"I never celebrate until I get home with the trophies!"

by Sagar Shah
1/2/2017 – One player who did exceedingly well in 2016 is Wesley So. The 23-year-old won two super tournaments – the Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic, he helped the US win team gold in the Chess Olympiad in Baku where So also won gold for the best performance on board three. So also won the Grand Chess Tour ahead of legends such as Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov and others. We got in touch with Wesley So to talk about the London Chess Classic and the chess decisions in much greater detail.

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Pictures by Lennart Ootes

Interview with Wesley So

Sagar Shah (SS): Wesley, 2016 brought you amazing results: a win in the Sinquefield Cup, team + individual gold at the Olympiad, victory at the London Chess Classic and the Grand Chess Tour. Which one is the closest to your heart?

Wesley So (WS): That is a very hard question! I was determined not to be last this year in the Sinquefield Cup. It was an awful feeling in 2015. That put some pressure on me, of course. So, it was an incredible joy when I finished first. It was a big tournament for me.

In Baku, the US Gold medal and my own Gold for board three were true miracles. I caught a bad cold and had to fight to focus in several games. The fact that it was an Olympiad made everyone play extra hard and the competition was very sharp. That it came down to such a narrow victory over Ukraine and Russia left most of us breathless. Later, in the stadium during the closing ceremonies, Lotis [Wesley’s foster mother] and I were in tears when they played the Star Spangled Banner. You know you hope… you hope and hope and hope, and then when it happens you can hardly believe it!

GCT Champion? That was the icing on the cake. Holding both those huge crystal trophies in my arms and thinking, okay I ended the year well.

It takes time to absorb such wonderful experiences. When you win, there is a whirlwind of activity and then suddenly you are dragging your bags through an airport at dawn the next morning, headed for home totally exhausted. Usually, we feel the win about four days later, when we’re eating in the kitchen with the family. That’s when suddenly we realize it.

One for the London Chess Classic and one for the Grand Chess Tour – Wesley So with his two crystal babies!

After the Sinquefield Cup everyone started saying that Wesley is the real deal. Did this and the fact that you were leading the Grand Chess Tour put any pressure on you going into the London Chess Classic?

I don’t know what that means – the real deal. I think all of us in the top ten are really strong players. Is anyone here not a real chess player?

I do not surf the Internet or have any social media outside my Facebook fan page, so I am pretty much unaware of what people are saying. Our family feels that is the best for us, since there are people who don’t say very encouraging things anyway. I usually get to know something weeks later when someone tells me in a conversation. We are a very busy family with my chess career and all the other stuff we do. It’s crazy how every day is go go go. There is no time for reading Internet posts.

Going into London I felt the usual excitement to play chess. And I had never been to London before so that was exciting too.

Usually it is just you and Lotis at the tournament. This time Bambi and Abbey [Lotis’ husband and daughter] were also with you. Did that change the atmosphere in your camp?

Friends Ria Lina (second from right) and Rae (first from left) with Wesley, Abbey, Bambi and Lotis on the day when Wesley crossed 2800 on the Elo list (photo from the Facebook page of Abbey Key)

WS: Actually, Bambi and Abbey are at a lot of my tournaments, so it wasn’t different than normal. They both have jobs so if the location is difficult they only come for a week or ten days, while Lotis is always there for the whole thing. Lotis loves to watch my games for hours, because it is her “down time”. In the US tournaments we are usually all together and I prefer to accept tournaments that give us a second room in the hotel. I like it when we are all together. If possible, I would even bring our pets. Everyone contributes in some way to make this intense, traveling and competing life easier. Bambi and Abbey like to sightsee, so they go out and tell us what they saw and bring back treats from their shopping. It makes me feel that I too should visit the city!

Let's talk some chess. When Hikaru blundered the pawn on e4 with 13.Ne2 against you in the position below, you thought for nearly 17 minutes. I am sure that the variations were not too complicated for a player of your caliber. What made you think for so long?

