In his latest move since transferring to the United States, chess Grandmaster Wesley So was sworn in as an American citizen on February 26 at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in St. Paul Minneapolis, Minnesota, the US Chess Federation website reported Thursday (Friday in Manila).
Born in Bacoor city, Cavite, So, 27, was shown in a picture posted on the federation website wearing a mask while displaying his new citizenship papers with his left hand and holding a small US flag on the other, with the seal of the US Department of Homeland Security in the background. The other shot showed him being sworn in as an American citizen.
Now living in Minnetonka, Minnesota with his adopted parents — former PBA player Renato “Bambi” Kabigting and former actress Lotis Key — the former Filipino chess prodigy explained to Debbie Canon of the US CIS his reasons for acquiring US citizenship during his swearing-in ceremony.
“For a better future, because this is the land of opportunity,” said So, who became the youngest grandmaster of the Philippines at the age of 14 years old, one month and 28 days in securing his third GM Norm at the Prospero Pichay International Cup on December 8, 2007.
“I love the fact that anyone can strive to succeed (in the US). You are not held back by your color, lack of connection and or the amount of money you have,” he explained.
“If you work hard, you have a better chance of making it here than anywhere else in the world. I came here ready to work hard, and it turned out just as I dreamed (it would be).”
Notwithstanding his allegiance to his new country, So said he cherished the land of his birth, saying: “That doesn’t mean that I don’t love the Philippines. I have good memories from there. But I did not have the connections I needed in that culture.
“I was from the province, not a city boy. Had no money, etc. I wanted to go further, and there is only one country that a nobody could make it. The USA.”
In acquiring US citizenship, the soft-spoken chess player, who came to the US in 2012 as chess scholar for Webster University, stressed that he wanted “to give back to the country that has been so good to me.
“From the moment I landed here, I was encouraged and enabled to be better than I was (before). I like this attitude and 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!”
Of his experience of being a newly minted American citizen, So replied: “I got so hyper and excited, I was talking kind of loud all day. It was literally a dream come through. I am now 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.”
As to how this decision would impact his chess future, the player said: “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 good citizen and help others the way I was helped. God bless America!”
While his individual career has flourished in the land of Uncle Sam, So’s transfer of loyalties has likewise been a boon to the US chess team, playing a key role in the delegation’s unbeaten run in capturing the gold medal in the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan with a record of nine wins and two draws, good for 20 points.
He earned a gold medal from the competition playing board 3 on the US squad.
It was the first time that the Americans bagged the prestigious world team chess championship since they took the gold in the 1976 edition held in Haifa, Israel.
So is a two-time US national champion, his latest trophy garnered last October, emerging undefeated against an elite field in the online chessfest with a score of 9 out of 11 points in what chess pundits said was a performance reminiscent of the brilliant but eccentric Bobby Fischer during his prime.
He is the inaugural World Fischer Random Chess champion, whipping world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen 13.5-2.5 points in the finals held from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2 2019 in the Norwegian’s home turf.
So reasserted his supremacy over Carlsen not once but twice in a span of a few months recently, beating the latter in the finals of Skilling Open, the first leg of the online Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, last November then again in the Europa Rapid meet finals in February.