Pinoy chessers worried, excited

August 02, 2020
Philippine chess team
Philippine chess team

THE Philippines begins its 10-day countdown to the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad 2020 - the prestigious mixed team competition being played online due to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.

The Filipinos are fielding their top six players -- United States-based GM Mark Paragua and Rogelio Barcenilla, Jr. (men), WGM Janelle Mae Frayna and WIM Jan Jodilyn Fronda (women),  IM Daniel Quizon (juniors) and WIM Kylen Joy Mordido (girls) -- in the 10-team Group C in the Division 2 starting Aug. 12-16.

To be handled by Asia's first GM Eugene Torre, the 39th-seeded Filipinos will open their campaign in Group C against Netherlands, England, Croatia, Slovakia, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan plus three qualifiers from Division 3.

“We will do our best against these nine other teams in our group and make it to the Top Division,” said Torre, who still holds the all-time record for most Olympiad appearances but is skipping this one to give way to younger and more tech-savvy players.

Torre noted that world No. 12 Netherlands, No. 14 England, No. 19 Croatia and No. 44 Slovakia are the teams to beat in Group C due to their higher-rated lineups.

“Excited na nga lumaro yun mga players natin. Pero sabi ko, hindi tayo pwede mag-kumpiyansa dito. Malalakas din yun mga kalaban,” said Torre.

Also included in the team supported by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP), headed by Chairman/President Prospero “Butch” Pichay and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), headed by William “Butch” Ramirez are GMs Darwin Laylo, Rogelio Antonio, Jr., WIM Catherine Secopito, IM Bernadette Galas, Michael Concio and Jerlyn Mae San Diego.

Netherlands will be bannered by five-time Olympiad veteran and Russian-born GM Anish Giri (ELO 2754) and Chinese-born GM Peng Zhaoqin (ELO 2358).

England will be led by 2004 world championship runner-up  GM Michael Adams (ELO 2701) and nine-time British women’s champion IM Jovanka Houska (2317).

Croatia will be backstopped by former World Youth 18-under champion GM Ivan Saric (ELO 2650) and WIM Borka Franciskovic (ELO 2205).

Slovakia will be led by GM Lubomir Ftacnik (ELO 24499) and WGM Julia Movsesian (ELO 2271).

Based on early analysis, Netherlands and England are tipped to take the first two spots in the group based on their performances in the previous  Olympiads.

That leaves Croatia, Slovakia and the Philippines to battle it out for the third and final seat.

The rest of the teams, however, can make things even more complicated.

Among the Group C players, Giri and Adams are the most prominent.

Giri, who earned his GM title in 2008 at age 14 years, seven months and two days, is currently the No. 10 player in the world.

He is also four-time Dutch champion (2009, 2011, 2012, and 2015) and has represented the Netherlands at five Chess Olympiads (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018).

Among his major victories are 2010 Corus, 2012 Reggio Emilia, 2015 London Chess Classic, 2017 Reykjavik Open and 2018 Wijk aan Zee.

Last year, he topped the third edition of the Shenzhen Masters.

Like Giri, Adams  is a regular competitor in elite tournaments.

A regular world championship contender, the 48-year-old Adams came closest to claiming a world title at the 2004 FIDE Championship, when he reached the final before losing to Rustam Kasimdzhanov, 3.5-4.5, in the rapid tiebreaks.

With a peak rating of 2761,  he rose to world No. 4  several  times in 2000 to 2002.

The complete Division 2 groupings:

Group A --  Germany, Spain, Belarus, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Argentina, Iceland plus three Division 3 quaifiers.

Group B -- Romania, Italy, Sweden, Slovenia, Latvia, Austria, Montenegro plus three Division 3 quaifiers.

Group C -- Netherlands, England, Croatia, Slovakia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan plus three Division 3 qualifiers.

Group D -- Turkey, Hungary, Indonesia, Colombia, Switzerland, Australia, Kyrgyzstan plus three Division 3 qualifiers.

Group E--  Greece, Israel, Serbia, Ecuador, Norway, Moldova, Estonia plus three Division 3 qualifiers.

The top 15 teams  from Division 2 -- three from each group --  will advance to the Top Division where the top 25 seeded teams wait.

The 40 teams in the Top Division will again be divided into four groups of 10 teams each of equal strength.

The top 12 teams --  three from each  group --  qualify for Stage 2 -- Play-off.

Twelve teams qualified from Stage 1 play a knock-out tournament. Each duel consists of two matches, alternating which team has white on the first board.