IN one of the most-awaited events in chess this year, world championship contender GM Wesley So will make his second straight World Chess Olympiad appearance for the United States beginning Monday.
So, long considered as heir-apparent to reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, will finally take the lead role for the top-seeded US team (ELO 2772) in the 185-nation competition scheduled Sept. 23-Oct. 6 in Batumi, Georgia.
The Cavite-born Filipino champion, who played for the Philippines in four straight Olympiads (2006 Turin, 2008 Dresden, 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk and 2012 Istanbul) before his controversial transfer to the US in 2014, will play board 2 for the Americans behind world championship candidate GM Fabiano Caruana.
So’s presence in the US team, which also include GM Hikaru Nakamura, Sam Shankland and former Webster University teammate Ray Robson is expected to boost the American team’s chances to retain the title in the prestigious event. dubbed as the “Olympics” of chess.
The Amercian captured the 2016 title in Baku, edging Russia and Ukraine.
The 25-year-old So is currently ranked No. 9 in the world in the September list released by FIDE.
Also expected to figure prominently in the title race are No. 2 Russia, led by GMs Sergey Karjakin, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladamir Kramnik; No. 3 China, bannered by GMs Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi and Wei Yi; No. 4 Azerbaijan, topbilled by GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Teimour Radjabov and Arkadij Naiditsch; and No. 5 India, led by GMs Viswanathan Anand, Pentala Harikrishna and Gujrathi Vidit.
Other teams to watch in the men’s division are Ukraine, France, Armenia, England and Israel.
Conspicuously absent in the field is Carlsen, who is scheduled to defend his FIDE world title against Caruana in London on Nov. 9-28.
The Philippines, led by US-based GM Julio Catalino Sadorra and John Paul Gomez, is seeded only 54th with an average ELO of 2473.
Also in the GM Eugene Torre-coached Filipino team are IMs Haridas Pascua and Emmanuel Garcia and FM Mari Joseph Turqueza.
The Filipino delegation, which included the WGM Janelle Mae Frayna-led women’s team, arrived in Batumi early Saturday morning.
The team is billeted at the Legend Business Hotel, according to women’s team coach GM Jayson Gonzales.
Aside from Frayna, the other members of the women’s team which is seeking to surpass its historic 34th-place finish in 2016 Baku, are WIMs Catherine Secopito, Shania Mae Mendoza, Marie Antoinette San Diego and Bernadette Galas.
The top five seeds in the women’s division are Russia (ELO 2523), Ukraine (2486), China (2485), Georgia-1 (2484) and India (2458).
The two-week long competition formally got underway Sunday with a spectacular and unforgettable opening ceremony at the Black Sea Arena in Shekvetili, located some 45 km north of Batumi.
The official media announcement said the large-scale opening ceremony united the representatives of classical and modern cultures.
The grandiose ceremony featured the music of Maestro Nikoloz Rachveli and DJ Kordzi,a ballet choreography by Nina Ananiashvili and a dance presentation by the Sukhishvili .
Famous Georgian singer Nino Katamadze, Georgian baritone Lado Ataneli, singers Liza Bagrationi, Giorgi Ushikishvili, violist Giorgi Tsagareli, the indie rock band Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz, the folklore ensemble Lashari, the Batumi cappella, the Evgeni Mikeladze State Symphony Orchestra directed by Nikoloz Rachveli and the Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet were also present.
Distinguished Georgian writer Aka Morchiladze is the author of the text for the opening ceremony booklet.