Friday, December 4, 2009

Wesley So exits the World Cup

Thursday, December 3, 2009
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Frank 'Boy' Pestaño

THE ride is over. After a fairytale come true celebrated throughout the country, Wesley So, only 16, lost in the fourth round of the World Cup to a seasoned veteran, Vladimir Malakhov of Russia, who won all three of their tiebreak matches. Earlier they split their regular games.

Still Wesley accomplished what no Filipino has done before and he can hold his head high when he goes home to a warm welcome.

He was the “gold nugget” of the tournament and the darling of chess fans throughout the world.

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Unlike Joey Antonio and Darwin Laylo, Wesley traversed a rocky road to the World Cup. He had two chances. He failed in the first and barely made it in the second.

The event was the last round of the Intercontinental Asian Championships in Subic. Wesley was playing white versus another child prodigy, Le Quang Liem of Vietnam.

Each was on a must-win situation and at stake was a slot to the World Cup. Wesley lost and according to a friend, was so heartbroken that he wept after the game.

GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly of India finished with five wins and six draws. GM Zhou Weiqi finished second, while Yu Yangyi finished in a tie with Yu Shaoteng, Le Quang Liem, Antonio Jr., Hou Yifan and Shou Jianchao. They all made it to the World Cup.

Wesley finished 22nd.

Wesley was very discouraged. He was rated second in this tournament and everybody expected him to qualify. But there was still a chance. Coming up was the Asean Zonals where two slots were at stake. So was disconsolate and informed his fans that he will be taking a rest from chess and will not play in the Zonals.

In the last hour, GM So decided to join the tournament. There was a lot of pressure from the Philippine chess community and he also wanted to redeem himself.

Laylo was a revelation in the Zonals with seven wins and two draws. Wesley barely made it with 6.5 points. He needed a win and a draw in his last two games.

In one of my earlier articles, I wrote that Wesley will be playing in the World Juniors in Argentina. However, his mother Eleanor wanted him to concentrate on his studies and skip the tournament where he was the top favorite.

He is a 4th year high school student in St.Francis of Assisi in Cavite.

Whenever chess players congregate and talk about Wesley, the topic of going to school or to be a professional player comes up. My belief is that he should finish high school first and study at the International Correspondence School (ICS) later.

You will be surprised to know that a lot of companies have respect for their graduates and their standard is even higher than most schools.

Wesley earned $25,000 in the World Cup and this is just the start. He will be a multi-millionaire before he reaches 21.

In an interview in Russia, Wesley said he needs a trainer now.

“I feel like I should have an assistant now. Another problem is that chess is not that famous in the Philippines. We don’t get any financial support from the government.”

“The government does not give money for tournaments, coaches, nothing,” said So. “Our National Federation pays for our tickets. That’s it. You realize at one moment that to reach some professional level you need private sponsors. I would be happy with some $20,000 to $30,000 a year.”

Any takers? Gentlemen and ladies in government?

How about our Taipans? Do you know that 15 percent of our population are chess players? Wesley can sell more products by endorsing them than any other celebrity.

The exuberance and excitement of chess players of his wins over Ivanchuk and Kamsky is more than that that of Pacquaio’s wins over Cotto, Hatton and dela Hoya.

As they say, So is young but already so good and so brilliant.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 4, 2009.

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