Wesley So is the rising star in the world of chess. The youngest Grandmaster at the moment, he enthralled chess lovers in the UAE with a sterling performance to walk away with the ten-year-old Dubai Open Chess tournament crown last week.

Fourteen-year-old So, with his boyish smile, hardly comes across as a Grandmaster. Most of his friends in the Filipino Chess Club in Dubai were there to cheer him almost every day.

"I am very happy to win. Frankly, I did not expect to go all the way. All I wanted to do was to pick up more points. This is my first major title victory and I will cherish it forever," So told Gulf News soon after the win.

So is the second child of chess lovers William and Eleanor. William was a schoolbus driver till he decided to quit his job and back his talented son. He now travels with him all around the world while Eleanor works as an accounts controller in a university and brings home a steady income.

"It is hard to meet the huge travel expenses, but the Philippines Chess Federation president Prospero Pichay, who is very supportive of So's talent, helps him with his travel expenses, thus enabling him to play in big tournaments. It is his personal encouragement that has helped So achieve some great victories at the international level," says William.

So is extremely thankful to Pichay. "When I was leaving for Dubai, he asked me to remember two things: try to avoid making early mistakes and then fight for victory in every game. He also warned me never to be bothered about my opponent's rating and play my natural game. I followed his advice when I played top players and it did help me a lot," he said.

Rapid strides

It was obvious that the first person So called immediately after his victory was Pichay.

"I told him that I have achieved what he wanted me to do and he felt so happy," he said.

This is So's second visit to Dubai.

"When I participated in this tournament in 2006, I did not perform well and managed just five points. Today, I am so delighted because I must have added another 15 points to my rating. This tournament will always remain special for me and I will return again next year to defend my title," said So, who also thanked the huge Filipino community in Dubai.

"Every day, members of the Flipino Chess Club in Dubai came to cheer me up. I am so thankful to them for their tremendous support that gave me confidence. In fact, they also sponsored my hotel stay here and I am happy that I could make make them proud."

Fellow feeling

Long wait ends for Filipino community

"We waited for a whole decade for a Filipino to win the Dubai Open and we are proud that a 14-year-old boy has done it for us," remarked Joey Tiberio, events manager of the Filipino Chess Club in Dubai.

"So will inspire a large number of youngsters in the UAE to bring glory. We already have a promising youngster in 13-year-old Axel Valario here. The number will soon increase as So has shown them that we are capable of beating any top player if we have the determination," added Tiberio.

"We practice every evening at the Reef Mall and our strength is growing by the day. It will be a great feeling when So will one day go on to become a world champion."

So's father William is also delighted with the support of the Filipino community in Dubai. "Chess does not attract much support in the Philippines. Whatever So has achieved is purely due to Prospero Pichay, an ardent chess fan who is the president of the Philippines Chess Federation. Although So's achievement, by becoming a young GM, has inspired many youngsters, the game has a long way to go," said William.

The vast number of Filipino ex-pats have been keen followers of basketball here all along. Now, So's success may open other options for them.