The Americans love Wesley So

by Sabrina Chevannes
12/16/2016 – Wesley So might be the newest member of the U.S. Chess team, and many may consider him to be a “transfer”, but he is slowly growing in popularity. After helping the U.S. team win a gold medal in Baku and doing it with such grace and style, it is no wonder the U.S. is falling for the American-Filipino.

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Photos: Lennart Ootes

I spend a great deal of time in America throughout the year. I am mainly based in LA, but I travel all over the country visiting friends and playing some chess. I feel that the differences between England and America for chess are vast, and not just in the way tournaments are run. I believe that there is a difference in the attitude towards the game and their scholastic programme is incredible! Kids travel far and wide to play in a chess tournament for the weekend and win trophies that are bigger than they are!

Europeans simply cannot get used to how fast the tournaments are finished in America. Whilst this is economically sensible for both the organisers and the participants, it does make for quite a gruelling schedule. Therefore, most Americans who are serious about their chess career flock to Europe to find FIDE norm-opportunity tournaments. Yes, the chess scene has improved a great deal since Rex Sinquefield worked his magic in St. Louis. However, not everyone has his kind of money and his tournaments are generally for the elite. But anyone who has stepped into the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of St. Louis will be immediately hit with that sense of quality and professionalism that is lacking elsewhere.

Inside the Saint Louis Chess Club

Outside the Saint Louis Chess Club

Even though other organisers might not be able to put the money that Rex can into chess, they can still learn from his attitude and professionalism towards the game.

Looking at the London Chess Classic, it was already a well-run and professional tournament. But since it became part of the Grand Chess Tour, it has had its added little perks, courtesy of Mr. Sinquefield. The tournament has grown in popularity too, which also means that Chess in Schools and Communities has more money to spend on what matters to the kids.

This year, there are not too many Americans playing in the FIDE Open event, despite their top three competing in the main event. Last year, the numbers were much larger and IM John Cox and I hosted five of them just between us!

I caught up with three of the top American seed in the FIDE Open to see how they were getting on and their thoughts on the event…

Aleksandr Lenderman

Me: You’re back playing in London! What’s brought you back so many times?

Alex: I am playing for the 3rd time in London - I like the tournament quite a lot. Primarily the playing conditions are very professional. Also, it's a convenient flight for me from NYC. Finally, the climate is nice here, and it's a bit of a vacation from what could be a tough winter in NYC (smiles)

How does this tournament compare to others you have played in and have you had much of a chance to check out London?

Normally living in the USA, I play a lot of tournaments with 2 games a day, but here it's primarily one game a day (aside from one day), which is obviously much more professional and typical in tournaments in Europe. I normally don't do very much sight-seeing during tournaments; it's not my thing, so I haven't really seen that much of London :) But perhaps one of these years I should come a few days earlier or stay a few days later for that. But during the tournament I prefer to focus on the tournament.

How has the tournament gone so far compared to your expectations?

So far, after 7 rounds, I have 5.5/7. Decent score of course, but a bit of a missed opportunity in round 5 against local GM Keith Arkell, who to his credit defended a very tough position quite well, especially towards the end. I feel like my playing so far has been decent and in some cases interesting, at least I feel better about my play here than in some of my previous tournaments, but still it's nowhere near where I want to be :) What is also interesting is that I have had 5.5/7 each year in the Classic, so I hope to at least equal my best score of 7/9.

What has been your favourite game you have played so far?

I found my most interesting game to be against local GM Simon Williams. Simon is a very interesting player and a very good commentator, so it was an honour for me to play him. I've even watched some of his videos. I felt considering how sharp the game was I played that game quite decently.

What is your aim during this tournament?

My aim for every tournament is to win the tournament, but my most important goal is to do my best, give it my 100% and to try to never lose my inner peace and get rid of negative emotions/thoughts regardless of what happens, and just try to accept it thankfully and learn from it.

Have you had a chance to check out any of the main games at all? Who do you want to win?!

