Chess Olympiad 2022: USA grandmaster Wesley So wants team to pull up the socks after disappointing start

Fabiano Caruana (FIDE Rating 2783) – who is the team’s highest ranked player in the Olympiad – hasn’t been in his elements so far. The grandmaster – who turned 30 a couple of days ago – was undefeated in both the 2016 and 2018 Olympiads, and helped the US to win gold and silver, respectively. But he was stunned by Uzbekistan’s Nodirbek Abdusattorov in round four.

Although these are early stages in the tournament and a team like the USA is capable of making a turnaround but one of the team’s senior members, Wesley So isn’t pleased with the way the entire unit has performed in the showpiece event so far.

So – who is part of the USA Team 1 – is slightly disappointed with the way things have panned out for his team. 28-year-old So, who is currently ranked number 7 in the world, is a Filipino-American super grandmaster.

The current US Chess Champion is rated among the best chess players in the world currently while speaking with MyKhel expressed his disappointment with the team’s effort so far and the culture of chess back in the US and enjoying the food that he’s being served at the team hotel.

Here are the excerpts:

MyKhel: How has your experience at this Chess Olympiad been so far?

Wesley So: It’s going well. I’ve been here for over a week now. I was feeling a bit under the weather at the beginning but I am getting used to it. I am staying at the Raddison Blu hotel. The food is great, enjoying it. I am trying to get good sleep and recover, trying to play well and trying to enjoy (myself). I love being in India, it’s an enduring journey to get here but once you are here you get to enjoy the place and the people. I am trying to show my good chess and have a good time at the same time.

Wesley So. Image: Steve Bonhage

MK: How has the team’s performance been so far?

WS: It’s been so-so. We are the favorites on paper and ratings but it hasn’t been that way so far. There are a lot of things that need improvement. We need someone as a striker. In 2016, we had Fabiano (Caruana) and myself, in 2018 Fabi (Fabiano) was doing extremely well. But here so far we have not been an exceptional team. We badly need a striker.

MK: What’s the culture in the USA for chess as soccer and basketball are the two most popular sports in the country?

WS: Yes, chess isn’t very popular in the USA. (Although) It has grown a lot during the pandemic due to online streaming. We have a few popular platforms back home but it’s not really considered a profession in the USA. There’s no governmental support. The United States Chess Federation (USCF) – the governing body – is a non-profit organization. So, it’s hard for players to make a living out of chess. There are private sponsors (who are helping the players). If not for them, it would have been very hard (for chess professionals to sustain). I’ve been a chess professional for eight years; you (kind of) have to be at the top in the pecking order to make a living (out of this sport). Most people don’t realize that chess can be a profession in the US. But we have some up-and-coming junior players. In general, most people follow and play chess online.

MK: Which other sport do you follow and who’s your favorite player?

WS: Yeah, you follow the NBA. LeBron James is very good, I like his level of consistency. Also, you like Michael Jordan, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant.

MK: What are your targets for 2022?

WS: I am coming back to India in Kolkata in November. My first target is to play well here at the Chess Olympiad. We came here to fight for a medal, we really want to do well here in Chennai. We won gold in 2016, and we clinched a silver in 2018, so our goal is to finish the podium here as well but our performance hasn’t been up to the mark so far.

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