Hikaru Nakamura - Wesley So, Round one

WS: I was making sure I hadn’t missed anything. In the past I’ve had a tendency to play too fast and only go to a certain depth. Maybe youth, maybe laziness. Now I am training myself to dig in and examine things more thoroughly. Think through several positions and compare them. We have a lot of time in classical, so why not use it as much as possible?  I myself have mixed up move orders in the opening and know that the game is not over if you keep fighting. If I work it out carefully the other guy might still make a poor move or even blunder, allowing me to turn things around. Hence, I was very careful when Hikaru made the mistake.

“We have a lot of time in classical, so why not use it as much as possible?”

[Event "8th London Chess Classic 2016"] [Site "London"] [Date "2016.12.09"] [Round "1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D85"] [WhiteElo "2779"] [BlackElo "2794"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] [TimeControl "40/7200:3600+30"] {Wesley So began with a win against Nakamura in the Sinquefield Cup and won the event. Maybe he will repeat this feat at the London Chess Classic!} 1. d4 { 6} Nf6 {7} 2. c4 {9} g6 {4} 3. Nc3 {19} d5 {5 Wesley goes for the Grunfeld.} 4. cxd5 {4} Nxd5 {4} 5. e4 {26} Nxc3 {5} 6. bxc3 {4} Bg7 {4} 7. Be3 {11} c5 {7} 8. Rc1 {6} (8. Qd2 {is the main line here.} O-O 9. Nf3 {is what Karpov used to play.}) 8... O-O {33} 9. Qd2 {5 This particular idea with Qd2 and Rc1 has become quite popular recently.} e5 $5 {45 You can bank on Wesley to know what he is doing in the opening. This was the same move that MVL used to beat Peter Svidler in the Biel rapid in July 2016.} 10. d5 {14 This looks the most logical. Getting a protected passed pawn can never be so bad.} (10. dxe5 Qxd2+ 11. Kxd2 Rd8+ 12. Kc2 Bd7 {when Black had decent compensation for the pawn.}) 10... Nd7 {134} 11. c4 {360} f5 $1 {105 Black has the lead in development and must strike in the center.} 12. Bg5 {8} Nf6 {198} 13. Ne2 $2 {25 Played after just 25 seconds of thought! Something had definitely gone wrong with Nakamura.} (13. Bd3 $1 {was surely preferable as after} fxe4 14. Bb1 $14 {White will sooner or later regain the e4 pawn and have a fine position.}) (13. f3 $2 fxe4 14. fxe4 Nxe4 $19) 13... Nxe4 {926 Wesley took his time - 15 minutes, before making this move. It is clear that Black is already close to winning!} 14. Bxd8 {24} Nxd2 {5} 15. Be7 {615 White tries to regain the pawn, but in vain.} Rf7 { 26} 16. Bxc5 {1173} Nxf1 {18} 17. Rxf1 {1506 25 minutes! Wonder what Naka was thinking. He must been livid with himself for getting into this position after just 17 moves. The material is even, but let's discuss the situation in two moves from now.} b6 $1 {15} 18. Bb4 {212} Ba6 $19 {22 Let's take stock. Black has the bishop pair, beautiful central pawn majority and rooks that will be activated down the central file. White on the other hand has no co-ordination, the c4 pawn is weak, the knight is without an occupation and overall completely lost position. The only good thing is the material is even, but that too won't last for long!} 19. f4 {31} Rc8 {286} 20. fxe5 {106} Bxe5 {278} 21. Rf3 {6} Bxc4 {442} (21... Rxc4 {looked more natural not to get into a pin down the c-file but Wesley's move was well calculated.}) 22. Re3 {147} Bg7 {123 } 23. Nf4 {122} Rd7 {617} 24. a4 {681} Bh6 {1307} 25. g3 {20} Bxf4 {290} 26. gxf4 {6} Rxd5 {4 Picking up the second pawn. In spite of the opposite coloured bishop position we are nowhere close to a draw.} 27. Re7 {388} Rd4 {124} 28. Bd2 {7} (28. Rxa7 Rxf4 $19) 28... Kf8 {294} 29. Bb4 {8} (29. Rxa7 Re8+ 30. Kd1 Bb3+ $19) 29... Re8 $1 {66 Such games at the top level are not seen often where one side blunders and the game is instantly over right out of the opening.} 0-1

You beat Hikaru Nakamura in the first round of the Sinquefield Cup and now you beat him again at the London Chess Classic. Were you already beginning to feel optimistic about your chances?

