The saga of Wesley So, the chess world champion

By Atty. Antonio P. Pekas


“And he was like you and me. Not rich. Just a normal person in the Philippines. So he developed his talents in a poor man’s game.”

In our weekly lunch with fraternity brods, our conversation strayed into Wesley So’s genius as a chess player. One of us, said that he was not anymore following up sports competitions because things are so politicizes, which I took as including corruption.
Then we noticed that the Christmas season is already here. The same person then broached the idea of going to a relatively remote school in Benguet and give gifts the students or pupils would remember all their lives. After all, our fraternity (Alpha Phi Omega International Service Fraternity or APO) is a service fraternity.
So it was agreed. We came up with a possible list. Ping-pong tables or sets, chess boards, scrabble sets, basket ball, etc., only as far as we can afford. The balls would take care of their physical health while the chess and scrabble sets would help their minds and brains develop.
Which brings me back to Wesley So (see also the editorial) and how he grew up to become the international chess giant he now is.
He was born in Las Pinas and learned chess in the streets of Cavite. Some Chinese blood runs through his veins.
In an interview with Chess.com he said, “there’s a basic chess structure in the Philippines, but there’s very little support systems for developing good players into global stars. While the Chinese or Indian schools will identify talented boys at the age of four, and start giving them all kinds of assistance, there’s no long-term strategy for development in the Philippines.
“The major problem is corruption. It’s hard for athletes to get financial assistance to compete abroad, especially if they don’t have connections. For example, we would send teams to the Asian Games and there would be more officials on the plane than athletes. But corruption is embedded deep within our culture. It perhaps comes from the years of colonization and domination from foreign powers. You have to know people to get anywhere. People say, you can only get rich within the Philippines if you’re a politician. For normal people, it’s impossible.”
And he was like you and me. Not rich, Just a normal person in the Philippines. So he developed his talents in a poor man’s game.
“In third-world countries, chess is the poor man’s game,” he said. “Rich people play tennis, polo, and golf, while poor people play chess because you don’t need anything—no uniform, no field or courts. Children don’t need money to play chess. People make the pieces out of bottle caps, or whatever materials they have. So, every week I would cut out newspaper clippings about famous grandmaster games, study them, and then I’d go from street to street with a makeshift board, challenging anyone who knew how to play.”
And the rest is history.
Long story short, in the states he found some support or even mothering from Lotis Key, an American, and her family. She was a movie star in the Philippines way back in early 70s. She got married to an Ateneo basketball star, Renato Kabigting, who became a professional basketball player here.
Back in the States with her family she became a theater director and a novelist having written two literary novels.
In 1986 she brought her theater team here in the Philippines and did some shows for free in underprivileged areas.
She should share the limelight with her ward, the chess prodigy, Wesley So now representing the US.**

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