Wesley So, talent extraordinaire

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.


Is chess an heroic application of a prodigious IQ?

In my department, there was one guy who won a national chess championship, who did a Phd Cum Laude in Econometrics, so there is certainly a correlation. But i think at the top, is about specialization, so maybe many of these guys wouldn' t become top mathematicians, and vice-versa.

It was the heroism of the endeavor, not the IQ needed to perform it, that was being questioned.

You can follow Wesley So in the Pro Chess League next week:



Is there a single WASP in the top 10 for US chess players ? Sad !

Do WASPs even play chess? I've never heard of it being a major WASP hobby.

Some. Backgammon's more popular in the blueblood set.

There are some jobs Americans just won't do...

Obvious evidence of discrimination, according to the Democrat party. Millions set to march to demand equality of outcome.

Actually there is at least one WASP! Ray Robson!

Robson is half-Chinese, mate. Not very WASP-y at all.

us top 10? maybe sam shankland?

Closer than Robson, but Shankland is half-Jewish.

(Source: I knew him when we were both in middle / high school.)

My understanding is that while he has moved permanently to the US and has transferred to the US Chess Federation (for very solid reasons, as the chess federation in the Philippines is inept), and can thus represent the US in international tournaments, he has not yet changed his citizenship and remains a Filipino.

“I changed federation for the same reason the Philippines has millions of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers). I was poor and not related to anyone powerful so I had to take my chances elsewhere. Where would I be if I hadn’t left? Ask Hari Das Pascua, who is still waiting for game results from 2016 to be submitted to FIDE.

Will I change citizenship? That is years away from happening if ever,”


It is only a rumor that So is the love child of Ray Lopez.

I clicked expecting Ray to be the first commenter. Very disappointed in him.

He is probably busy with his 2 times younger than him wife.

It is no excuse. President Temer is married with a woman less than half his age, fathered a son in this marriage and nother child outside marriage and presides a country bigger than the Roman Empire and is reforming one of the biggest economies mankind has ever seen at neckbreaking speed. He is also a legal scholar and a writer.

On a sort of tangent, I'd be interested to know whether professional, competitive chess (and Go, I guess) players are at all discouraged by the high possibility that they will never be able to beat AI like Deep Blue and AlphaGo.

I'm not saying that they *should* be discouraged - there's plenty of art and beauty and creativity in these games, and one can enjoy them separately from consideration of winning and losing. I suppose the existence of nigh-unbeatable godlike opponent could be a driver of continuous striving for improvement, for a certain type of competitive person.

Competitive cyclists have no chance of bearing a motorcycle, but that hasn't diminished the sport.

Is that equivalent, or is there some fundamental difference here because chess is a mental pursuit?

Aw, you beat me to that metaphor!

Actually, I suppose we don't really know whether cycling is diminished, since faster powered transport already existed at the time the sport developed.

Maybe (probably?) cycle racing would be much more prominent if it were the greatest speed humans could attain.

Despite cyclists being faster Usain Bolt and Mo Farah have achieved some fame and fortune.

My guess is that top players don't even view computers as competition anymore. Human vs. computer chess games are basically as competitive as cyclist vs. motorcycle races.

I think the problem with having computers used so much in chess is that it really cuts down on the possibility of new ideas being employed. Back before computers, when someone sprung a new opening variation or something, there was always some doubt as to whether it was really sound (or refuted the opening!) and so forth. Now we can just get the computer's opinion - they're not always right, but still I find it less exciting.

You get used to AIs being better than you in chess. After all would you quit running just because a bike can go faster? Quit cross country because helicopters can go over all terrain?

That's just my attitude. It's fun to lose against stockfish lvl 8, anyone who likes chess should try it out.

I enjoy, as a chess novice, to see chess.com computer beating me and the replay shows my positional mistakes and their value.

While So is phenomenally good, my money is on Caruana to be the one to beat Carlsen. I don't think most others have much of a chance... the old guard - especially Aronian and Kramnik - used to be good bets but I think they are well past their peak, and Nakamura is good but has an absolutely dismal personal record vs. Magnus. Wei Yi is a possibility but has yet to prove himself.

Strangely, the US has three players in the top 10 (So, Caruana, Nakamura)... and then the next strongest players are clustered more than 100 elo points below. Still makes us probably the strongest chess nation nowadays, which is strange when you think of the reputation Russia has (they have a lot of very strong players, but their top-calibre group is behind ours now - especially with Kramnik not playing so much these days).

