By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – The lack of advice on strategic planning is starting to show in Wesley So’s ascent on the world’s chess ladder.
Although he has achieved impressive results in his last tournaments, including the tough Gashimov Memorial chess championships in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, in which he finished only behind the reigning world champion and former world champion, his lack of foresight is starting to show.
It is a big puzzle to many who are following his career why he intentionally, it seems, to miss out on a high-profile tournament with rich prizes for a one-on-one series with a relatively unknown grandmaster.
While the best in the world, including Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand, will be on stage in the $1-million plus ” Grand Chess Tour,” the 21-year-old So will not be there.
All because he chose to play a four-game series against a player rated No. 15th in the world.
“Because of prior commitments to a four-game match with David Navara plus simultaneous exhibitions in the middle of the match, he (So) now has a scheduling conflict with Norway Chess,” said Eliseo Tumbaga, admin of Chess News & Views, a Facebook page.
Aside from Carlsen and Anand, the other players are Fabiano Caruana ( Italy), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), and Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria)
Also competing are Levon Aronian ( Armenia), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France).
For So, the lack of advice is apparent because missing out on some of the world’s most prestigious chess tournaments should not have arisen in the first place.
If So had a grandmaster-coach or second with his ears on the ground, he would have known about this super tournament and adjust his schedule accordingly.
It would have been foolish to commit to a minor four-game series when the big one was just around the corner.
As early as January, word was going around chess circles about a planned super circuit with huge prizes.
Grandmaster VeselinTopalov inadvertently leaked the rumor about this rich circuit that will feature the world’s top players, privately organized, but sanctioned by the international chess federation, or FIDE.
The chess website chess24.com, which is on top of most chess coverage around the world shares this puzzle about So missing out on the “Grand Chess Tour.”
“…It still remains puzzling that Wesley would turn down three lucrative and high profile events simply because Norway Chess (15-26 June) overlaps with an exhibition match against David Navara in Prague (June 12-16),” 24chess.com wrote.
“The intrigue was upped by the Grand Chess Tour press conference not naming the ninth player, although the website launched the same day already included a biography of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.” it added.
24chess.com added a sense of intrigue by insinuating that So may not have been invited in the first place.
A coach knowledgeable about the ways of the chess world, including its politics, would have been able to navigate the waters for So.
The late Florencio Campomanes made life easier for grandmaster Eugene Torre, and even world champion Anatoly Karpov, in the 70s.
Practically each of the top grandmasters have a coach or second to help them prepare for games and tournaments.
There is a so-called Team Wesley, but there is no coach or second. The convenient excuse is that such help is expensive and at this time in his career So can not afford it.
But coaches or seconds maybe paid by percentage or share of the prize money, appearance fees, or endorsements. They all add up.
Travel and hotel accommodations are usually paid for by tournament organizers as members of the player’s entourage.
Carlsen even has his father and a chef as members of his entourage.
Quite a few Filipino grandmasters, based in the United States, Manila or elsewhere, would be willing to serve as So’s seconds, and he could pick a retired or semi-retired former top player as coach.
Unless there are other reasons preventing him from adding someone with unlimited access to him, this is perhaps the best time So can get to help clear the path to the top of the chess world.