14-year-old Filipino is newest grandmaster

By Roy Luarca

MANILA, Philippines -- It took a little longer, but Wesley So finally became a Grandmaster Friday.

The Filipino sensation drew with Iranian GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami in the ninth and final round of the third Prospero Cup International Open chess championship to complete the requirements for the coveted title at 14 years, one month and 28 days, the seventh youngest in the world to do so.

Unable to gain headway with the white pieces, So readily accepted Maghami's truce offer after 19 moves of the Sicilian Najdorf to qualify as the country's eighth and youngest GM.

He joins Eugene Torre, who became Asia's first GM in 1974, the late Rosendo Balinas (1976), Rogelio Antonio Jr. (1998), Buenaventura "Bong" Villamayor (2000), Nelson Mariano (2004), Mark Paragua (2005) and Darwin Laylo (2007) in the elite list of Filipino chess players.

"Masayang-masaya po ako. Magandang pamasko na ito (GM title) sa akin, (I'm very happy. This is already a beautiful Christmas gift for me," said So, who finished the nine-round Pichay Cup held at the Duty Free Fiesta Mall in Parañaque City with 6 points, a full point behind champion GM Ni Hua of China and half a point off Torre, Paragua and Singaporean GM Zhang Zhong.

The former Promil whiz kid, second of three children of accountants William and Eleanor So, obtained his first GM result in the Bad Wiesse Open in Germany in November 2006, but got stalled in his next international tournaments.

Dedicating at least four hours to chess study everyday, So expanded his game-repertoire and eventually clinched his second GM norm in the World Junior Chess Championships in Yerevan, Armenia, in September.

So, a high school sophomore of St. Francis of Assisi College System-Bacoor, also holds the distinction of being the country's youngest chess Olympian at 12 in Turin, Italy, in 2006, and youngest National Junior Open champion at 13 in May.

So is regarded as the world's strongest player in his age-group with an Elo rating of 2531, edging Indian GM Parimarjan Negi (born 1993, Elo 2514). His strength was amply proven when So won this year's World Under 16 Team Championship Board 1 gold medal in Singapore with a phenomenal score of 9.5 points out of a perfect 10.

"This is a dream come true for Wesley, said his mother Eleanor, comptroller of the De La Salle Health Sciences Institute in Dasmariñas, Cavite. "I'm very thankful his hard work and dedication has been rewarded."

So became the second player to earn his GM title since former Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay took over the presidency of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines last year.

The 27-year-old Laylo clinched his GM title by landing seventh in the sixth Asian Individual Chess Championship held at the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City in September.

Pichay lauded So's achievement.

"This is really a memorable year for local chess. We produced not only one but two GMs in a span of three months and we are confident we can have more GMs next year," said Pichay, who has already hosted five major international chess tournaments in his incumbency.

NCFP secretary general Tagaytay City Mayor Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino said So's achievement will encourage local chess players to devote more time to the game.

Those who earned their GM titles at an earlier age than So were Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine (12 years and seven months), Parimarjan Negi of India (13 years, three months and 22 days), Magnus Carlsen of Norway (13 years, three months and 27 days), Bu Xiangzhi of China (13 years, 10 months and 13 days), Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan (14 years and 14 days), and Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine (14 years, 17 days).

So, currently the country's second-ranked player with Torre, dislodged GM Etienne Bacrot of France, who got his GM title at 14 years and two months, at seventh spot.

By comparison, the great Bobby Fischer of the United States was 15 years, six months and one day when he become a GM in 1958.

The top-seeded Ni and Torre drew their match after 42 moves of the Larsen opening, as did Paragua and Zhang in only 10 moves of the Ruy Lopez.

Ni, who tied for first place with compatriot GM Li Chao in the second President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Cup last month, bagged the top prize of $5,000. Paragua, Zhong and Torre each pocketed $3,000.

Eight players, led by So and unheralded Deniel Causo, shared fifth to 12th places and received $1,062 each.

Bunched with them at six points were GM Rogelio Antonio Jr. and Fide Master Fernie Donguines, who split the point after 78 moves of the Torre Attack; and Li and IM Jayson Gonzales, who also halved the point.

Singapore-based Filipino IM Julio Catalino Sadorra also earned his first GM result after drawing with GM Dao Thien Hai of Vietnam and finishing with 5.5 points. Causo, on the other hand, clinched his first IM result after stunning Laylo.

Final standings:
7 points -- H. Ni (China); 6.5 -- M. Paragua (RP), Z. Zhong (Singapore), E. Torre (RP); 6 -- W. So (RP), D. Causo (RP), C. Li (China), E. Maghami (Iran), F. Donguines (RP), R. Antonio (RP), J. Gonzales (RP), W. Zhou (China); 5.5 -- J. Sadorra (RP), R. Bitoon (RP), D.T. Hai (Vietnam), N.A. Dung (Vietnam), J. Gomez (RP), E. Senador (RP), H. Nouri (RP), R. Dableo (RP), S. Severino (RP), C. Garma (RP), Y. Lie (China), R. Bancod (RP)

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