When I go online, I find that Filipinos are very often the most enthusiastic chess players / fans... even back when So had not proved himself, I saw more online support for him (mainly from Filipinos) than anyone else (except of course Magnus himself).

Yes, but if you look at how many Russians are in the top 100, and to the fact that those 3 are not really that american...(one of those three doesn't even have american nationality...), sounds a bit like the runners that Qatar imports from West Africa.

"those 3 are not really that american."

What does that mean?

Caruana was born in the US, is a US citizen and has lived in the US longer than he has lived in any other country. As far as Nakamura is concerned, I mean sure he wasn't born in the US but his family moved to the US when he was 2 meaning he would have no recollection of living in Japan and has spent 93% of his life as a resident/citizen of the US.

I think it means what it means. Caruana, your all American boy, represented Italy from 2005 to 2015. Got to have some points there in the "not really that American." Our boy So is not American in the sense of "not being an American". So that leaves the Japanese guy, who is indeed the most American of the 3..

Maybe because her mother is Vice President of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild, I had read that he enjoys praying in Las Vegas.

Clearly he enjoys preying in Vegas.

In fact, it was my second thought, it made so much sense. I was a little disappointed that he just said he likes to play in Las Vegas. I think I would give much more interesting interviews than he does.

Renato Kabigting has a great name.

Is chess anti-social? Searching for Bobby Fischer is a very good movie. No, it's not a movie about Bobby Fischer but a movie about a child chess prodigy who trains to be like the unlikable Bobby Fischer in order to become a champion. There's no complacency among child or adult chess prodigies.

E.g., Travis Kalanick. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/01/technology/uber-chief-apologizes-after-video-shows-him-arguing-with-driver.html?ref=business&_r=0

I see him as an immature, whiny poor sport, mainly based on his Lichess rant and departure. Not heroic qualities. Talent does not a hero make.

His mother is the clue as to why So doesn't get more media love and attention: he's got Jesus cooties. Journalists are terrified of catching Jesus cooties.

To be fair, despite Evangelicals' support, they probably won't get it from President Trump so they are safe covering politics.

He's also a Spanish-speaking Catholic, which means he's a socialist from an incomprehensible alien culture threatening to destroy America, according to the alt-right.

As Ann Coulter pointed out, the Founding Father knew those Catholics are up to no good. I bet the Jesuits control So so completely he is inly a pawn in their game.

or maybe chess is unwatchably boring to most people ?

Manny Pacquiao is a counterexample.

So is a Chinese- Filipino. Chinese can dominate chess if they can somehow make it popular. ATM, last than few millions players actively play chess regularly. GO is the most popular game there.

Actually Chinese chess is the most popular board game. But Go is much bigger at international competition levels.

And Chinese already dominate women's chess with Russia.

"Wesley So is an American, and an American hero, and he has received virtually no mainstream media attention."
Trying to have your cake and eat it too? What's all this "we" and "American" you are always talking about, white man. There is no we, and there is no such thing as an "American" anymore. There are only privileged white oppressors and the Noble Hyphenated Victimized Identity Groups Who Proudly Succeed Where Complacent White Hicks Fail. You had it right in the first sentence: So is a Filipino-American. His misfortune is having his identify defined by being from a nation whose leader committed the unpardonable sin of insulting The One True Risen Lord and Savior Our Last Real President Obama. Once Duterte is gone and his successor makes nice, stories about the racism So overcame will be on every front page.

There is still such a thing as "American". It just has nothing to do with race. The people who think it has something to do with race are having conniption fits because what they thought "American" meant is ceasing to exist.

There is a battle over what it means. Neither side has won, though both have adopted the habit of proclaiming their view as the obvious, moral, and dominant one. The other side could say you're having conniption fits because the race and ethnicity-based definitions of nationhood that have always existed don't live up to your still-imagined utopia. You see "bigots" everywhere who are just being human but who are sinning against your new moral code.

Sorry, I forgot about the interesting philosophical arguments in favor of race-based notions of national identity. Why anyone would consider one or the other obviously morally superior is beyond me.

