Is Wesley So in danger of dropping out from Top 10?


Le Grau-du-Roi, site of the French League Top 12 team chess tournament.

Le Grau-du-Roi, site of the French League Top 12 team chess tournament.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – When questions were raised about the decision of Team Wesley, the so-called band of advisers behind chess grandmaster Wesley So, about competing in minor tournaments instead of going for the more prestigious ones, these were haughtily dismissed.

The reasoning was, you’re just a kibitzer, and don’t know what you’re talking about.

But in competing in the French League Top 12 team tournament to be followed with the four-game series with David Navara, Wesley is likely to see a slide in world ranking that may dangerously knock him out of the Top 10.

His advisers made him commit to these tournaments when better ones were in the horizon – the Norway Chess championships, first leg of the $1-million plus Grand Chess Tour, and even the Capablanca Memorial tournament in Cuba.

The world’s best players, including world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, are competing in the Norway tournament, scheduled June 15-26. All are 2700+ players, except Hammer, the wild card entry.

The Capablanca Memorial in which So shot to international fame by winning the 2014 edition, is set June 14-26 in Havana, and features such players as Pavel Eljanov (2718), Lenier Perez Dominuez (2746) and Yu Yangyi (2716).

Also entered are Dmitry Andreikim (2718) and Ian Nepomniatchi (2720) in a strong tournament.

In contrast, Wesley is the highest rated player at the French League Top 12, although there are several other 2700 + players, such as Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Navara.

Wesley has not played with most 2700+ players (MVL is a teammate with Clinchy), and has slid down to 2778.7 live ratings, 9th in the world.

He has regained .7 points after nine rounds, punctuated by victories in his last two rounds. The live ratings are dependent on the player’ latest tournament performance and constantly changes

But if you’re the top seed – a Wesley is in France – there is a target behind your back and everyone is gunning for you.

The French League Top 12 was scheduled May 30 to June 9 while the So-Navara match is set Jun 12 -16, so obviously there were overlaps and choices have to be made.

In terms of prestige and prizes, the Norway Chess is an obvious choice, so it’s puzzling that Wesley’s team would skip it – unless an invitation was not extended, in the first place.

Same thing with Capablanca. It was a natural tournament for Wesley, who was heavily promoted here.

But an untruth was passed on that since Wesley is a permanent U.S. resident and there’s no diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S., there will be some travel complications.

But Wesley does not yet carry a U.S. passport since you have to be a citizen to have one, the lack of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have no bearing at all.

Unless, it was to accommodate the chaperone who always accompany Wesley in all his travel and carries only a U.S. passport. Then, it makes sense.

As for the match up with Navara, the top Czech player but rated only No. 16 in the world (2747.2), it’s being hyped as preparation for a future match against Carlsen.

If a match for the world championship is ever to happen for So, it will still be way down the road. His opportunity in 2015 is through the World Cup, but winning one of the two top slots, is extremely difficult.

Scheduled Sept. 10 to Oct. 4 in Baku, Azerbaijan, the World Cup is a knock-out tournament of qualifiers based on ratings and other criteria.

It will be a long and complicated Candidates Matches after that among the other qualifiers, including from the Grand Prix, ultimately ending on who will face Carlsen in the 2016 world championship.

A match with Navara will hardly prepare So for such a championship match. And it will be less than honest to hype it so.

Instead, what Wesley needs is a carefully selected series of tournaments that will boost his elo ratings and world ranking.

A savvy coach and/or seconds can help him devise such a plan  Good thing I’m not a PR person but bona fide member of the press, so I can say what needs to be said.

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