WS: No, not really. In chess you can never take a single thing for granted. Any one of these guys can suddenly upset you in a major way. On this level there are no weak players and every game is perilous. A player may seem out of form and then out of the blue he will come back with a vengeance. Happens all the time. If you have a good day you are happy for a few minutes and then you have to focus on the next game where you can quickly lose whatever you gained in the last one. It’s just that way. Each game, win or lose, is a separate event that you put away once it is done and move on to the next challenge.

And you didn’t know that it was Hikaru’s birthday when the game began?!

WS: No, I didn’t and I feel sorry for that because I should have wished him Happy Birthday at least.

Wesley So - Michael Adams, Round two

 

It is true that you were slightly better against Michael Adams, but he is known to be a good defender and an excellent endgame player. How do you approach these slightly better positions against such experienced opponents?

WS: Michael Adams is a legend in chess and a very experienced fighter. I remember that he was ranked no. 3 in the world behind Kasparov and Kramnik many years ago, and I have full respect for him. I know that he excels in such positions, but it is also very satisfying to beat your opponent on their home turf. I made moves and tried to put pressure on him, and I knew I had a favourable position with my bishop pair and a better pawn structure.

[Event "8th London Chess Classic 2016"] [Site "London"] [Date "2016.12.10"] [Round "2"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Adams, Michael"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E05"] [WhiteElo "2794"] [BlackElo "2748"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "79"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] [TimeControl "40/7200:3600+30"] 1. d4 {2} Nf6 {7} 2. c4 {6} e6 {4} 3. g3 {4} d5 {14} 4. Bg2 {6} Be7 {64} 5. Nf3 {7} O-O {5} 6. O-O {5} dxc4 {3} 7. Qc2 {6} a6 {4} 8. a4 {5} Bd7 {32} 9. Qxc4 {5 } Bc6 {30} 10. Bg5 {6} a5 {180} 11. Nc3 {177} Ra6 {227} 12. Qd3 {141} Rb6 {172} 13. Qc2 {14} h6 {95} 14. Bd2 {465} Bb4 {1230} 15. Rfe1 {600} Bxf3 {157} 16. Bxf3 {6} Nc6 {3} 17. e3 {161} e5 {136} 18. Bxc6 {623} exd4 {86} 19. Bf3 {52} dxc3 {43} 20. bxc3 {30} Bc5 {190} 21. Rab1 {1730} Rd6 {250} 22. Red1 {252} b6 { 90} 23. c4 {19} Qe7 {266} 24. Bc3 {87} Rfd8 {43} 25. Bb2 {357} Qe6 {857} 26. Rxd6 {123} Rxd6 {58} 27. Rd1 {21} Rxd1+ {411} 28. Qxd1 {4 White has a slight edge because of the bishop pair. But it is nothing substantial. Wesley manages to build up his position steadily.} Bd6 {70} (28... Qxc4 29. Bxf6 gxf6 30. Bd5 $16) 29. Qd4 {792} Qe8 {175} 30. Bd1 {67} Qc6 {614} 31. Bc2 {132 The bishop is well placed on this diagonal.} Kf8 {40} 32. e4 {293} Bc5 {874} 33. Qd8+ {4} Ne8 {4} 34. Qd5 {5} Qg6 {13} (34... Qxd5 35. cxd5 $16 {is surely an improvement for White.}) 35. Kg2 {45} Ke7 {274} 36. f4 {133} c6 {80} 37. Qd3 {14} Nc7 $2 { 147 The crucial mistake of the game.} (37... Qd6 {was preferable although White is better here as well.}) 38. f5 $1 {93} Qg5 {136} (38... Qh7 {is relatively the best, but with such a passive queen things are not going to work out.}) 39. Be5 {0} Ne6 {0} (39... Ne8 40. Bf4 Qf6 41. e5 {The queen is trapped.}) 40. fxe6 {0} (40. fxe6 Qxe5 41. Qd7+ Kf6 42. Qxf7+ Kg5 43. h4+ Kg4 44. Bd1#) 1-0

You are the twelfth player in the history of the game to cross 2800. You now have a live rating of 2808! When the year began your Elo was 2773. It is difficult to gain 35 points at that level. Were you personally expecting to break into the 2800+ bracket by the end of 2016?

