Don’t give up on Torre-led chessers in Batumi -- experts

September 30, 2018

HOPE springs eternal for the Philippines.

Despite a lackadaisical showing that put them in an unfamiliar position halfway through the 43rd World Chess Olympiad. In Batumi, Georgia, the Filipinos hope to get back on track beginning with their sixth round encounter with No. 151st seed Jersey.

An alarming three-game slump that saw the 54th-seeded Filipinos falter against Croatia (1-3),  Estonia (1.5-2.5) and Lebanon (1.5-2.5) and drop all the way down to 101st place have raised concerns back home about the composition of the GM Eugene Torre-coached  national team.

The Filipinos,who  boasts of a rich tradition in chess from the time of the late FIDE president Florencio  Campomanes up to GM Wesley So,  have  not been in similar embarrassing situation before.

A bronze  medalist in the 2016 Baku Olympiad and record-holder for consecutive appearances in the Olympiad since 1970, Torre was tapped by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) to serve as a coach --  and not as a player this time.

In his place are  two GMs and three young players who have yet to make their mark in the world stage.

GM Julio Catalino Sadorra is 3.5/5 at the top board while GM John Paul Gomez is 2/4 on board two.

IM Jan Emmanuel Garcia holds a 1-1-2 win-draw-loss record on board three;  IM Haridas Pascua has 2-1-1 on board four;  and FM Mari  Joseph Turqueza has 1-0-2 in a reserve role.

But experts are not yet giving up on Torre and his team.

“Eugene (Torre) is in the biggest fight of his life,” said veteran chess journalist Ignacio Dee in his commentary for the widely-followed Facebook group Chess Philippines

“A lot of people have been asking today :”Why is Torre not playing?  Has he retired?” They want to see their idol carry the team as in the past. They believe the NCFP erred in making him head coach and captain, two years after he won a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympiad,” said Dee,  who served as member of the media group which handled the 30th Olympiad in Manila in 1992.

Dee  said there is still hope for the Filipinos.

“There are six rounds left. His many fans believe he will make it, but he is not playing. He must convince the Philippine team they have a chance to fight their way to a high finish,” he added.

V. Luna Chess Club president Greg Rellorosa  also expressed confidence  that  the five-man Filipino  team can  still recover lost ground  in  the  coming rounds.

“May pagkakataon pa na bumawi.  Matagal pa ang laban at magagaling  din naman ang mga players natin,” said  Rellorosa, a close friend and confidante of Campomanes and  president of  the V. Luna Chess Club  where  both  Garcia and Turqueza  honed their skills.

That  upclimb begins with the match  against  Jersey, a  small British-supported  island  near the coast of Normandy.

With four points on two wins and three losses, the Filipinos hope  to recover fast.

It was a different story in the women’s division.

The WGM Janelle Mae Frayna-led women’s  team returns from a one-day break confident of doing well against No. 15 seed Spain and boosting their chances in the 151-nation field.

The Filipinas are currently tied for 23rd to 32nf places with seven points on three wins, one draw and one loss.

Frayna  and WFM Shania Mae Mendoza are the top producers so far with  3.5 points on three wins, one draw and one loss on boards one and three, respectively.

WIM Catherine Perena has one win, two draws and two losses, WIM Marie Antoinette San Diego has two wins and one loss and WIM Bernadette Galas has two wins in as many  matches.

The Filipinos’ campaign is supported by  the Philippine  Sports Commission  (PSC), headed by Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez, and NCFP,  led by president Rep. Prospero “Butch” Pichay, secretary-general Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, Atty. Cliburn  Anthony Orbe  and Judge  Gonzalo Mapili.

Overall, four teams -- Azerbaijan,  Ukraine, Poland  and Czech Republic -- share  the lead with  perfect  scores  of  10 points on five wins  in   as   many   matches in the men’s division.

Azerbaijan edged Armenia, 2.5-1.5, Ukraine nipped Spain, 2.5-1.5, Poland   humbled  France, 3-1; and Czech Republic outplayed China, 3-1,in featured matches.

Top seed United States settled for  a 2-2 draw with  Israel, while  second  seed Russia  bested Peru,  3-1.

In  the  women’s division,   US  humbled  Mongolia, 3.5-.5, to  assume the solo lead with five straight wins.

China, Ukraine, Georgia-2, Armenia, Georgia-1 and India   share second to seventh places with  nine  points  on  four wins and one draw.