Quo vadis, PH chess?
PHILIPPINE chess is sick. Very sick. Former Surigao Rep. Prospero Pichay, the chair, president and Fide delegate of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP), has gone separate ways with his secretary general, Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, making the chess body like a war-torn and divided Syria.
Like the homeless Syrian migrants, our grandmasters and international masters have fled the country in search of “chess homes” abroad. The likes of GMs Julio Sadorra, Oliver Barbosa, Mark Paragua, Nelson Mariano, Bong Villamayor, Roger Barcenilla, Rico Sevillano, Joseph Sanchez and the majority of our IMs have abandoned the NCFP.
The case of world No. 10 GM Wesley So, who now plays for the United States, shows how ill Philippine chess has become. He was not treated well by the leadership of the NCFP. He was not given recognition by the NCFP for winning the Universiade chess gold medal some years back. He was not also given financial assistance when he competed in the World Chess Cup despite the pleas of his parents.
This is not the proper way to treat a rising star in chess. If this were in China, or even India, Wesley would have been given sports accolade at the highest level. But no, our chess leaders were busy taking care of other business. They don’t mind the interests of their wards. They even fought each other in the halls of Fide. Imagine Pichay and Tolentino fighting in the last Fide elections in Tromso, Norway! What a shame (Tolentino won as Fide secretary general; Pichay lost his bid for the Asian Chess Federation presidency—Ed).
The ongoing international chess tournaments in Subic are lamentable. Neither Pichay nor Tolentino graced the opening rites of the event attended by foreign GMs and IMs. It is as if the NCFP is a rudderless boat. No one seems to be in charge. No wonder, only Eugene Torre, Joey Antonio, Richard Bitoon and Darwin Laylo, from among our many GMs, elected to participate. And many fell to lower-ranked foreign chess players in the early rounds.
This is what happens when we don’t have a good chess program, especially for the youth. A fellow chess captain from Spain in the Turin Chess Olympiad in Italy recently asked me who our top players are, and when I told him they were still Torre (64) and Antonio (55), he told this writer, quite truthfully: “There is something wrong with your chess program.”
The NCFP has stopped sending the country’s young players to world junior and age-group tournaments abroad. When GM Torre and this writer were at the helm, the NCFP never failed to send young boys and girls to these competitions. That was how Wesley So started his career, when he was 8 years old.
The NCFP then, under the fatherly guidance of the late Fide president Florencio Campomanes, was taking a sure path toward capturing its old glory days when dangerous politicians intervened and blocked the way.
(Samuel Estimo is a practising lawyer, National Master and many-time player and captain of the Philippine chess team in the World Chess Olympiad.)