Wesley is now number four in the world rankings, with a live Elo of 2808.

WS: Well, I was only six points shy when we started London Classic. So, at that point I was thinking I could at least make seven Elo points. In the months before that of course you have dreams, but who knows if they will happen. Every loss or draw is a set-back. You can only take it one game at a time. Two steps forward, one step backwards seems to be the normal pace.

The only game in which you were in danger of losing was against Levon Aronian. What was going on in your head during that encounter?

WS: My third round game against Levon was very important for the final tournament standings as he was one of the main contenders for the big prize. I got into a critical situation early on after making the mistake of putting my king on the queenside. In the end I had no choice but to fight hard, and fortunately Levon got low on time and missed his chances.

Wesley So defended with all his might in his game against Levon Aronian. The game ended in a draw.

Against Anish you played this idea of …cxd4 and Nh5 against the London System. Were you motivated by the game Dominguez-Kryvoruchko?

Anish Giri - Wesley So, Round four

...Nh5 followed by ...cxd4 and ...Bd6 was how Wesley played against Anish's London System

WS: You are right. I had seen this idea first while preparing for my game against Kryvoruchko in the Olympiad. I believe he was the first person to play it. This idea made a lot of sense to me, as I kick his bishop away from the h2-b8 diagonal and at the same time the computer cannot find any problems for Black. In fact I suggested this idea in my annotations for New In Chess, so I wasn’t sure if this idea was new for Anish. Even 6…Nh5 without exchanging pawns looks interesting to me.

