A little over a week following the now Filipino-American chess chess sensation Wesley So’s shocking 13.5 to 2.5 outclassing of title-defending Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, who happens to be his idol, last All Souls Day to crown himself the First World Fischer Random Chess champion, calls, text messages, e-mail messages continued pouring in asking why the former prodigy is playing for the United states and not the Philippines.
Well, the now 26 year-old super Grandmaster, you see, is the latest among the list of Filipino sports heroes, who, after bringing home honors for themselves and the country, have been sent to oblivion out of neglect, disrespect and other sad effects of lack of support from the government, his own sports federation and the sports leadership.
The Cavite boy’s change of federation — from the local ruling body, the Philippine Chess Federation (PCF), to that of the United States counterpart, is, indeed, up to the present time, shrouded with mystery that one has yet to clarify what the real score is.
What this OUTSIDER was told after bringing home the Philippines first ever gold medal in the 2012 Summer Universiade held in Kazan, Russia, after his playoff match with Zaven Andriasian, the brilliant wood pusher was deprived of the monetary and material incentives, including the P1 million prize guaranteed by the Athletes and Coaches Incentives Law authored by former Senator Robert Jaworski.
Why this happened, no one, too, could give a clear answer except that both the PCF and the then-Philippine Sports Commission high priests’ pointing fingers at each other for the fiasco, which from where this OUTSIDER sits owed the blame in the first place.
So, thus, suffered the fate experienced by ex-Asian Sprint Queen Lydia de Vega, who after helping the country’s win the overall in the Southeast Asian Games in 2005 was booted out forcing her to seek her fortune elsewhere where her services and talents are appreciated.
For the past half-a-decade or so since she was forced out, Diay has spent her days teaching how and why she was acclaimed as Asia’s “Fastest Woman” for more than a decade in Singapore where, reports are, that she has produced at least one or two who can be heir apparent to the throne she vacated.
Not Filipinos, of course.
In denying So the P1-million bonanza, the PSC explained the Universiade wasn’t among the international events where gold medalists are guaranteed monetary incentives from the government under that RA No. 9644.
The Philippine Olympic Committee refused to sanction the Universiade trip since the delegation was sent by a group whose members had previously clashed with the POC over the long-drawn basketball leadership row.
Amid the power play, So was left holding the proverbial empty bag.
“Ang mahihirap at walang koneksyon dito sa Pilipinas ay itinuturing na basura na puwedeng yapak-yapakan (to be poor and unconnected in the Philippines are considered trash for rich people to step on,” So said in an interview months ago.
“Because of a quarrel between the kings of the sports bodies, not only did the country refuse to acknowledge my efforts, they refused to give me the P1 million promised to athletes who bring home a gold medal,” he lamented.
According to Lotis Key, a former movie actress, So now considers her adopted mother, her ward grew so disillusioned that he almost quit the sport. But the chess whiz somehow found renewed vigor upon his return to the US where he eventually left Webster University and moved to Minnesota to stay with Key’s and ex-basketball player husband Bambi’s family home.
So’s achievement at the Fischer Random Chess Championship might have brought to light the consequences of his country’s lack of support to its athletes, but this, too, put him at the top of the chess world rankings.
So had an undefeated streak of 67 games starting in July 2016, which ended in April 2017.
So has competed in five Chess Olympiads, making his debut at 12 years old representing the Philippines at the Turin Olympiad in 2006. From the 2016 Olympiad, So has represented the United States.
So, noted the late Rodolfo Tan Cardoso, the first Filipino International Master, “has a tactical style of play. He would sacrifice a queen or any other pieces in his arsenal to get a winning attack….He cannot afford decent training given by well known GM-coaches and has to rely on his pure talent…before competing.”
“ I play aggressive chess,” So himself attested. . I would like to play a solid game with a solid opening. This is what I want. I think my style is close to (former world champion Vishy Anand”
So’s style has evolved in recent years as he became more precise and risk-free, relying on taking advantage of opponent’s mistakes.
So has been estranged with his biological family after they left for Canada and left him alone in Manila. He is a Christian, he confessed in an article for Christianity Today in August 2017, where he stated that he reads the Bible every night and attends church every weekend.
He has a younger sister, Wilma Barbasa So, and an older sister, Wendelle Barbasa So.