General Mar 4, 2021 | 11:07 PMby Colin McGourty

Wesley So is now a US Citizen

Wesley So is now officially a US citizen after a ceremony last Friday in Minneapolis/Saint Paul. The reigning US Chess Champion and Meltwater Champions Chess Tour leader called it, “literally a dream come true,” and added, “I am now a part of the American Dream”. Wesley So, who was born in the Philippines but has lived in the US since 2012, also welcomed the impending transfer of Levon Aronian to the US, noting “having Levon around will push us all to be stronger and fight harder!”

Wesley So becomes a US citizen | photo: US Chess

Wesley So was a chess prodigy who just before his 15th birthday became the youngest player ever to cross the 2600 rating barrier. He couldn’t keep up that incredible pace, but his decision in 2012 to accept a scholarship and move to the US to study at Webster University in Saint Louis also gave a boost to his chess. He crossed 2700 at the age of 19 and in November 2014, aged 21, he officially began to represent the USA in the same month he reached the world Top 10 for the first time.

Off the board Wesley had turbulent early years in the US, dropping out of university and finding adoptive parents who he moved to live with in Minnetonka, but on the board he entered the elite of world chess. Wesley reached world no. 2 and a 2822 rating, won the US Chess Championship in 2017 and now again in 2020, and crowned his first Olympiad for the USA with team and individual gold.

Although Wesley has only one disappointing Candidates Tournament to his name in the World Championship cycle, he crushed World Champion Magnus Carlsen in the final of the 2019 FIDE Fischer Random World Championship and has now beaten Magnus in two of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour finals to lead the Tour.

Anish Giri recently commented:

Besides the fact that Magnus is World Champion there’s not much evidence why he’s now stronger than Wesley So, for example, if you look at the quality of games and the level. Wesley just played better, no?

Wesley didn’t need to be a US citizen to play for the US, but he decided to take that step, with his new status confirmed in a ceremony on February 26 at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office in St. Paul/Minneapolis. US Chess reports that Wesley was then interviewed about his motivation by Debbie Cannon. He calls the US the “land of opportunity” and says things worked like a dream, before adding:

That does not mean I don't love the Philippines. I have good memories from there. But I did not have the connections needed to succeed in that culture. I was from the province, not a city boy. Had no money etc. I wanted to go further, and there was only one country a nobody can make it. The USA!

The interview continues:

Why are you becoming a U.S. citizen? 

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!    

Wesley So’s citizenship comes at a time when another player is making the headlines with a shock move to the US – Levon Aronian. The 38-year-old Armenian star is 20 years older than Wesley was when he moved to Saint Louis, but Wesley felt it will still be tough for Levon: “I was once the new guy and I know how hard it is to be that.” But Wesley has joined Fabiano Caruana in welcoming Levon and the “serious competition” he’s going to bring.

That contrasts to Hikaru Nakamura, who described the switch of Levon Aronian to the US as an “absolute disaster” for some of the other players who might otherwise make the US team.

We can expect to see Wesley in action next on March 13th, when the 4th event on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour begins. 

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