[Event "8th London Chess Classic 2016"] [Site "London"] [Date "2016.12.12"] [Round "4"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2771"] [BlackElo "2794"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "112"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Bf4 c5 4. e3 Nc6 5. Nbd2 (5. Bd3 Qb6 6. dxc5 Qxb2 7. Nbd2 Qc3 $13) 5... e6 6. c3 {This is one of the main positions of the London System.} cxd4 $5 {An interesting change of track. Let's have a look whether Wesley's move is going to change the way Black players proceed in this system.} (6... Bd6 {is the main move and the theory is fast building up in this system.}) 7. exd4 (7. cxd4 {doesn't really make much sense if the knight is not coming to c3.}) 7... Nh5 $5 {This was tried recently by Kryvoruchko against Dominguez at the Capablanca Memorial. Wesley picked up the idea from that game.} 8. Bg5 $5 {A new move, but quite a logical one.} (8. Be3 {as playing by Dominguez. Play continued} Bd6 9. Ne5 g6 10. Bb5 Qc7 11. O-O f6 12. Nef3 O-O 13. c4 a6 14. Ba4 dxc4 $2 (14... Qf7 $1 {Black has a fine position out of the opening.}) 15. Nxc4 $16 {1/2-1/2 (43) Dominguez Perez,L (2723)-Kryvoruchko,Y (2682) Varadero 2016}) (8. Bg3 Nxg3 9. hxg3 g6 {Followed by Bg7 and 0-0 looks like an excellent position for Black.}) 8... f6 9. Be3 (9. Ne5 $6 g6 10. Bh4 Bd6 $15) (9. Bh4 Bd6 $1 $15 {And it is not so easy to develop the bishop on f1 because the knight is coming to f4.}) 9... Bd6 10. g3 $1 {This move makes sense to stop Nf4.} (10. Bd3 Nf4 $1 $15 {White has to give up his bishop or lose time with Bf1.}) (10. Ne5 g6 11. Nd3 O-O $11) 10... O-O 11. Bg2 (11. Bd3 Qe8 12. O-O f5 {With f4 coming up, Black seems to have the initiative.}) 11... f5 {White's position is already looking critical. He must remain careful about the f4 break.} 12. Ne5 $6 (12. Bg5 Qe8 $1 $15) (12. Ng5 $5 {Now the knight on h5 cannot be left hanging as there would be a mate on h7.} Qe8 13. f4 Nf6 14. O-O b6 $11 {The position is around equal.}) 12... f4 $1 13. Qxh5 (13. gxf4 Nxf4 {is already a disaster.}) 13... fxe3 14. fxe3 Nxe5 (14... Bxe5 15. dxe5 Bd7 $17 {was also a very powerful way to play.}) 15. dxe5 Bc5 $15 {The opening phase is over. Black has emerged victorious. He has much better pieces and everything that he would have aimed for. White on the other hand has broken structure and the extra pawn doesn't count for much. Anish went on to defend this position, but we can safely say that opening was a big success for Wesley. } 16. Rf1 Bxe3 17. Rxf8+ Qxf8 18. Qf3 Qxf3 19. Nxf3 Bd7 20. Rd1 Rf8 21. c4 Bc6 22. Nd4 Bxd4 23. Rxd4 Rf5 24. g4 Rxe5+ 25. Kf2 Kf7 26. b4 Ke7 27. b5 Bd7 28. b6 dxc4 29. Rxc4 axb6 30. Rc7 Rb5 31. Rxb7 Kd6 32. Kg3 h6 33. Rb8 Rb2 34. Bf3 b5 35. a4 b4 36. a5 Rb3 37. Kg2 Bc6 38. Bxc6 Kxc6 39. a6 Ra3 40. Rxb4 Rxa6 41. h4 e5 42. Kf3 Kd5 43. Rb5+ Ke6 44. Rb7 Kf6 45. g5+ hxg5 46. hxg5+ Kg6 47. Re7 Ra5 48. Ke3 Rb5 49. Kf3 Rb3+ 50. Kf2 Rb5 51. Kf3 Rd5 52. Ke3 e4 53. Kxe4 Rxg5 54. Kf3 Kh5 55. Re1 Rg4 56. Rh1+ Kg5 1/2-1/2

What is your opinion about the London System? Kramnik, Carlsen, Giri and many top players are playing it. Do you think it is an opening that black players must seriously prepare against?

WS: The London System has become popular recently with good results by Kramnik and Carlsen, and it is definitely an opening Black has to prepare seriously against. In general there are not really any ‘bad’ opening systems and in fact even I am attracted to the London system as it focuses on logical development and keeps the f4-e5 central dark-squares firmly under control.

Giri says, “I only wonder how Wesley So will create chances if his opponents also play in the same risk free-fashion as he does.” What would you say about it?

WS: Well, I guess I will have to deal with that when it happens. I respect Anish Giri and take his point seriously. I will work on that problem.

Two future contenders for the world title: Anish Giri and Wesley So

In the Sinquefield Cup you floored Anand with some excellent opening preparation. It was now Vishy’s turn. Can you tell us what went through your head when he took the pawn on a3 and what you were thinking in the next 30 minutes?

Wesley So - Viswanathan Anand, Round five

...Nd5 and ...Ne2 have been tried before. But Anand shocked Wesley with the move: 10...Bxa3

WS: I prepared for a long time in the morning before the game in the executive lounge of our hotel. Vishy would also have his breakfast there with his second Polish GM Grzegorz Gajewski. So I waved to greet them while letting my computer analyse this QGD 4…Nbd7, which is Vishy’s pet line. Anyway, I thought I my preparation was pretty deep and I was ready to check what he had in store for me. Unfortunately, he out-prepared me as I had never seen this 10…Bxa3! move before. I saw that I could get a risk free position with 11.Qxc3, but at the same time I wanted to try a little bit with White. I thought for a long time trying to get a position where I could play and get chances, but in the end I didn’t see anything promising.

