Officially a U.S. citizen: Wesley So’s success as an American player

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
3/8/2021 – Wesley So has represented the United States since the end of 2014 and has collected a number of major successes since his transfer. A couple of weeks ago, the Filipino-born star officially became a United States citizen. So declared, “From the moment I landed here I was encouraged and enabled to become better than I was”.

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The American dream

Wesley SoWesley So has represented the United States since the end of 2014, as he was first included in the FIDE official ranking list as an American player in November that year. The Filipino-born grandmaster currently lives in Minnesota with his adoptive parents, Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting.

Moving to the U.S. was the right move for So’s professional career, especially thanks to Rex Sinquefield’s continued efforts to enhance the opportunities given to American chess players, both at the elite and scholastic levels — it was recently announced that world number 5 Levon Aronian will also transfer to the U.S. 

During his years as an American player, So has collected a number of major successes. To name just a few, he won the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic in 2016, and he kept up the pace at the outset of 2017, winning the Tata Steel Masters to become the third highest-rated player in the world. In November 2019, So defeated Magnus Carlsen in a lopsided match to become the Fischer Random World Chess Champion

By transferring to the U.S., So gained the right to participate in the increasingly stronger U.S. Championship, winning the event in 2017 and 2020. He also helped the American team win the 2016 Olympiad in Baku, taking home individual gold after scoring an impressive 8½/10 score on board 3.

So was awarded the Frank P. Samford, Jr. Chess Fellowship in 2016, the year in which he more than confirmed his status as an elite player.

[Photo: David Llada / FIDE Olympiad 2016]

U.S. citizen

On Thursday, U.S. Chess reported that So had officially become a United States citizen on February 26, 2021 at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in St. Paul/Minneapolis. 

In an interview with Debbie Cannon of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, So talked about his naturalization:

DC: Why are you becoming a U.S. citizen?  

WS: 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

During the pandemic, So got to play frequently at elite online events, as he was invited both to the tournaments organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club and by the Magnus Carlsen Group. Impressively, the player from the City of Bacoor defeated the world champion in two finals of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour — at the Skilling Open and at the Opera Euro Rapid Tournament.

After winning the Opera Euro Rapid, So gave an interview to Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal from ChessBase India. As humble as ever, he said of his victory over Carlsen:

SS: After you beat [Carlsen] in the Skilling Open and the Fischer Random event before that, this result was definitely on the cards. How are you able to beat Magnus so consistently?

WS: (Laughs) I don’t know. I just wait for Magnus to not be himself. He is usually very confident, plays fast, but in this tournament he hasn’t really shown that! He managed to get good positions but was always behind in clock. For instance, in the last game, now that I am checking it, I was objectively lost.


Full interview


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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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