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Wesley So a big loss

He doesn’t need the help of anybody to get better.

Rey Bancod

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Chess grandmaster Wesley So has been granted citizenship in the United States, ending whatever hopes of him returning to his mother country.

Like many Filipinos who came to the US to seek greener pastures, Wesley should not be faulted for turning his back on the Philippines.

Most of my siblings are either US or Canadian citizens, but remain Filipinos at heart.

Wesley is no exception. He will always be our pride and inspiration.

If there’s one lesson that can be learned from this is that chess players don’t see opportunities at home.

Many top players have left the country, a handful taking up citizenship of their adopted countries.

The country’s top-rated grandmasters — eight of them — have left the country to hone their talents elsewhere.

Julio Catalino Sadorra, Mark Paragua, Oliver Barbosa and Rogelio Barcenilla are already based in the US while Joseph Sanchez, Roland Salvador and Nelson Mariano reside in France, Italy and Singapore, respectively.

Richard Bitoon is also on the way or is now in the US.

Even before Wesley became US citizen, Enrico Sevillano was already playing for the US where he earned his GM title.

GM Bong Villamayor and International Master Enrique Paciencia now represent Singapore where several other Filipinos are working as chess teachers.

Only a few GMs remain at home — Eugene Torre, Joey Antonio, Jayson Gonzales, Darwin Laylo and John Paul Gomez.

It is a pity that chess — sports in general — is not given priority at home.

A year after the coronavirus struck, Philippine sports remains stuck in inactivity with only a few athletes fortunate enough to train abroad where restrictions have been eased.

While his departure is a typical case, Wesley is a big loss because he’s “a rare find,” as what Torre had put it.

Torre was instrumental in Wesley’s growth, having guided and supported his age-group campaigns in the past.

Short of comparing him with the late chess genius Bobby Fischer, Torre said Wesley has the unique ability to improve on his own.

“He doesn’t need the help of anybody to get better,” said Torre, who is a rare gem himself.

Unlike Wesley, however, Torre was blessed with a strong support group that helped him become Asia’s first GM and a living legend.

He admits that he had offers to live and play in Germany at the peak of his powers, but chose to try his luck at home.

Torre is semi-retired now, but still lends a hand as coach of the national team.

Wesley’s case should serve as a wake-up call for our sports leaders to get their acts together and provide opportunities for our athletes to grow and excel.

That, or we lose another Wesley.

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