[Event "8th London Chess Classic 2016"] [Site "London"] [Date "2016.12.13"] [Round "5"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D37"] [WhiteElo "2794"] [BlackElo "2779"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "2016.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle "playchess.com"] [Source "ChessBase"] [TimeControl "40/7200:3600+30"] 1. d4 {3} Nf6 {7} 2. c4 {7} e6 {5} 3. Nf3 {3} d5 {6} 4. Nc3 {4} (4. g3 { Against Vishy Anand Wesley doesn't go for his favourite Catalan.}) 4... Nbd7 { 7 Although Anand lost against Nakamura, he is not shy to play the same opening once again. As we already know, what does need to be fixed, need not be fixed.} 5. Bf4 {6} dxc4 {28 One of the advantages of the 4...Nbd7 line is that you can play very concretely against 5.Bf4 systems.} 6. e3 {5} b5 $1 {26 There are already 38 games with this move, so it doesn't come as a surprise. Anand also played it at the Candidates 2016 against Levon Aronian.} 7. Nxb5 {6} Bb4+ {9} 8. Nc3 {5} Nd5 {43} 9. a3 {9 Rc1 and Qc2 are the other possible moves here.} Nxc3 {15} 10. Qd2 {5} Bxa3 $5 $146 {17 Vishy took just 17 seconds for this move! A novelty! This came as a surprise to Wesley who took nearly 30 minutes for his next move.} (10... Nd5 11. axb4 Nxf4 12. exf4 Bb7 13. Be2 O-O 14. O-O Nb6 15. Ne5 Qd6 {1/2-1/2 (34) Nakamura,H (2787)-Karjakin,S (2773) Bilbao 2016}) (10... Ne2 {According to Vishy this is the most beautiful move to see in this position.} 11. axb4 (11. Qxb4 Nxf4 12. exf4 Rb8 $11) 11... Nxf4 12. exf4 $14) 11. Qxc3 {1884} (11. Rxa3 Nb1 $1 $17 {is the neat point!}) (11. bxa3 Nd5 { can be another direction to look at.}) (11. bxc3 Bd6 12. Bxc4 $14 {is also possible.}) 11... Bd6 {81} 12. Bxd6 {243} (12. Bxc4 Bxf4 13. exf4 Bb7 14. O-O $14 {White surely seems to have a slight pull here.}) 12... cxd6 {9} 13. Bxc4 { 4 Now this position isn't really threatening for Black. He just develops and has no problems.} O-O {122} 14. O-O {36} Bb7 {76} 15. Be2 {5} Qb6 {248} 16. Rfc1 {105} Rfc8 {385} 17. Qa3 {6} Bxf3 $5 {335 After this exchange, draw becomes the most obvious result of the game.} 18. Bxf3 {6} Rab8 {88} 19. h4 { 460} Rxc1+ {91} 20. Rxc1 {5} Qxb2 {47} 21. Qxb2 {3} Rxb2 {7} 22. Rc7 {3} Nf8 { 12} 23. Rxa7 {5} d5 {8 There is nothing more to talk about.} 24. Ra8 {8} g6 {15 } 25. g3 {7} h5 {5} 26. g4 {20} hxg4 {5} 27. Bxg4 {2} Kg7 {8} 28. h5 {5} gxh5 { 4} 29. Bxh5 {4} Ng6 {7} 30. Bxg6 {2} Kxg6 {7 Anand's novelty turned out to be a success. Wesley was surprised and chose the safest route out of it. I have a feeling the Vishy will not try this again. There seem to be plenty of ways White can keep a pleasant position. Maybe it was just a use and throw variation.} 1/2-1/2

It wouldn't be wrong to say that in terms of opening preparation Vishy Anand and Wesley So are the best in the world right now

There was a famous classical game Winter-Capablanca 1918, in which the Cuban genius transformed his opponent’s dark squared bishop into a useless piece after the moves h6 and g5. Against Topalov you did something similar. The pawn-break h6-g5 is pretty normal when the king is in the centre but you boldly castled. And you didn’t even take much time for that move. Were you not afraid that your king was weak?

