June 21, 2011

Close-up: Wesley So!

I didn't have the chance to meet Wesley personally, not until January this year, in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament. All I knew about him was his ascending chess career - a wonder kid from the Philippenes, with an incredible talent for chess. His achievements at an early age, coming from a country without a very long chess tradition, made him famous worldwide.


Despite being only 17, Wesley surprised me in Wijk aan Zee with his balanced and mature approach, regarding not only chess, but life itself. To live alone for more than a year, in the most densely populated city in the world (Manila), it is surely not an easy affair for a teenager. His family moved to Canada last year, leaving Wesley in a skyscraper's apartment to look after himself and deal with everything on his own. All the negative emotions and concerns that his parents must have had, have been scattered by their son's healthy lifestyle. Education played an important role in his way to cope with all temptations that any unsupervised child always has. To me, it looks like a great life achievement, maybe even more important than chess results: to take care of everything, from bills to food and travel details, for a person who didn't turn 18 yet, well...that's something! Besides, he is a warm, funloving and intelligent person. 


I am happy that he agreed to answer a few of my questions!


Congratulations with your recent tournament victory in Malmo, we all enjoyed your king march to f2! Could you give us your impressions on the event? Haha,thanks! Actually my king was feeling very much at home on f2,because Jonny Hector sacrificed too much and only has 1 knight left on his pieces!



Anyway, Sigeman was a very nice, short event, and I was very happy to win the last game. It was my first time in Malmo and I liked the weather there.The venue, hotels and surroundings were also great for me. I think the tournament in Malmo will get more popular soon, especially if they would make it a bit longer. For me 5 rounds was easy to play. Also, in the middle of the tournament, there was a countrywoman who took me out and showed me around Malmo, which was very nice.


Which is your priority now: chess or school?
For this year it is chess 100%. But sometimes I get lazy and work very little. On that topic, I like Gelfand's interview after his win in the Candidates Matches. He said that social networks (facebook, twitter), movies, some music (and I think computer games as well), are a waste of your time, which is mostly true I think.


What does chess mean for you? 
I have been playing chess for almost 10 years already and if you have hold on long to something, it's not that easy to let go haha:) But I like playing chess. It's fun for me, although I realize it's getting more difficult each year.The computers get stronger and faster and opponents are more dangerously prepared. As an example, you could see my game in Malmo against Grandelius, where I was lost after the opening. And still...I love playing chess, I accept my defeats. It's just a game, either you win or lose.

Post-mortem analysis, Tata Steel Chess 2011.
Wesley lost against Luke McShane, a decisive game
in round 12, in a better but quite sharp position.
And still he keeps smiling.
Photo: www.echecs-photos.be


How does your tournament calendar look like and what goals did you set yourself for the coming times?
I don't have so many tournaments lined up in the next few months. I am going to play in a strong closed tournament in India: AAI, then I am not sure if I will participate in the World Juniors in Chennai this year; generally I prefer to play in a little colder venues than India. I also have the World Cup and I'm looking forward for the World Blitz. I think I should use the time I will have between these events to work hard.


Do you have a certain rythm before a game? 
I don't look in a computer screen two hours before a game, in order not to get my eyes tired but I think that is necessary. And usually I wear again the same clothes in which I used to win, until I lose. Like in Tata Steel this year, where I wore that weary dark blue long-sleeve! I used that to win 4 games, then I lost to Li Chao! After that, I thought like,well...it was pathetic. I don't really know if lucky charm works or not..who knows?!


Wesley against Li Chao, Wijk 2011.
Photo: www.chess.co.uk


How does a day look like in the life of Wesley So?
I mostly stay alone in Manila (my family moved to Canada,Toronto a year ago).
I go back and forth to Canada often,but Philippines has a better chess support in general, and I still want to play chess. I usually work around 3-4 hours a day but sometimes I work hard and I can do around 6-7. Besides, I read some books, some novels and I like reading the Bible. I also go to the cinemas quite often (my place in Manila is surrounded by malls!), especially after a tournament, to relax and forget about it. It makes me feel at home. I don't go online much nowadays, I think it is mostly a waste of time.


Who will be world champion in 2020?
Personally, I think for sure it will be Magnus Carlsen, who would have been defending his title for a couple of years already.



