GM Wesley So

Full name
Wesley So
Born
Oct 9, 1993 (age 25)‎
Place of birth
Bacoor, Cavite, Philippines
Federation
United States
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Bio

Wesley So is a Filipino-American super grandmaster who is among the world’s best chess players. He began as a chess prodigy who entered tournaments at nine years old. At 14, he became the ninth youngest GM in history. The next year, he became the youngest player to pass the 2600 rating threshold, breaking Magnus Carlsen’s record.

So’s peak rating of 2822 in March 2017 made him the No. 2 player in the world behind Carlsen. It also earned his place as the fifth highest-rated player ever, trailing only Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian. Given those accomplishments, multiple national championships and an elite tournament resume—while still in his mid-20s—Wesley So may develop into an all-time great.

Youth and Early Chess Career (1999 to 2009)

So learned to play chess when he was six years old. At nine, he began taking part in local youth chess tournaments, and So’s first major victory came when he won the under 10 age group at the 2003 Philippine National Chess Championships.

Three years later, just shy of his 14th birthday, So became the youngest Filipino IM in history, as well as the youngest member of the national men’s team at the 37th Chess Olympiad. The next year, in 2007, So confirmed that he was a chess prodigy. At 14 years, one month and 28 days old, he became the ninth youngest GM in history, which also made him the youngest-ever Filipino GM, an accomplishment he still holds today. At the time So became a GM, he was ranked the strongest player in the world under 16 years of age.

Wesley So in 2008.
Wesley So in 2008. Photo: F Hoppe, CC 3.0.

As a junior, So dominated several competitions. In 2007, he became the youngest National Junior Open champion, and then won gold on board one during the World Under 16 Team Championships. He followed up those impressive performances by becoming the youngest winner of the Dubai Open Chess Championships in 2008. That year, he broke Magnus Carlsen’s record of being the youngest player to surpass the 2600 rating mark.

Surging to the Highest Level of Competition (2009 to 2015)

So’s first major chess tournament came in 2009 when he won group C at the 71st Corus Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. His 9.5/13 was a full point ahead of Tiger Hillarp Persson and Anish Giri, who tied for second place. And once again, this time in 2009, So was rated the world’s strongest chess player for his age. No other player born in 1993 or later had a better rating than the chess prodigy.

Between 2009 and 2011, So won three Filipino Chess Championships. However, his national chess affiliation then shifted. He emigrated to the United States in 2012 after accepting a scholarship offer from Webster University, which is located in Missouri and boasts 20 national championships in chess. In 2014, So officially shifted his chess officiation to the United States and then moved to Minnesota to live with his adoptive parents.

Meanwhile, So showcased his extraordinary talent. He won the Quebec International in 2012 and one day after that tournament finished, So beat Ray Robson in Chess.com's 7th Blitz Death Match by a score of 23 to nine. Then, in 2013, he won five major tournaments: the Reykjavik Open, the Calgary International Chess Classic, the Univé Crown Group and the World University Chess Championship. In 2014, he won the 49th Capablanca Memorial as well as the inaugural tournaments of the ACP Golden Classic and Millionaire Chess.

A Full-time Professional Player (2015 to 2019)

So officially became a full-time professional chess player in 2015, launching another bright period early in his chess career.

In January 2015, he finished second with an impressive 8.5/11 points in the elite tournament at Wijk aan Zee, the 77th Tata Steel Chess Tournament. Magnus Carlsen won the event while So finished in a four-way tie for second with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Ding Liren. Then in June, he placed second in another elite tournament, the Sparkassen Chess Meeting, behind Fabiano Caruana and ahead of Vladimir Kramnik and Ian Nepomniachtchi. In November, he won the 8th Bilbao Masters Final after beating Giri in a blitz tiebreak, topping the four-player field that was rounded out by Viswanathan Anand and Ding.

V. Anand - W. So. in Bilbao, Spain.
V. Anand - W. So in Bilbao, Spain. Photo: Manu de Alba.

So was just as good in 2016. The highlight that year may have been So’s performance in the 2016 Sinquefield Cup, where he beat a field in which the “weakest” player was 2751. So had a performance rating of 2859 and beat, in order, Anand, Levon Aronian, Caruana, Veselin Topalov, Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, Ding, Peter Svidler and Giri. The next year So followed up his notable performance with individual gold on board three for the United States in the 42nd Chess Olympiad. That effort helped So and teammates Caruana, Nakamura, Samuel Shankland and Ray Robson win team gold, capturing Team USA’s first gold medal in 40 years (1976). So completed his spectacular year with two wins in London in just days apart—the Grand Chess Tour and the London Chess Classic.

In another strong year for So, the 22-year-old phenom kicked off 2017 by winning the 79th Tata Steel Chess Tournament. He finished a full point ahead of World Champion Carlsen and a star-studded field that included Aronian, Sergey Karjakin and Giri. So extended his streak of unbeaten games to 56, and he became the No. 2 player in the world. Then in March, So carried the St. Louis Arch Bishops to a title in Chess.com’s inaugural Professional Rapid Online (PRO) League, picking up the MVP award in the process. One month later, So won the 2017 U.S. Championship against a field including Alexander Onishcuk, Varuzhan Akobian, Caruana and Nakamura. Other highlights from 2017 include winning Spain’s XXX Torneo Magistral de Ajedres and reaching the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup.

Wesley So Won Tata Steel.
Wesley So Won Tata Steel. Photo: Alina l'Ami.

So had a solid year, at least for his high standards, in 2018. He either tied for or earned clear third place for big events like the U.S. Championship, the 80th Tate Steel Chess Tournament and Altibox Norway Chess 2018. Notably, in Norway, So beat Carlsen for the first time in a classical game. A big tournament victory came for So in the YourNextMove GCT Rapid and Blitz 2018 in Leuven, Belgium. So’s domination in the rapid portion was enough to give him the clear victory over the strong field of Karjakin, Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura, Aronian, Alexander Grischuck, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Anand, Caruana and Giri.

As the time of publishing, So is active on the Grand Chess tour, earning two top-four finishes, and in elite events like the 2019 World Cup.

Present and Future

So is one of the top ranked players in the world. With multiple national championships and his status as the fifth highest-rated player of all time, So has already accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. Keep in mind that he’s still only in his mid-20s.

There’s little doubt that So will remain active at the highest level for the foreseeable future. He’s young, has been rated the No. 2 player in the world, and has only been a full-time professional chess player for a handful of years. So may not have even hit his peak yet.  

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