Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s GM Wesley So!
The place is Johannesburg, and the occasion is the South African Junior Chess Championship (SAJCC). In the wake of social trends such as Fabiano Caruana’s bucket challenge and Magnus Carlsen’s basketball moves, shortly before Christmas So went from super-GM to superhero to take on a pack of club players, park swindlers and rising youth in an intense bughouse tournament that counted more than 200 teams.
GM Wesley So playing blitz against the South African chess sensation Khanya Mazibuko. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
So’s first trip to Africa was a novelty for the young star, who was overwhelmed with admiration by the over 2100 players of the SAJCC between December 15-20. The “So show” was composed of two simuls, two Q&A sessions and tons of savage blitz at the playing venue and at the temple of African chess in Joubert Park, downtown Johannesburg. Here is a taste of the action:
So might not be equal to GM Maurice Ashley or GM Hikaru Nakamura when it comes to silencing park bullies, but his clinical game had him undefeated in the lions’ lair. Unlike, of course, his countryman Nakamura last year. In case you forgot, don’t miss the full coverage of Mabusela-Nakamura in last year’s report.
So also showed some athletic wit on the garden board, out-prepping one of South Africa’s most talented players, IM Ryan Van Rensburg:
The blitz showdown ended ahead of the South African Blitz Championship, hosted in the frame of the SAJCC. So scored a convincing 2/2 against the country’s number one, IM Daniel Cawdery, surrounded by an audience worthy of Mel Gibson’s Thunderdome:
The best players of southern Africa met GM So in an insightful get-together, where the American player described the preparation and the challenges that got him to the very top of the world chess scene. So analysed a few games with the players and responded to some cheeky questions with incredible humility.
So analyzing games with some South African titled players. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
If the South African top players were a walk in the park for world’s number-11, the rising youth proved to be a tougher nut to crack. Perhaps So didn’t take enough notes at his mother’s lecture on how to tame them and when to let them loose!
The champion’s adoptive mother and manager Lotis Key did in fact share a wealth of knowledge to local parents on how to support their children on the way to success without undermining their passion for the game.
How to nurture a rising talent? Lotis Key had a laid-back conversation with local chess parents. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
So met some of those children on the board demonstrating his skills on a 10-player blindfold simul. He did win all 10, but he slipped and had to show what to do when things go south and you forget the placement of a piece. With a couple of test moves he easily got the opponents’ missing pieces to move and he even got away with a little blunder.
Ten blindfold games? It’s child’s play! | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
The second simul, advertised as the biggest ever in South Africa, counted 103 players (two more than Nakamura’s last year!). Here So’s perfect score was marred by three losses and seven draws. Sandiso Kedama, Nande Booi and Abinawah Sathish may one day say they beat a world champion!
The biggest ever simultaneous exhibition in South Africa. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
Talking about world championship ambitions, So spoke about his goals for the future, about the growth of chess in developing countries and a whole lot more in a laid back chat with his mother Lotis Key and this reporter during the tournament. You can hear it all here:
Oh, and did the wonder team of Batman (So) and Joker (Mfundo Masiya) win the bughouse tournament? They got close, but Buchholz favored the local youth and yours truly!
Here are some more images from Wesley’s trip to South Africa:
Wesley and Caleb Levitan, flagman of South Africa at the World Youth 2018. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
Looks may be deceiving! The Chessbrah fanboy team ended up tied first at the bughouse tournament. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
More blitz in Joubert Park. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
More than 2,100 players attended the South African Junior Chess Championship. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.