WS: Let me first say that Capablanca is one of my favorite World Champions, as his moves are so natural and he was clearly way ahead of his time. Coming to the game, I played …g5 first before castling in order to discourage him from going for 11.Nxg5 hxg5 12.Bxg5 ideas. I knew that when I castled White was not in a position to exploit my weaknesses and his best reply would be to castle short. White cannot really hope for a successful attack with his king in the center. That was good enough for me and I also prepared this novelty 11…Nh7 which is supposed to be totally fine for Black.

By the end of the eighth round you had already won the Grand Chess Tour. Did you celebrate a bit or did you wait until the end of the last round?

WS: No. I never celebrate until I get home with the trophies! Anyway, there was no time to do anything but prepare for the next round. Plus what if they were wrong? What if there was a miscalculation somewhere? It would be painful to have already celebrated.

This was your first time at the London Chess Classic. How did you like the organization, the pro-biz cup and the closing dinner at the Simpson's-in-the-Strand?

WS: Really fantastic organization! Malcolm Pein and his staff, headed by Tereza Pribanova, do an amazing job. Every day was well organized and things ran smoothly.  I love being in the Grand Chess Tour. It is a chess player’s dream. You get treated like a professional and made to feel your work has value.

Malcolm Pein took the players to the House of Lords in Westminster and the Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall. It was thoughtful of him because otherwise we would have seen nothing of London and its world famous places.

Players and their team at the House of Lords in Westminster

We went to the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand and it was very interesting and there were amazing pictures and even a chess board that Staunton designed and was used by players in the 19th century. The food was terrific and it made me feel special that the organizers would host such a wonderful dinner for all the players and sponsors and end everything with happiness and fun.

All players went back home with a smile on their faces!

Your sister Abbey writes on Facebook, “Congratulations, Wesley. I've seen how hard you've worked.” It’s true that such results are impossible without hard work. Can you tell us how do you keep yourself motivated to work hard each and every day?

WS: Well, I work many hours but I really like to work so it is not a burden. When I put in a good day of chess work, I normally end the day with a swim and then, if there is time, we watch a movie. I have my house chores and responsibilities which I get done when I need to stretch out or rest my eyes. Our life is full of activity because everyone in this family has lots of friends and commitments. We volunteer our services regularly to help other, attend church, meet with friends and have outdoor activities. Minnesota is a place where everyone does outdoor stuff because it is clean and beautiful.

As a professional chess player one of major expenses of players is training and coaching. You have won $295,000 thanks to the Grand Chess Tour, plus you have $42,000 per year because of the Samford scholarship. Would you think of hiring a chess coach now?

WS: Lotis makes sure I save my money. She does not approve of careless spending. After I pay my taxes and my other bills, I put the rest into savings. And yes, I do plan to have a coach now.

Lotis Key, Wesley’s foster mother, ensures that he makes the best possible use of the money that he has earned

2808, World number four, Grand Chess Tour winner ahead of all the legends. Is it all going too fast?!

WS: I don’t think so. I seem to have been playing chess for a long time, not professionally (I only started that in Jan 2015) but on and off since I was eight years old.  Naturally I need to know if I can make a solid career out of this and whether I will continue to improve. These wins along the way help to show me where I am going and encourage me. Without them I might get a bit sad and wonder if I should try something else.

And lastly, what are your plans for 2017 now?

WS: To improve my chess game. To become wiser and more stable in my life. To grow as a man of God and honor Him with my efforts.

This interview was done by ChessBase India in collaboration with Firstpost, which is one of the most popular online news portal in India.



Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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Rama Rama 1/4/2017 01:52
I think the interviewer made a mistake; he should have followed up on his last question! Or am I the only one who wants to know what events Wesley So plans to play in in 2017?
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 1/3/2017 10:29
Fear of God is referred to as a positive trait at least 300 times in the Christian Bible (which also includes the Judaic Scriptures) according to that source who probably knows the Bible better than myself: http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/bible-answers/spirituallife/what-does-it-mean-to-fear-god.html

But whether to believe or interpret literally what is written in the Bible or the Qur'an is a discussion that it would be better not to begin here.
algorithmy algorithmy 1/3/2017 08:50
@koko48
The Qur'an says: "Fearing God from among his servants are men of knowledge"
koko48 koko48 1/3/2017 04:40
I never understood "God fearing man" as an expression of praise

Is God meant to be feared? Better imo to say "God loving (wo)man"
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 1/3/2017 04:26
"how come he didnt play in the rapid and blitz championships." turok

I do not know, but I will speculate. The rapid and blitz championships were quite close in time from the London Chess Classic. Not enough time to rest maybe.