"It has nothing to do with race but.. race, race race, browning of America, reparations, fascist, nazi, alt-white, white supremacist, white nationalist, rural hicks, clingers, racism, unconcious bias, affirmative action, open borders"

I think Americanness is defined by belief in a set of values and principles, including stuff like 'all men are created equal' and 'life liberty and the pursuit if happiness'. Sadly, it seems that lots of white people don't believe in those values.

I agree; there is such a thing as an American -- it largely covers those in the western hemisphere.

I don't get the hero reference though; I suspect it's a usage that I would consider it a misuse of the word (for me most heros are dead and the others very well may have been but for dumb luck).

Personally, I would hope he evolves towards applying his brains to something more productive than playing chess. It's not the most important thing in the world.

Just imagine what the first 140+IQ could do in gender studies?

No, just no. Because some of us would be forced to read the books and articles.

I was thinking theoretical physics, or perhaps something more practical like artificial intelligence, but YMMV.

Hero is an odd label for someone who plays chess really well. A compelling underdog story seems more like it.

Maybe he should go to Law School.

He could be a true hero of jurisprudence. Something America doesn't deserve, but needs.

For now, then, is he the hero America deserves, not the hero America needs?

or write a blog

Then finally he will do something important.

Why is it relevant that So is religious? Is this what makes him an American hero in your view?


"and he has received virtually no mainstream media attention."

That is because chess is a difficult boring game played by Putin.

Geopolitical chess?

Interesting post Tyler!

Mr. So..."stopped checking basketball scores on-line in order to concentrate on chess". Even if he wins the worrld championship that is to high a price to pay.

Someday somewhere there will be someone who just on a whim becomes a top chess player; the grinders will make sure he never becomes a "champion"; but those who care about the poetry in that future world would be willing to walk a hundred miles to read twenty or thirty pages of the dreams of that whimsical someday somewhere almost chess champion: think about it - what does she dream about when she dreams about the places she has been? Perhaps this: I found myself, for reasons not worth going into, moving back into an apartment in L.A., in view of the ocean (blue) and the mountains (ecstatic brown/green, with wonderful trees): I thought these things: have I ever really lived here before, why is this beautiful apartment complex so familiar and so inexpensive: what about the accrued rent: not that I care about my stuff, but one wonders if they took it away after I left and forgot to pay rent for three four even five months: why does everyone seem so familiar, not just the two or three who have a vague claim to being relatives but also the rest who set up little parties in the hallways and who see no problem at waking me up at 3 in the morning to let me know that, our old friend, there is something important going on in the hallway and it is fun and we are not unable to speak of the deepest things - joy, trivia that has become true knowledge, and even whatever passes for dancing among people who never prided themselves on dancing, even the rosalindiade that those lucky few of us who love to act have dreamed of, recursively, or not....and the simplistic beams of light which are so incredibly basic until that moment where one balances one's head on the pillow and realizes that there is nothing simplistic about the most simple example of light: one reimagines the first pizza parlor, the first cheap understocked little book store, and the first classroom with a compassionate teacher that one entered or remembers: one thinks, perhaps this is a dream and one says to oneself it can't be, technically, a dream, because I am about to wake up and realize I have wasted most of my life competing at chess - then a moment later one knows that chess is easier than anyone ever said it was and not a single person has wasted a single moment on chess success, it was all just a masquerade, and then one thinks, no, I am not the sort of person who uses words like masquerade, then one wakes up, and the cat wants to eat, the dog wants a walk, the patient monkey wants to discuss those things that patient monkeys like to discuss with the kind sort of people who welcome into their homes (would that be me? I would like to say yes it would yes it would) those monkeys who are patient (that is not a dream - such monkeys exist!), and the loving wife or loving husband is off in another room, assessing the contents of the refrigerator and the cupboard next to the refrigerator and thinking, as she or he does every once in a while, blissful thoughts about how happy she or he will be to see her husband (or his wife) happy at breakfast ... No, working at chess is not a waste of time. Not if it is my grandchild working on chess. Happiness is real. Chess is an illusion. The apartment was never rented, the hallway was never full of friends during those mysterious post-midnight hours, but heart spoke to heart and the rest was simply (but powerfully) lovely gratuitous sprezzatura.

Exodus 31, 1-11. Try reading it with a pictorial imagination. You will likely not be disappointed.

'El tiempo destile la verdad en el alembique del arte' Don (por usted, por eso, yo soy Mon Capitan!) Colacho. That is what Bobby wanted to learn and didn't.

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