MANILA, Philippines – Grandmaster (GM) Wesley So, one of the best chess players ever produced by the Philippines, said the lack of a training system in the Philippines forced him to pursue a switch to the United States.
So, who gained his GM status at the age of 14, is working towards gaining membership in the United States Chess Federation (USCF) to pursue his dreams of becoming a world chess champion.
The Filipino chess player wants to be based permanently in the US to compete in high-level tournaments and further improve his chess skills. To do this, he will have to leave the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP).
In an interview on the blog of his coach, Susan Polgar, So said he needs to compete in level-appropriate events, something that he could not get if he remains based in the Philippines.
“In the Philippines, there is no serious training system. There are also very few strong tournaments in Asia,” said the 20-year-old grandmaster, who has been enrolled at Webster University in the US for the past two years.
“At this stage of my career, I need to have serious training, and have the opportunity to compete in level appropriate events (category 19-20-21 or higher) in order to improve.”
So, however, said that he risks of getting deprived of financial support from the NCFP if he fails to compete in events deemed important by the federation.
“I am required to fly back from the US during my school year to compete in events such as the South East Asian Games, which seriously conflict with my study at Webster University. I have to live with the fear that if I am unable to play, I may get deprived of financial support,” he said.
So said that he experienced a backlash from the NCFP when he competed in the World University Games instead of the 2013 Asian Indoor Games.
He claimed that he was denied recognition by the NCFP despite winning the gold medal for the Philippines.
“No player should be treated this way, especially when I worked so hard to bring pride to my country,” said So.
“This is the same problem for players like Sadorra, Barbosa, or Paragua, etc. They need help with training, play in stronger events, and know that they will have consistent support from the NCFP. This is to the benefit of the federation,” said the Filipino.
“There is also a need for a high level training system in the Philippines to help young talented players excel. There is no reason why this cannot be done, especially given the fact that chess is quite popular there.”
So has requested NCFP president and former congressman Prospero Pichay to allow his transfer to the USCF.
Without the NCFP’s approval, So will have to pay 50,000 euros to the federation or undergo the two-year waiting period imposed by FIDE on players opting to change federations.
This would mean So would not be able to participate in any FIDE-sanctioned events, including this year’s World Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway where he is expected to man the top board.
Since transferring to Webster University, the Filipino grandmaster made large strides in world chess rankings.
“With the help of my coach Susan Polgar. I went from around #100 in the world before I came to Webster University less than 2 years ago, to #15 right now. I hope to be invited to many strong events in the near future.”
Asia’s first chess GM Eugene Torre, for his part, said he understands So.
Torre himself stayed in Europe during his peak in search for stronger competitions that would help hike his chess skills.
“I'm sure he could get invitation for Wesley for strong tournaments, which Wesley needs to see hanggang saan s’ya makakaabot,” Torre told ABS-CBN News’ Dyan Castillejo.
Pichay, meanwhile, said he will discuss the issue with the NCFP board when he returns to the Philippines.
The former congressman is currently in Macau for the Asian Junior Chess Championships. -- With a report from Dyan Castillejo, ABS-CBN News