Some who participated in both the London Chess Classic and the World Rapid and Blitz championships did have a somewhat difficult time in the latter (Naka, MVL. Anand, Aronian) - that kind of confirms that Wesley made a wise decision in not participating to both.

Some who participated to the LCC also did not participate to the rapid and blitz (Caruana, Kramnik, for example). Maybe for similar reasons.
Caloy Alba Caloy Alba 1/3/2017 08:45
Wesley has a very promising future in the craft he so much loved. He is a God fearing man and humble person. With these attributes he wil not fail to meet his ultimate goal. As he said, two step forward one step backward but it will be more appreciating if instead of stepping backward, just pray and meditate then go ahead again. Breaking 2800 barrier is an achivement only few succeded as this moment and being in the no. 4 rank in his tender age is a milestone. God bless you Wesley. Always pray before the first move of your game.
geraldsky geraldsky 1/3/2017 06:08


Wesley So is getting stronger as a chess grandmaster and as human being. But what else can be better for him by having a strong and growing relationship with God?
daftarche daftarche 1/3/2017 01:52
the next year will be a difficult one for him because he needs to maintain his rating and we will see what happens.
koko48 koko48 1/3/2017 01:21
Congratulations on a phenomenal year Wesley!

Correction: So won gold for the best performance on Board Three in the Olympiad, not Board One
Denix Denix 1/2/2017 09:44
Imagine to achieve this far without a chess coach. A true inspiration for everyone! Just do it!
turok turok 1/2/2017 09:21
how come he didnt play in the rapid and blitz championships
fistoffury fistoffury 1/2/2017 07:37
Who can't love this guy? Always god-fearing, humble and simple. Caruana is close as well. I have become a huge fan of both. I always hated Naka for his arrogance and wanted him to lose all the time for that. He trashtalked Carlsen and was thinking of becoming the world champion when he didnt have it in him. He was just tenth in the ranking list. Carlsen replied back in a very dignified manner that he needed to improve his game first lol. Looks like last year the USCF finally got tired of Nakas arrogance, trash-talk and decided to rope in these two wonderful world class players who are set to take the crown from Carlsen.
Jigz Jigz 1/2/2017 05:26
to Dutch Windmill : Phillipinos wear an expensive traditional costume made out of Pineapple leaves on special occasions like this one.So is so humble and keeps his country close to his heart.
Malcom Malcom 1/2/2017 05:06
Great interview besides the question of his earnings and personal income...sorry is this an Indian tradition to be nosy!?
kabayo2015 kabayo2015 1/2/2017 04:36
@Dutch Windmill ... it is not plastic. They are made out of Pineapple leaves fibers. Best materials for the Philippines' National Dress. And you don't think the Wooden shoe of the Dutch is odd too, right? Peace.
KevinC KevinC 1/2/2017 03:59
For a guy, who is 45, Michael Adams is still only 13 points behind his peak rating of 2761 in 2013. That is petty good for "an old guy". :)
reddawg07 reddawg07 1/2/2017 03:46
Wesley So sounds like a well-grounded young man. I hope he keeps improving for the better.
Nostalgiac1972 Nostalgiac1972 1/2/2017 03:44
Wesley's last expressions depict him to be way more than a professional chess player. Wish you the best, Wesley.
portici portici 1/2/2017 03:17
@Dutch Windmill:
It is Phillipino costume.
Dutch Windmill Dutch Windmill 1/2/2017 02:06
His shirt does look a bit odd doesn't it? Plastic sleeves?
Catholic_Church Catholic_Church 1/2/2017 01:40
Wesley: "To grow as a man of God and honor Him with my efforts.". May God bless you, in 2017 and forever!
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