Watch out for this Pinay chess genius

By Alex P. Vidal

“All I want to do, ever, is play chess.”— Bobby Fischer

I FIRST read an article about Wesley So in the magazine section of Manila Bulletin in 2003. He was 10 years old and tagged as a “prodigy” or highly talented child from Bacoor, Cavite.

Nothing earthshaking about the article, which was buried in the middle pages, except that the author must have noticed something unusual about the boy that he devoted a long story fit for three pages.

The photo that accompanied the article showed the prodigy looking like a Chinese mestizo of Filipino descent. (He reminded of the boys I used to tease when I was elementary student at the Iloilo Central Commercial High School now Hua Siong College of Iloilo).

The article said So won the 2003 Philippine National Chess Championships in the U-10s section.

It turned out he started competing in junior tournaments when he was nine years old, or a year before the article was written.

He was unstoppable. In various sections of the World Youth Chess, So proved the article was correct in calling him a “prodigy” by finishing 19th in the U-10s in 2003; 13th in the U-12s in 2004 and fourth place in the U-12s in 2005.

He won individual golds in the standard and rapid sections in the 2004 ASEAN Open U-10s and in 2005 ASEAN Open U-12s he won team silver medals in the standard and rapid along with winning individual golds in the standard, rapid and blitz sections.

Today, we all know how far So gone. As a super grand master and once the No. 2 in the world, he is now an American citizen and has won the U.S. Open three times—in 2017, 2020, 2021.

From a prodigy to a future world champion? Not a far-fetched possibility since So has scored scintillating victories over the reigning FIDE (World Chess Federation) champion Magnus Carlsen.

We remember So after our regular contributor, US National Master Marlon Bernardino, informed us recently that another chess wunderkind, 10-year-old Nika Juris Nicolas, became the newest Philippine Woman National Master.


According to Bernardino, Nicolas has been conferred the title Woman National Master (WNM) by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines on Wednesday, February 22, 2023.

“As it stands, the 10-year-old Nika is one of the youngest WNMs in the country, daughter of Atty. Nikki De Vega and Atty. Krisanto Karlo Nicolas,” Bernardino reported.

“In a span of a year, this chess beginner blossomed to a National Champion, Asian Youth medalist, Eastern Asia Silver Medalist, Woman Candidate FIDE Master and a Batang Pinoy Champion. The year 2022 bore witness to the miraculous wins of Nika in chess.”

Bernardino quoted Nika, a Grade 5 pupil of Victory International School in Pasig city, as saying, “I am glad I was able to perform well in the tournament and become a National Master.”

Bernardino sad Nika learned how to play chess at the age of nine thru Coach Lourecel Hernandez Ecot in June 2021.

Her first tournament was the National Age Group Chess Championship Pre Elimination thru Lichess Platform in February 5, 2022. She finished first place with six wins and one loss.

Nika is scheduled to compete in the National Age Group Chess Championship Elimination set March 3-5 in Tagaytay City.

“Our family is immensely grateful to all those who cheered and prayed with us whether boisterously or silently. Likewise, we wish to express our appreciation to the unsung heroes – the coaches, teachers and mentors of Nika namely Coach Lourecel Hernandez Ecot, Coach Von Carlson Francisco, Raul Miguel Damuy, The Chess Castle, Philippine Academy for Chess Excellence , WGM Janelle Frayna, GM Jayson Gonzales and all the other chess players who took time to play with Nika and point out areas for improvement,” said proud mother Atty. Nikki De Vega, PCAP’s Magic Mandaluyong Tigers co-team owner.

“Special thanks is also in order to the chess parents who welcomed us with open arms and guided us how to navigate this new terrain called the chess world. Finally, thank you to the Pasig City government led by Mayor Vico Sotto, Vice Mayor Dodot Jaworski, Cong. Roman Romulo and Coach Franco Camillo  and the NCFP under the helm of Cong. Butch Pichay and CEO Jayson Gonzales for your indefatigable efforts to develop the skills of the youth,” she added.


In the recent story I wrote about United States Powerball lottery $2.4 billion lone winner Edwin Castro, I mentioned he had a Facebook account that “offered help through donation” but I didn’t confirm if the Facebook account was active or authentic.

Nowadays, we don’t know whether social media accounts—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Youtube, TikTok, Snapchat, Reddit, Pinterest, etcetera—are owned by legitimate persons. In most cases, they are being used to scam unsuspecting people.

Here’s a message I received from a friend who read my article:

“Good pm. Yesterday I tried to test whether a true lottery winner is fake or real in Facebook as there are accounts of Edwin Castro mushrooming in social media.

The person tried to be nice and sympathetic at first, then tried to offer something for worthy activities on my part but funds can only be transferred to cryptocurrency account which I don’t have. For 8 hours the person was persistent in responding. I said I am not a tech savvy person and I can’t do this.

I tried chatting in vernacular but said I can’t understand your language. Since I didn’t bite it, I tried looking at the account and there’s a lot of contests he’s been launching like- if you donate 50.00 you get 25,00 and so on. There’s a scam probably going on.”

Probably this friend is right. Be careful and thank you for the vigilance.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)