Too good at chess to be a student
Professional chess player? This profession was not part of Wesley So's life plan at all. Rather, his extraordinary gift for the game was to serve him as a vehicle for academic honors when the Filipino, born in October 1993, was offered a scholarship to chess-friendly Webster University in Missouri in 2012. So accepted and has lived in the U.S. ever since. He is an established member of the world's top 10 since the mid-2010s.
Chess-wise, the young grandmaster had caused a stir several times in the years before. At the end of 2008, for example, So became the youngest player ever to reach the 2600-Elo mark, a record that had been held by Magnus Carlsen until then (and which the Chinese player Hou was to take over shortly afterwards). The following year, the world federation FIDE listed him as the world's best 16-year-old.
So vs. Carlsen 13,5:2,5
And yet So didn't think for a long time about betting on chess alone. But improved training opportunities in the U.S. led him to keep climbing. In 2014, he switched to the U.S. federation, and he turned professional in 2015. In the second half of the 2010s, So was considered one of the most likely next World Championship challengers, and even more so when he climbed to second place in the world rankings in March 2017 with an Elo of 2822.
This rise was accompanied by qualification for the 2018 Candidates Tournament in Berlin. But there So reached his limits for the first time, with his compatriot Fabiano Caruana becoming the World Championship challenger. The following year, the devout Christian showed what he was made of in another discipline. In the final of the World Chess960 Championship, So defeated Magnus Carlsen 13.5:2.5.