the numerous opening lines and favoring an intuitive player like So.
Though he now plays under the American flag, Wesley Barbasa So (born October 9, 1993 in Cavite) remains a Filipino. Before he left for the US, Wesley was a Filipino chess prodigy, becoming the youngest player to pass a 2600 Elo rating in October 2008 and breaking the record previously held by Magnus Carlsen. (This record has since been broken by John M. Burke).
So became Filipino chess champion three times but a run-in with Philippine Chess officials who refused to give him a monetary incentive for winning an international chess tournament, soured Wesley’s relationship and outlook on Philippine Chess. So migrated to the US in 2012 but was officially listed and rated by the US Chess Federation only in 2014.
Soon after, So won the Millionaire Chess Tournament held in Las Vegas in October 2014 scoring 8½/13 and shared second place at the Tata Steel Masters in January 2015. In June 2015, in the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Tournament, he came in second, behind the winner Fabiano Caruana.
In November 2015, So won the 2015 Bilbao Chess Masters Final tournament. He defeated Grandmaster Ding Liren in Round 1, drew the remaining 5 games, and won in the tiebreaks against Grandmaster Anish Giri.
So was awarded the Samford Fellowship in March 2016, enabling him to secure Vladimir Tukmakov as his coach.
In August 2016, So finished clear first at the 2016 Sinquefield Cup, ahead of former World Champions Viswanathan Anand and Veselin Topalov, 2014 winner Fabiano Caruana, and 2015 winner Levon Aronian. He won 2 games and drew 7 games.
In December 2016, So also finished clear first at the 2016 London Chess Classic, ahead of former World Champions Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. He won 3 games and drew 6 games. In winning the Sinquefield Cup, the London Chess Classic, and finishing second at the Your Next Move Leuven rapid and blitz tournament, he won the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. So’s first appearance for the United States yielded individual gold medal for board 3 as well as team gold at the Chess Olympiad held in Baku.
In January 2017, So won the Tata Steel Masters, finishing ahead of World Champion Magnus Carlsen by a full point, with a score of 9/13, to rise to World No. 3 in the next FIDE list. On the March 2017 FIDE rating list, he was ranked number two in the world and had an Elo rating of 2822, making him the fifth-highest rated player in history.
So’s current FIDE ratings have slipped somewhat (standard 2770, rapid 2741, and blitz 2816) but expect it to be upgraded following his recent victories. For those interested Carlssen’s ratings are S 2862, R 2741, and B 2816.
Wesley So currently lives in Minnesota with his adoptive family, the former actress Lotis Key and Bambi Kabigting and their daughter.
There are those who believe, including me, that Wesley is ripe to become the next World Champion in classical chess.