Fil-Am chess sensation Wesley So’s recent success draws mixed reactions from fellow GMs, ex-POC chief

Fulfillment, regret and frustration were some of the reactions shared by grand masters Eugene Torre and Joey Antonio and former Philippine Olympic Committee chief Cristy Ramos on the heels of Fil-American chess sensation Wesley So’s successful campaign in the recent World Fischer Random Chess Championship.

Torre and Antonio used to play alongside So in the team competition of the Asian Games, one of the last major tournaments joined by the young wood pusher before he decided to push his luck in the United States where he enjoyed more success — and solid support.

When it comes to Philippine chess, no one has a richer background than Torre, Asia’s first grand master, who had played in board 1 of the national team chess championship squads, including 18 times in the Chess Olympiad, regarded as the Olympics of chess.

He has brought honors to the country quite a number of times, including being part of the Philippine chess champion squads in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983, where he spearheaded the Pinoys’ dominance in the Asian Chess Championship.

Seeing So making waves and representing the United States is definitely a proud moment for the Filipinos.

“I’m so happy and proud for him,” Torre told FOX Sports Philippines in a telephone interview. “I’m sure, a lot of Filipinos are asking why is he representing the United States and not the Philippines? We cannot deprive him of a good opportunity and the US is a land of opportunity for him. Just like our OFWs, Wesley So is also there trying to build a good future for himself and his family. No one could blame him why he decided to leave the Philippines and continue his promising future representing the US Chess Federation.”

A few days ago, So, who just turned 26 nearly a month ago, made the Philippines proud anew when he defeated world No.1 Magnus Carlsen to win the World Fischer Random Chess title.

“For me, this is really a proud moment. Even though he’s representing the United States, it doesn’t mean na inaalis na niya yung pagiging Pusong Pinoy. Hindi naman niya niri-renounce yung pagiging Pilipino niya,” added Torre. “This is big. May nagsabi nga baka up to this time, hindi pa nari-realize ni Wesley So yung magnitude ng pagkapanalo niya eh.”

According to Torre, So has been enjoying solid support — both from the US Chess Federation and his benefactors, former actress Lotis Key and his other half, retired PBA player Bambi Kabigting.

Antonio, who became grand master in 1993, relished the moments playing alongside So during the 2010 Asian Games.

“Very memorable para sa akin yung 2010 Asian Games kasi we placed second behind China sa team competitions then tinalo natin ng dalawang beses yung powerhouse team na India,” wrote Antonio in an online interview.

Asked about his thoughts on So now representing the United States instead of the Philippines, Antonio could only sum it up in one word.

“Nakakapanghinayang,” added Antonio. “Yan ang tamang word na gamitin dyan.”

Ramos was installed as president of the POC from 1997 to 1999, but as a former sports official, she had also seen some of our finest athletes come and go — and strut their wares elsewhere.

“It’s terribly frustrating and exasperating at how Philippine sports is going,” wrote Ramos, daughter of former President Fidel V. Ramos and ex-Philippine Badminton Association president Amelita Ramos.

“But there has been precedents. As I recall, Bea Lucero (now married to businessman/sportsman Jean Henri Lhuillier) was not able to compete in the Olympic Games while badminton player Erica von Heiland, who played for thew Philippines, ended up playing for the US instead because of politics.”

For Ramos, So is a once in a generation kind of athlete who was not given priority and deprived of support he needs.

“It’s really shameful. But I would like to say Wesley So is my hero. He has so much talent and so much determination to go for excellence. A normal person would have been broken. Not all heroes wear capes and he should be the Philippines’ and the world’s hero,” added Ramos, also an official of the Asian Football Confederation.

So had decided to disassociate himself from the Philippines’ chess governing body, the National Chess Federation of the Philippines, since 2014.

He would have represented the country in major international competitions, including the coming Southeast Asian Games.

CORRUPTION IN PHILIPPINE CULTURE

In his recent interview, So shared his thoughts on why he decided to leave the Philippines and continue to pursue a career in chess, this time representing the United States.

“There’s a basic chess structure in the Philippines, but there’s very little support systems for developing good players into global stars. 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,” said So in an interview with Chess.com last April 10.

“Corruption is embedded deep within our culture. 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.”

Photo from GM Joey Antonio’s Facebook

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