Wesley So and his life-changing Christmas present

Until nine years ago, Wesley So, one of the world’s leading chess players, hadn’t even met Lotis Key. She is now not just his adoptive mother, but his manager as well.

Wesley So with his mother Lotis Key.

Wesley So with his mother Lotis Key. | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

Until nine years ago, Wesley So, one of the world’s leading chess players, hadn’t even met Lotis Key. She is now not just his adoptive mother, but his manager as well.

“This is my mother,” Wesley So introduces Lotis Key to this correspondent during the interview with Sportstar at the National Library here.

Until nine years ago, So, one of the world’s leading chess players, hadn’t even met Key, who has worn multiple hats in her life, including those of an actress, novelist, horse-raiser, and worker at an orphanage. She is now not just his adoptive mother, but his manager as well.

She is delighted to be in Kolkata again, for the Tata Steel Chess India tournament. It was here that she met one of the inspirations of her life, Mother Teresa, decades ago, when she came from the Philippines as a teenager on a school trip.

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“Though it was only later that I came to know of her true greatness, meeting her was one of the most establishing experiences of my life,” says Key. “So whenever I come to Kolkata, I try to visit the Mother House (of the Missionaries of Charity). Now Wesley also accompanies me there and he too likes it very much.”

It was during one Christmas season, like this, that Wesley entered her life. “Nobody in my family plays chess, but my older sister once hosted Bobby Fischer (the man who revolutionised chess) and the younger one dated Eugene Torre (Asia’s first Grandmaster) at college,” says Key. “I met Wesley at the house of one of my husband’s friends in Minnesota, where Wesley was staying at the time as he didn’t have money for a hotel; he was a student at the time and was making some money by playing tournaments.”

In America with just a suitcase

She recalls she felt a connection right away with Wesley, who had come to the United States after being estranged from his family in the Philippines. “I felt this boy needed help and he seemed very lost,” she says. “He knew nobody and had come to America with just one suitcase.”

Later that week, a text message came to the only mobile phone in Key’s family from Wesley. It said, “Can I spend Christmas with your family?” It was her daughter Abbey who saw the message first. “She asked me whether we could invite him for Christmas for he had nowhere to go,” says Key. “I said, ‘Why not; there is enough space in our home’. Eight months later, he was living full time with us.”

When she found that So was torn between his studies and chess, she told him that she would support him for a year or two and asked him to concentrate on his game. “Within less than a year he was in the world’s top 10,” she says. “Then he asked me whether I could accompany him for his tournaments. I thought I would go once or so in six months.”

Nine years later, you will rarely find So at a tournament without his mother.

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