Do you have idols or people you admire? 
Not necessarily chesswise. In chess, I'm a fan of Magnus Carlsen*. I like his style of play, sometimes he plays just brilliantly. And he is very kind as well. I think it's sad that FIDE does not really give him much attention, because, in my view, he should have been the World Champion some while ago.
Outside of the chess world, I'm a fan of director Steven Spielberg and Leonardo Di Caprio. I think all their movies are just fantastic.

* Extract from an article published on March 21, 2011, in The New Yorker: "Carlsen was already thinking ahead to the Amber chess tournament, which is being played this month, in Monaco. … “I really, really want to win and restore the power balance.” He added, “I just have to improve so much myself now.” He was even willing to let someone help him, if that’s what it took. In the days after Fashion Week, he had contacted Wesley So, a rising seventeen-year-old Philippine grandmaster, and offered to pay his way to Europe if he would train with him. In London, Carlsen had described So to me as his stylistic opposite. “I think his entire training has been with a computer,” he had noted with amazement. When I last spoke to Carlsen, he was in Majorca with So, and they had been working together. Carlsen once told me that if chess ever stopped being fun for him he’d “have to do something else.” He added, “If you have that feeling all the time, what’s the point of playing?” But, for now, he was appreciating the new training: “We’ll see if something good comes of it.” If he wound up playing more like other modern players, so be it.

How is chess seen in the Philippenes? Are you famous or rather anonymous there?
Well, chess is considered to be a sport in Philippines. I think in some countries (like in Canada for example) it isn't. But still, basketball is by far more popular than chess in my country. And I would actually prefer if no one notices me here on the streets :) Most of the times I just want people I don't know to just leave me alone. It's stupid maybe haha.


Do you get a lot of support from your federation/government? 
It's not much, but it is okay. I can go to any tournament I want. All I need is time to work and diligence to work of course (which is where I'm lacking).


Which is the best country to play chess? 
I think it is still Russia. They still have this strong chess foundation which is evident today. I'm not really sure if they have good support, but for example Karjakin's results have been much better than when he was in Ukraine.


Do you feel different than other teenagers of 17? 
Besides travelling a lot and having been in 31 countries - no, not really! Most of the times I make good friends with people of my age.


Amsterdam, January 2010.

Wijk aan Zee, January 2010.




Recently we have seen Gelfand winning in Kazan; he will now play Anand for the chess crown. Were you surprised by his victory? How do you rate his chances in the match? 
Well to be frank, I was expecting (like most people) Levon Aronian to qualify. I guess it was decisive for him not to win the first game against Grischuk in a completely winning endgame. I'm not completely sure about the outcome for the World Championship, you never know. Both players are well prepared,have a lot of experience and they are both on their forties :) Of course Anand is the favourite, but he is still human, just like his opponent :)


Gelfand is already in his 40's, you are only 17. Do you find it surprising that two players above 40 will be fighting for the title?
Ah, haha yeah. But surprisingly, they are still very,very good. Both are extremely hard to beat. But in my opinion, in a few years they will have to give way to the younger generation.


There are of course many ways to improve one's chess level, but which do you find most rewarding? 
On my level and on most levels, I think it is very important to not just study theory, but you have to understand the positions you play. You have to know where the pieces belong, how to improve your structure, you should know the typical plans and realize whether you are better in the position or not. Of course you will gain this by experience. I also think that, in most cases, it does not reward you long-term to play and change many openings at once. Because then you won't really understand why you play that opening.


Do you have a favourite game of all time? And which game of yours do you consider the best? 
I'm not sure which is the best game I have ever seen. I like Carlsen's games. And I think my Berlin win against Ni Hua in Olympiad 2008 was still best for me.





Is there someone you would thank for your chess successes? 
I would like to thank our president of the chess federation, Mr.Prospero Pichay, who has helped me a lot in recent years! And many people as well. And thanks for asking me for an interview!

I think I should be the one to thank you Wesley!:)


Links:
1. gmwesleyso.com
2. wikipedia
3. fan page on facebook



31 comments:

  1. wondeful article!! got to know so wesley in a better way!!

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  2. Good luck to Wesley and thank you so much Alina for writing in such a colourful way :-)

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  3. hi alina! i'm glad you wrote something about wesley. he's a very strong young chess player, although sometimes he still plays quite inconsistently, maybe with more time he will yet become one of the strongest players in the world. i'm just an amateur chess lover and i find your chess articles very educational and helpful. hope you can also visit our country, the philippines, when you have the time. earl

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