PH chess hits rock bottom in Olympiad
Even before the Philippine team left for the Tromso Chess Olympiad in late July, it was already saddled with many problems.
Grandmaster Wesley So (World No. 12) castled into the camp of the United States Chess Federation and GM Oliver Barbosa could not get a visa as he was just a tourist in the US.
Without them, the PH team was doomed, and only the old hand, GM Eugene Torre, was there to save face for the squad. In fact, without Torre’s heroics, we could have tumbled down to, at best, No. 70 in the final standings.
At 46th place for men and 64th spot for women, the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) under Prospero “Butch” Pichay has hit rock bottom.
The NCFP—founded by the late Fide head Florencio Campomanes, Torre and myself in 2000—is sick, but hopefully not beyond recovery.
NCFP officials who went to Norway pursued separate agendas before the Fide general assembly. Pichay supported former world champ Garry Kasparov for Fide president while secretary general and Cavite Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino campaigned for Fide head Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Pichay also ran for Asian chess president while Tolentino sought the Fide secretary general post. (Tolentino won; Pichay lost.)
Wesley had long been ruing the harsh treatment given him by the NCFP. When he won the Universiade chess gold medal two years ago, the NCFP did not even give him a token recognition. The event was very prestigious, and winning it over the best student-players worldwide was a rare feat.
The NCFP also failed to give him badly needed funds when he played in the World Cup some years ago. So’s parents were so disgusted they later migrated to Canada.
The same problem bugs the few GMs left in the country. They lament the loss of tournaments where they earn a living under Pichay’s watch. GMs Barbosa, Nelson Mariano, Bong Villamayor, Joseph Sanchez, Roger Barcenilla, Rico Sevillano, et al, had all gone abroad because “there’s no more chess” here. Almost all the noted International Masters had also abandoned the politician Pichay’s NCFP.
The Philippine Sports Commission has disowned, on record, the alibi of Pichay during his meeting with So and his coaches in Tromso that the agency won’t support chess anymore with So gone. PSC chair Ritchie Garcia even wished So well in his campaign for the world chess title. Garcia said chess gets a P15-million annual assistance and that the PSC also gave the team, including the two NCFP officials who joined Pichay, P1.9 million for its trip to Norway.
The PSC should rethink its stand toward chess under its present leadership. After all, chess will not be played in the Asian Games next month and in the SEA Games next year in Singapore. The NCFP should also be made to account for all the funds it received from the PSC.
The sports agency should set aside funds instead for the establishment of a chess school to nurture potential champions like the 8-year-old Alekhine Nouri, who has also gone to a chess school in California.
But this chess school must not be left in the hands of inept politicians. Our GMs and IMs can then busy themselves teaching and earning a living or even training here, instead of going abroad. This is what Chinese chess officials did after Campomanes revived chess in China in 1975 by sending our top players for team matches.
Now, the Chinese are world champions, and we, their former mentors, are not even worthy to be their masseurs!
(Samuel Estimo is a practicing lawyer, National Master, many-time Olympian and former Philippine chess team captain.)