This 23-year-old Filipino-American should be starring in a Malcolm Gladwell column. A few years ago, he was an up-and-coming aggressive, tactical chess prodigy, presumably lacking in the strategic niceties of the game at its highest levels. I recall John Nye, my Filipino-American colleague (and chess player) coming into my office to discuss the astonishing fact that So had risen to number 9 in the world rankings. I suggested that a bit of regression to the mean was in order, and So would not be returning to the top ten anytime soon.
Since that time, So has won four top tournaments in a row, besting Magnus Carlsen, and has had a 56-game non-losing streak, against very high caliber players, and recently he was selected best chess player of the last year. Arguably he is the second best player in the world, and the one most likely to dethrone Carlsen from the world championship.
A turning point for So came in 2014 when he left university and moved to Minnetonka, Minnnesota to live with his adoptive parents, Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting, Key being a former Filipino movie star and now Vice President of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild. She serves as So’s manager and insisted he not check on-line NBA scores when doing his chess training. Later, So turned away from the internet more fundamentally to focus on chess.
One Filipino international master remarked: “He cannot afford decent training given by well known GM-coaches and has to rely on his pure talent.” Last month he brought on Vladimir Tukmakov as a coach, but he’s had less formal training than any top player in recent memory.
So hopes to learn how to drive a car, and he enjoys playing in Las Vegas: “I like Las Vegas,” So said, laughing. “People are usually drunk. Makes them easier to beat. Just keep drinking.”
So’s style now has evolved to the point where…he doesn’t seem to have a style. He is renowned for his calm and he simply limits the number of mistakes. At the top, top levels, a player without a real style is a player who is hard to train for and hard to beat.
So is religious, and he is considered mild-mannered and humble. The story of Wesley So is not over. Yet Wesley So is an American, and an American hero, and he has received virtually no mainstream media attention.