Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wesley So a rare prodigy

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

PRODIGIES come and go. They number by the hundreds, even thousands, every year all over the world, but after a few years or so, they are relegated to the dustbins of chess history. There are phenomenal exceptions though, and one of them is our Wesley So.

Born October 9,1993, So is a high school student of St. Francis of Assisi in Bacoor, Cavite and at an early age, became one of the “Promil Kids,” featured in television commercials of a milk brand.

“I taught him chess when he was six years old,” said Wesley’s proud father, William, who devotes most of his time on his son. “He has improved a lot because he plays with so much dedication and really loves the game.”

He became a grand master when he was 14 years old, 1 month and 28 days, to become the seventh youngest GM in history and the youngest at the moment.

Two prominent chess players, who know what they are talking about, only have praises for this gifted boy.

Eugene Torre, Asia’s first GM, said recently, “Wesley is a rare find. He has an exceptional talent and has a potential to be a world champion. This is a great opportunity to have a kid like him. He is still young and dynamic. He has a bright future, and we all need to support him.”

Many are not familiar with IM Rodolfo Tan Cardoso, but he was a former Philippine champion in the late 50’s and 60’s and had the distinct honor of playing one-on-one
with the great Bobby Fischer back, I think, in 1958, in the battle of chess prodigies.

Cardoso recently wrote in Chessbase, “I first saw Wesley during the junior active chess tournaments in 2003 in Manila. He was then a young lad who would sacrifice a queen or any other pieces in his arsenal to get a winning attack. He was well-ahead of his foes, indeed at nine years old, he won the National Kiddies Tournament for 14-Under, and at 13, he won the National Juniors (20 Under) and the Philippine National Open.”

In a span of a few years, he has catapulted himself as the Philippines’ brightest chess star. We can expect him to be in the world’s Top 10 and be a world title-contender in the not-so distant future.

To be a chess world champion is very rare. Unlike in boxing where there are dozens of champions in several categories and federations, there is only one chess champion and can reign for a long time.

Here are some performance ratings by Wesley in 2008. He was champion in the strong Dubai Open (2708), he defeated Indonesia’s No. 1 Megaranto Susanto (2681), he was champion in the Battle of GMs (2660), placed second in the Pichay Cup (2601), placed second in the National Finals (2667) and eighth in the just-concluded World Juniors in Turkey (2614). His live rating is now 2605, the “world’s youngest super GM”.

To be invited to Corus 2009 is like an invitation to the White House. It is one of the world’s premiere tournaments and it is an honor and privilege given only to those with
the utmost potentials. If he makes good, it will be his ticket to big time tournaments, which can make him a multi-millionaire in a short time.

Unknown to many, Wesley is the highest rated 14-year-old in the history of chess. He is better at this age than Magnus Carlsen, Sergey Karjakin, Teimour Radjabov, Ruslan Ponomariov, Etienne Bacrot and Peter Leko who are all now in the 2700 plus category.

There are suggestions that Wesley should stop playing in his age group, like the Under 16 World Olympiad in Turkey now, and should be pushed against stronger and older players. An observation is that “Prodigies grow by leaps and bounds only when exposed to strong opponents. Carlsen and Karjakin have not even bothered to play in the World Juniors, and at 17 and 18, are now well-entrenched among the elite GMs.”

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