Caught in a zugzwang


We’re about to lose Wesley So, the country’s brightest hope for a world chess title, to the Americans. The 20-year-old grandmaster has announced his intent to leave the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and move to the United States Chess Federation.

Changing affiliations means Wesley will no longer represent the Philippines in international tournaments, and will play instead for the US.

He explains that his decision is motivated by his desire to improve his chances of moving up the world chess ladder. Going by his achievements, he is indeed destined for greater glory. Wesley is currently ranked 15th in the world, and is its No. 2 junior player. He was only 14 when he achieved an Elo rating of 2610, becoming the youngest player to smash the 2600 barrier, resetting the record set by the enfant terrible of chess, Magnus Carlsen.

Wesley’s star is still rising. His Elo has shot up to 2744 after he won the Capablanca Memorial in Havana, Cuba, and he is widely regarded as a serious contender for Carlsen’s crown.

Wesley wants to ride this wave of opportunity, and he feels that only by switching over to the US federation can he maintain the momentum.

The big tournaments are in America, he says. And he is a mainstay of Webster University, a collegiate chess superpower in the US.

His career could wither in the vine if he stays in the Philippines, because government funding is not enough to sustain the high-level campaign he needs to work his way up the rankings.

Now Wesley finds himself in a political chess game with NCFP President Prospero Pichay, who appears to be reluctant to let go of the young grandmaster without putting him through the wringer first.

Mr. Pichay insists that Wesley must go through the proper process if he wants to bail out. First, the US federation must forward his request for transfer to FIDE (Federation Internationale de Echecs), the governing body of world chess. FIDE then turns over the request to the NCFP.

If his request is turned down, Wesley could be in limbo for two years, barred from playing in FIDE-sanctioned games, while he waits out his release.

There is a short cut, Pichay says. Wesley could pay the 50,000 euro (almost P3 million) release fee. So, however, has said he cannot cough up that kind of amount.

The Pichay-So match seems to be locked in the middle game, with neither player giving up ground. Last week, Wesley announced he did not take part in the US National Open, where he had three titles to defend, because he was distracted by the issues surrounding his transfer. Pichay, meanwhile, tried to gain advantage by saying he had listed Wesley as a member of the Philippine team to the World Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, in August. Wesley countered that yes, he was going to Tromso, but as one of the coaches of the US team.

In chess, there is such a situation as a zugzwang, in which any move a player makes leads to his defeat. That is the situation the Philippines is in. We want to keep Wesley from leaving, but at this point there seems to be no way we can convince him to stay.

Any way we move, we lose.

Unless it violates any law, Mr. Pichay should just let Wesley So go graciously. He can ask So to sign an IOU payable in 10 years. Insistence on the correct process only makes him, and us Filipinos, look mean and ugly. The world of chess knows So is Filipino. Every triumph he wins as a US player will somehow exalt his race and old country too.


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  1. gm wes has to transfer fed to get his aim. If he cannot transfer, then its hard to achieve it. Chess is already a European game. It needs all big support, advantageous environment, world class couch. etc. GM Wes knows its not present here. Please lets accept the fact, and be humble. Let go in grace

  2. What I don’t like about the US is that they pirate very good players that were not born in the US and tempting them with dollars after waiting for other nations to developed their talents into world class competitors. Big Chess tournaments in the US? Where is that and what big tournaments are those? The big chess tournaments are in Europe not in the US. While other people of different nationalities but with Filipino bloodlines come to the Philippines to represent our country, our very own home grown and developed Wesley So wants to disowned his motherland. Why does he not ask the US to pay his release fee so that he can sleep with her. Di na ako fan ni Wesley So.

  3. Wesley So reached the present heights (ELO Rating 7440) of chess supremacy with all his Philippines connections and now he is saying that with playing for the US this would even improve and maybe become a world champion? Why who among the present US players right now is a world champion with all the dollar support they are having? The real reason there is economics and with this it is only right that he should return all the money the Philippine Chess association gave him to help him reach his present stature. You think the Philippine can lay claim on him when he becomes a US chess representative? This very moment he has already disowned his motherland. Look at the other world champions from 3rd world countries like India, they never let go of their nationality just to pursue a better economic position. Yes, let Wesley So go but let him pay his dues also before releasing him. The Philippines is not going to win here but they can salvage a draw. For So, a draw is a losing position.

  4. Ruben V. Calip on

    Absolutely correct po ang recommendation inyo at the end of the editorial na ito:
    Papirmahan na lang ni Pichay si Wesley So ng promissory note payable in ten years. Idadagdag ko pa on installment. Wag na lang pahirapan si So. Filipino naman yan. Kung magchampion siya playing for the US team di may prestige ding aambon sa atin. Kaysa mag mukhang walang-awa, matakaw at palalo tayo.
    If Wesley So has an enkantada fairy godmother baka tamaan si Pichay ng “Sumpa ko kayka, magiging batu ka!”