Wesley So was taught chess at the age of seven by his
father, who he was soon able to beat. He went on to win the U10 Philippines
Championship and made a breakthrough in 2006, when he qualified for the
Olympiad team at the age of only 12 and saw his rating jump from 2216 to 2451.
He gained the grandmaster title in 2007, shortly after his 14th birthday, and
scored his first major international success by winning the 2008 Dubai Open. In
the same year he set a record as the youngest player ever to cross the
2600-mark, and in early 2009 he won the C-Tournament in Wijk aan Zee. Later
that year he beat Gadir Guseinov, Vassily Ivanchuk and Gata Kamsky in the World
Cup before losing on tiebreaks in the fourth round. He was unable to keep up
that stellar progress and for the next three years his rating hit a plateau,
but in 2013 the 19-year-old Filipino reminded the chess world of his existence
by crossing the 2700-barrier with a joint first place finish at the Reykjavik
Open. Wesley began studying at Webster University in St Louis, USA as
part of Susan Polgar’s SPICE programme.
In 2014 So found himself fighting with the National Chess Federation of the Philippines to be able to represent the USA, but on the chessboard he began a move to the very top. He finished a creditable 6th at the Tata Steel tournament, won the Capablanca Memorial and then won the $100,000 first prize at Millionaire Chess in Las Vegas. During the same tournament he turned 21 and reached the world Top 10 for the first time. The saga surrounding his change of federation finally came to an end in late October, when he became the US no. 2, hot on the heels of Hikaru Nakamura.
In mid-2016 Wesley began a 67-game unbeaten streak during which he won the Sinquefield Cup, the London Chess Classic and the Tata Steel Masters. After the streak ended in Shamkir he still went on to claim the US Championship and was being talked about as the world's no. 1 player in terms of form. His results then dropped off a little, but he'd already done enough to qualify for his first Candidates Tournament, in Berlin, by rating.
Photo: Georgios Souleidis