Super Grandmaster Wesley So officially ended the hopes of those who wished to see him represent the Philippines again when he became a U.S. citizen earlier this year.
“I want to give back to a country that has been so good to me,” So told the US Chess Federation. “From the moment I landed here, I was encouraged and enabled to become better than I was. I like this attitude and the tremendous generosity of American culture.”
Under a different flag: So, the first World Fischer Random Chess Champion, received his citizenship documents on Feb. 26, ABS-CBN reported.
- The 27-year-old originally represented the Philippines in international competitions until he immigrated to the U.S. in 2014.
- Following his transfer to the United States Chess Federation, So moved to Minnetonka, Minn., to live with his adoptive parents, Renato Kabigting and Lotis Key.
- Key assumed the role of a momager — a mom and manager — to So about eight years ago.
- “I handle all the logistics of holding an elite player’s life together,” she told ANCX in an interview. “You would not believe how much effort that takes. It’s an ever-increasing multitude of little things piled one on top of another, needed to keep an elite athlete in business.”
The American dream
Wesley So has represented the United States since the end of 2014, as he was first included in the FIDE official ranking list as an American player in November that year. The Filipino-born grandmaster currently lives in Minnesota with his adoptive parents, Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting.
Moving to the U.S. was the right move for So’s professional career, especially thanks to Rex Sinquefield’s continued efforts to enhance the opportunities given to American chess players, both at the elite and scholastic levels — it was recently announced that world number 5 Levon Aronian will also transfer to the U.S.
During his years as an American player, So has collected a number of major successes. To name just a few, he won the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic in 2016, and he kept up the pace at the outset of 2017, winning the Tata Steel Masters to become the third highest-rated player in the world. In November 2019, So defeated Magnus Carlsen in a lopsided match to become the Fischer Random World Chess Champion.
By transferring to the U.S., So gained the right to participate in the increasingly stronger U.S. Championship, winning the event in 2017 and 2020. He also helped the American team win the 2016 Olympiad in Baku, taking home individual gold after scoring an impressive 8½/10 score on board 3.
So was awarded the Frank P. Samford, Jr. Chess Fellowship in 2016, the year in which he more than confirmed his status as an elite player.
Wesley So became the youngest player to pass a 2600 Elo — skill rating system for players in zero-sum games — in October 2008, breaking the record previously held by Magnus Carlsen, the current No. 1 chess player and World Champion. Other players have since broken the record.
- So made his Olympiad debut at age 12, representing the Philippines during the Turin Olympiad in 2006. He has so far competed in five Chess Olympiads.
- In 2012, So won the Philippines’ first-ever gold medal in the Summer Universiade in Russia but was deprived of the incentives usually awarded to Filipino athletes, The Manila Times reported.
- So said he decided to become an American citizen to have opportunities that he couldn’t get in his country of origin.
- “You are not held back by your color, lack of connections or the amount of money you have,” So was quoted as saying. “If you work hard, you have a better chance of making it here than anywhere else in the world. I came here ready to work hard, and it turned out just as I dreamed.”
Currently, So is ranked 9th in the FIDE (International Chess Federation) Standard. He defeated Carlsen to win two events at the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour: the Opera Euro Rapid in February and the Skilling Open last November, Yahoo reported. On Monday, Carlsen defeated So to win the FTX Crypto Cup event.
Officially a U.S. citizen
Wesley So has represented the United States since the end of 2014 and has collected a number of major successes since his transfer. A couple of weeks ago, the Filipino-born star officially became a United States citizen. So declared, “From the moment I landed here I was encouraged and enabled to become better than I was”.
On Thursday, U.S. Chess reported that So had officially become a United States citizen on February 26, 2021 at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in St. Paul/Minneapolis.
In an interview with Debbie Cannon of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, So talked about his naturalization:
DC: Why are you becoming a U.S. citizen?
WS: I want to give back to a country that has been so good to me. From the moment I landed here I was encouraged and enabled to become better than I was. I like this attitude and the tremendous generosity of American culture. Most people here have no idea what it is like anywhere else in the world, and they don’t appreciate the amazing spirit of this country. I have competed in most countries of the world and I can say … I love it here!
How did you feel when you became a U.S. citizen?
I got so hyper and excited I was talking kind of loud all day. It was literally a dream come true. I am now a part of the American Dream. I am part of the most successful country on earth, ready to make my own contribution and have my own legacy here.
What will this mean for your future in the field of chess?
Well, that I cannot say. Chess is a sport and like other elite sports your efforts can go up and down for all sorts of reasons. I know I will try my best to pay back what has been done for me. I plan to be a good citizen and help others the way I was helped. God Bless America!
During the pandemic, So got to play frequently at elite online events, as he was invited both to the tournaments organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club and by the Magnus Carlsen Group. Impressively, the player from the City of Bacoor defeated the world champion in two finals of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour — at the Skilling Open and at the Opera Euro Rapid Tournament.
After winning the Opera Euro Rapid, So gave an interview to Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal from ChessBase India. As humble as ever, he said of his victory over Carlsen:
SS: After you beat [Carlsen] in the Skilling Open and the Fischer Random event before that, this result was definitely on the cards. How are you able to beat Magnus so consistently?
WS: (Laughs) I don’t know. I just wait for Magnus to not be himself. He is usually very confident, plays fast, but in this tournament he hasn’t really shown that! He managed to get good positions but was always behind in clock. For instance, in the last game, now that I am checking it, I was objectively lost.