Wesley So, now playing under US, draws world champ

MANILA, Philippines - It looks surreal seeing the US flag beside Wesley So's table at the marquee match of the 2015 Tata Steel, one of the strongest chess tournaments in the circuit, playing against world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway.

But when the second-round game between Carlsen and So ended in a draw, Filipino chess fans on the Internet cheered as if Wesley So was still playing for the flag of his native Philippines.

At the Chess Philippines Facebook page, Ryan Vincent Jarabejo posted:" The flag is American but the heart is Filipino!" Joseph Roque added:" Go Wesley! Go Bacoor Cavite native!". Chimed in writer Herky del Mundo after seeing the live feed: "Wesley is so calm while Magnus is shaking head in disbelief."

During the press conference after the game, Carlsen, according to a Tweet from journalist Tarjei Svensen, said: "So played the middlegame better than me, I overlooked things. Then I saw the chance to exchange pieces and draw.”

So responded in the same presser: "My first game against the reigning champion, it's a big honor for me. He's by far the best player I've met."  

The draw came a few hours before the World Chess Federation announcement that So will represent the United States as an entry for the 2015 World Cup, which is a qualifying tournament for the world chess championship. 

So transferred from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines to the US Chess Federation last year. Last month, he said he was quitting Webster University in St Louis, where former women's world champion Susan Polgar trained him for nearly three years and raised his world ranking to No. 10, to turn professional. 

Tata Steel is So's first big tournament since becoming pro. Aside from Carlsen, world number Fabiano Caruana of Italy is there, and so is the women's world champion, Hou Yifan of China. So will be playing black against most of the strong players and experts forecast a modest 50 percent score.

What does one feel when he plays a world champion? Eugene Torre, who defeated then titleholder Anatoly Karpov in a 1976 Manila tournament, tells Rappler: "It's a mix of excitement and other emotions. I was playing Karpov for the third time but this was the first time as world champion. I got lucky and took the advantage."

Then, emotions grabbed hold of Asia's first grandmaster. "I got into time pressure and even missed a mate," Torre recalled. 

In tonight's Round 3, So will battle Levon Aronian, who beat him last year in the same tournament. He will be a marked man after his draw against Carlsen and the Internet's chess sites will be buzzing with excitement to see if he can avenge his loss against Aronian. - Rappler.com