November 28, 2020

Chess team member Wesley So thinks of life as a chess board

As a child, Wesley So said he used to make connections between the chess board and other objects in his life. His mother said she believed this was a sign that So had a knack for chess. So is a Webster University freshman and Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) member. He is also a Filipino chess grandmaster.

“The bishops move diagonally,” So said.  “When I was in elementary school, our chairs in the classroom were set up diagonally. I made the connection to the bishop and it made chess more interesting for me.”

CAILLIN MURRAY/ The Journal Wesley So, freshman Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence member, practices his chess skills on Tuesday, April 2.

So’s father taught him chess when he was 7 years old. By age 10, So was already playing in his first international world youth competition in Greece. According to Chess News, at 14, So became the eighth-youngest chess grandmaster in history.

“We bought Wesley various toys when he was a kid, and we just noticed that he was only interested in playing chess,” Eleanor So, Wesley So’s Mother, said. “He had things like a small billiard table and a basketball, which he did not even bother to touch it. I believe that each child has a talent. For Wesley, it’s chess.”

Wesley So was born in Cavite, Philippines. He graduated high school at the age of 16. He took two years off school before coming to Webster University to focus on chess. It was during those two years that he met Susan Polgar.

Susan Polgar is the director of SPICE — Webster’s chess program. Wesley So and Polgar met while he was playing in a tournament at Texas Tech University. Polgar taught at Texas Tech before being hired at Webster last fall.

“I’m really happy and proud to have him on our team,” Polgar said. “He’s truly an exceptional young man. And not only is he a great chess player, but he is also a great human being. I am honored to contribute to his further development.”

Wesley So said he found it interesting that Polgar moved to Webster because it is a small, private university — unlike Texas Tech.

Wesley So said Polgar creates goals for each player. Together, they set up a plan on how to reach them. Polgar checks on the players’ progress during their weekly preparation meetings.

“He is in one of the best universities in the world,” Eleanor So said. “And he is with general manager Susan Polgar, the world’s greatest grandmaster. It really is a dream come true for Wesley.”

Wesley So said he enjoys the physical and mental preparation of chess. Wesley So also said the physical preparation is just as important as the mental because you need to be able to last consecutive games in a tournament.

“I really like the strategies in chess,” Wesley So said. “If you look at the chess board, it looks so simple. But its really not. … There are 64 squares on the board, but I think of it as 8 times 8 because chess and math have many similarities.”

Wesley So said the longest standard game he played was in The Netherlands, in 2009. He won the first game of a 13 round event after seven hours.

“My mind and body were tired after the game but the win made it all worth it,” Wesley So said.

Wesley So is able to travel to various cities around the world for chess tournaments. He has been everywhere from Iceland to Italy since he began as a professional chess player at age 10.

“I usually only get one day to explore (the cities) if I’m lucky,” Wesley So said.

Eleanor So said her son will have a better future as a student and chess player because he is at Webster University. She said Wesley So has the ability to keep up with his schoolwork, despite the amount of traveling he does for chess.

And while Wesley So said he thinks about chess strategies often, he believes it is important to take a break.

“Although I spend quite a lot of time doing chess, I try my best to manage my time for homework and friends,” Wesley So said. “The No. 1 chess player in the world said in an interview that he thinks about chess all the time, and it’s hard for him not to think about chess for a moment. I think breaks are important because if chess was the most important thing to me — losing would be hard to accept.”

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