Chess legend Eugene Torre rallies support for Wesley So’s US ambition

Ryan Songalia

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Chess legend Eugene Torre rallies support for Wesley So’s US ambition
'We have to give 101% full support to Wesley,' says Torre

MANILA, Philippines – Eugene Torre can relate to the situation Wesley So finds himself in these days.

Forty years ago, Torre was the prodigious leading light of Philippine chess, becoming Asia’s first grandmaster at age 22 in 1974. In his footsteps is So, the 20-year-old Cavite native who achieved the same lifetime distinction at age 14, becoming the eighth youngest to accomplish the feat.

With success comes the pressure of making the decisions best suited for their continued prosperity.

When So, No. 15th FIDE ranked player in the world, announced this week that he was seeking his release from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines so he could transfer to the US Chess Federation, his decision was met with derision on social media.

Torre, now 62, feels that the Philippines should rally behind one of its native sons as he seeks the best opportunities to advance his career.

“We have to give 101% full support to Wesley because he’s now in a position where he knows he would be the only one to know what is best for him because we are not there,” Torre told Rappler on Thursday, June 12, at Resorts World Manila, where he was honored at the Gabi ng Pagpupugay (A Night of Tribute) event. 

“I think he is getting a serious training there, then we should give him the full support because he’s already in the position to be ambitious to become a challenger and even to become world champion.”

So, who studies at Webster College in Webster Groves, Missouri, is currently in Las Vegas to defend his title at the Las Vegas International Chess Open. He told ABS-CBN that he has no intention of giving up his Filipino citizenship; his motivation is to play amongst the best talents possible.

“First of all, I’ll be their number 2 player behind (Hikaru Nakamura) who is the number 7 chess player in the world,” said So. “And so I’ll be able to work with stronger players. That’s one of the things I like when I moved here to the Webster University because and I’m working with strong grandmasters and I’m working with them everyday.”

This is a position that Torre supported, emphasizing that So was not turning his back on the nation he was born in.

“He wants only to represent the US federation but he’s not renouncing his citizenship as a Filipino. He’s still a Filipino, that’s why the more reason we should give our full support for his ambition.”

Eugene Torre addresses the audience at Resorts World Manila. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

Under rules of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), a player can transfer if his federation allows him or if he pays a fee of 50,000 euros (PHP2,962,454). If his federation does not allow him to transfer, he will not be able to compete in any FIDE rated tournament for two years.

So says that he has no means to pay the transfer fee, adding that he felt the NCFP was punishing him by “refusing to consent” to his plans.

“No player should be treated this way especially when I worked so hard to bring pride to my country,” added So.

Torre’s advice to aspiring chess players

These days, Torre is more selective about the tournaments and challenges he takes on, but says he still remains active in chess. At the peak of his activity, Torre had beaten the world’s No. 1 rated player at the time, Russia’s Anatoly Karpov, and was the second of Bobby Fisher, whom many consider to be the greatest player of all time.

“For me Bobby Fisher was the greatest player ever because of the circumstances,” Torre said. “He was on his own, and despite playing against the top Russians he was able to get the world championship title. Unfortunately he was not able to display his genius after that because some decisions of the World Chess Federation did not favor him.”

Torre says the two only competed against one another in a single training game which ended in a draw. “I was very happy.”

When asked what advice he had for young aspiring chess players, Torre responded: “To love what you’re doing, to love the game. Everything comes automatic when you love what you’re doing. That’s very important. I always like to say especially to the young players to as early as they could, they should try to apply what they learn in chess in life, looking for the best moves.

 “For example, you can identify our health as our king. If that is the case, to protect your king, your health. Then you have to  avoid vices, no smoking, then good exercise and then good rest, good sleep and nutritious food.” –

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