THE NETHERLANDS -– Grandmaster Wesley So opens his campaign in the 2011 Tata Steel Corus Group B chess championships with an early showdown against long-time Southeast Asian rival GM Le Quang Liem of Vietnam in the first round Saturday (Sunday, Manila time) at the de Moriaan Community Centre in Wijk aa Zee, The Netherlands.

So, now seeded fifth in his third straight appearance in the prestigious, 14-player category 17 tournament, will handle the disadvantageous black pieces against Le, the strongest Vietnamese player today and winner of several major international competitions last year.

This will be the first meeting between the two chess prodigies since the 16th Asian Games in Guanzhou, China where Le bagged the silver medal in the individual competition and So led the Philippines to the silver in the team competition.

 “This will be another big test for Wesley, but I’m confident about his chances this time,” said National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) president/chairman Prospero “Butch” Pichay when told about the opening-day pairings.

Actually, Le defeated So in the eighth Asian Individual Championships in Subic in 2009 and drew in the Vietnam Open in Vietnam in 2008.

The 20-year-old Vietnamese champion also rose to prominence with a string of major triumphs last year, including first place in the Moscow Open, Aeroflot Open and the Asian Games and three strong runner-up finishes in the Asian Continental, Dortmund and Campomanes Cup.

But So had a more consistent performance last year and in fact, vaulted to No. 3 in the list of the world’s top junior players and No. 63 in the world based on the Jan. 2011 rating of FIDE. Le, on the other hand, slipped to No. 4 junior and No. 79 in the world.

After Le, So will play white against sixth seed GM Gabriel Sagissian of Armenia in the second round Sunday, No. 11 seed Jon Ludvig Hammer of The Netherlands in the third round Monday and fourth seed GM Zahar Efimenko of Ukraine in the fourth round Tuesday.

Wednesday, Jan. 19 is rest day.

After the rest day, So will resume his campaign against GM Surya Ganguly of India, GM Laurant Fressinet of France, GM David Navara of Czech Republic and GM Wouter Spoelman of The Netherlands.

The players take their second rest day on Jan. 24.

The 17-year-old Filipino champion will then take on GM LI Chao of China, GM Vladimir Tkachiev of France, GM Friso Nijboer of The Netherlands, GM Luke McShane of England and finally, top seed GM Radek Wojtaszek of Poland.