I found the main tournament games very interesting. I really enjoyed seeing the tough fights. However, regarding who I am rooting for to win, I prefer to keep that confidential (smiles).

Alex Shabalov

Me: Have you played in London before, Alex? I don’t think I’ve seen you at the Classic before! What brought you here this year?

Alex: Never played at the London Chess Classic and haven’t been to London since the Lloyds Bank Masters in 1994. I had a few weeks of a training camp in Estonia and Latvia in preparation for the U.S. Chess Championships in 2017, so I thought I would just have a short stop on my way back to the U.S.

Oh, wow, so you had no intention in playing in this tournament at all?

No, I just finished my training at around the same time that this was starting, so I thought I would enter for some practice.

You mention the USCC 2017… you qualify for that because of the U.S. Open right?

Yes, because I am the U.S. Open 2016 champion, I automatically qualify for the USCC in 2017.

So what are you goals for the tournament?

My goals are purely training – I have no expectations, but this is all part of the training. My ultimate goal is to come better than 11th place in St. Louis next year (smiles).

But you got to 4/4 – that must give you confidence for what’s to come, especially to defeat the top seed in such a way.

Yes, and the training is having a direct effect on my performance, but it is too early for predictions.

Have you managed to see any sights in London yet?

I’ve actually mostly been drinking, as the English pubs are nice (smiles) But this week, I will try to make some exhibitions and get to the museums and the zoo.

Who are you supporting to win the Classic?

Wesley So!!

John Bartholomew

Me: You've come back to London again - what's brought you back and what did you like the best in the first year? 

John: This is my third time playing the LCC (2012, 2015, and 2016). The leisurely pace of European opens is a nice change from American tournaments, and I like how international the field is in London. I could tie in this trip with some events for the company I co-founded (Chessable), so this trip has been a nice way to see friends, do some business, and play a high-quality tournament.

How does this tournament compare to others you've played in? 

The conditions for this tournament are solid, and I especially like how professional the arbiters are. In my round 5 game the clock died in the opening, and I was impressed by the speed with which the chief arbiter remedied the situation.

Have you had much of a chance to explore London? 

I haven't been able to explore much of London this trip, but I did so last year. London is a great city!

How has the tourn gone so far compared to your expectations? 

I'm performing at roughly my rating thus far, but I've left some chances on the table (especially in Round 4 against GM Hrant Melkumyan). That said, I'm undefeated so far, so I'm optimistic for the remaining couple of rounds.

You played an absolutely tiny boy in the first round, who managed to get a draw from you! What was going through your mind as you played him? Did his size/cuteness put you off? 

Haha! He was a nice Swiss kid, but in coaching lots of talented young players I knew not to underestimate him. I always believe in playing the board moreso than the opponent, so psychologically it was just another game. He took advantage of a careless move of mine in the opening and played a strong game! At the end he agreed to a draw in a better position, and I bet in another 2-3 years he'd be fully capable of putting me away there.

What's your aim during this tournament?

My aim is simply to play one good game after another - regardless of who I'm facing. So far I'd give myself a B+ with this goal.

Who do you want to win the tournament?

Oh, for sure, Wesley – what a great guy!

After conducting these interviews, I started to think just how popular was! So, I decided to put a poll out on social media to my American chess friends. Here are the results:

IM Nazi Paikidze:

“I usually root for Fabi, because I want him to be world champion. But Wesley seems like he deserves it the most in this tournament.”

GM Ben Finegold:

“Oh definitely Wesley first, but then Fabi. Wesley is just great – he plays well and is so humble. I would love to see him win”

GM Alejandro Ramirez:

“I’m going to pick Fabi, because he’s my friend” (tad biased IMO!)

In addition to these significant names in U.S. chess, 22 more votes came in as Wesley. It seems that he has taken the chess world by storm and with his sweet nature and calm attitude and personality, he is simply too likeable. Pretty good at chess too!

He is definitely looking strongest for this tournament, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he finishes up!

Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, Sabrina now lives in London where she is managing director of the London Academy of Chess and Education. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK. Sabrina is a Women International Master and an active chess player.


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