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.