Clothes make the men in the case of Grandmaster Wesley So.
When he won the tough Tata Steel Chess Tournament in January this year in The Netherlands, Wesley, a native of Cavite, received the winner’s trophy dressed in barong, which is the closest get-up that you can get for Filipino gentlemen that screams “P’re, Pinoy ako!”
But what would he wear if he bagged the first prize of $120,000 in the ongoing FIDE World Chess Cup being held in Tbilisi, Georgia?
Maybe, he will still go for another barong, or maybe, he will choose an “amerikana,” the Western suit that seems to be favored by chess players, at least in Tata, the FIDE cup and other giants-only competitions.
If the Filipino whiz, who is currently No. 8 in the FIDE’s latest (August) rankings, went for the widely regarded national costume for men, then he would have declared, if symbolically, where he comes from and to the relief of Filipino chess fans who could still call Wesley their own.
If he went the other way and wore the Western suit in accepting the champion’s trophy plus the cash prize in the Georgian capital, then it could be a warning that he would be sending all his barong to ukay-ukay shops or charities and to the disapproval of Filipinos, even those who would have a hard time telling the difference between a castle and a rook.
Local politicians and hangers-on making pawns of the likes of Wesley, 23, probably would not care if the homegrown GM walked up the Tbilisi stage naked or waving a small American flag.
The US banner means that Wesley is representing the US Chess Federation in the 2017 FIDE World Chess Cup, not the National Chess Federation of the Philippines.
The Caviteno’s trouble began in 2103 when he won that year’s gold medal in chess at the Universiade.
Philippine chess authorities reportedly refused to hand Wesley the P1- million cash incentive that is by tradition and by law given to the top podium finisher in any tournament sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee.
It has been argued that this embarrassing episode in Philippine sports prompted Wesley to move to the United States in 2015.
The Filipinos’ loss (excluding arbiters of the sport who think that “mate” is the name of their cousin who prefers the lower case “m”) is the Americans’ gain.
Two years after the US Chess Federation accepted him with open arms, Wesley paid them back by helping America take the gold medal in the 2017 Chess Olympiad.
And now, he is in the semifinals of this year’s FIDE World Chess Cup.
A victory over Chinese GM Ding Liren would send Wesley to the finals against either GM Levon Aronian of Armenia or GM Maxime Vachier –Lagrave of France.
Already, the Filipino (or already naturalized American?) wunderkind made history by becoming the first (Filipino?) to reach the semifinals of the ongoing FIDE tournament.
Chess honchos in the Philippine Islands who made things difficult for Wesley and his family can keep their P1 million.
Wesley and Ding each are already assured of $50,000 for making it to the Final Four.
Talk of the one that got away.
Good luck to Mr. So, this corner will be rooting for you, win or lose in Georgia.