By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – Chess grandmaster Wesley So celebrated his 21th birthday by winning his first game in the rich Millionaire’s chess tournament that got underway Thursday, Oct. 9 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
Playing with the white pieces, So, the top seed, started cautiously but gained momentum in the middle game, with a clever knight sacrifice on his 22nd move of an Alekhine Variation of an Anti-Grunfeld.
His opponent, Robert Perez of the United States, resigned on his 29th move, facing a significant disadvantage in the endgame after a swap of major pieces.
His coach, Paul Troung, however, described So’s play as “cautious”, choosing to use one of his favorite openings, the Indian game. “There was no sense taking unnecessary risk.”
It’s the first major tournament for So since sitting out a two-year eligibility requirement after the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) denied his request to transfer to the U.S. chess federation.
During this period So, rated number 14 in the world by FIDE, or the international chess federation, can not compete in official FIDE tournaments, such as the World Championships, depriving him of a chance to shoot for a world title.
Despite his non-sanction and non-support from the NCFP, So is listed as representing the Philippines here.
Three other Filipino grandmasters entered in the $1-M tournament scored victories in their opening matches.
Julio Catalino Sadorra, Ricardo de Guzman and Rogelio Barnecilla, all of whom are grandmasters, won their respective games, while Ted Castro, who is competing in the under 2000 section, will see action today, Friday.
So spearheads a powerhouse Webster University team, the current NCAA and PanAm Games champion, which include three other grandmasters.
Grandmasters Liem Quang Le and Ray Robson both emerged winners in their opening matches while international master Ashwin Jayaram. drew his match.
The tournament offers prizes for competitions in various categories based on the players’ EL0 ratings.
For the Open, the first prize is $100,000 with the second place getting $50,000; third place $25,000; fourth, $14,000; fifth, $8,000; sixth, $4,000; seventh to 20th, $2,000 each and 21st to 50th, $1,000.
The Open Section is open to all players. The first seven rounds are a Swiss format tournament and will determine who plays the finals on Millionaire Monday. Four finalists will move on to play two knock-out rounds for a top prize of $100,000.