AMID a promise of a better finish even without two of its greatest players ever, the Philippines begins its campaign in the 43rd World Chess Olympiad scheduled Sept. 23-Oct. 6 in Batumi, Georgia.
The Filipinos will make their opening push in the prestigious 11-round competition featuring the world’s brightest players without GM Wesley So, who is playing in his second straight Olympiad for the United States, and Asia’s first GM Eugene Torre, who is missing the Olympiad for only the second time since 1970 and now serving as full-time head coach.
But Torre himself exuded confidence that the young but talented team of US-based GM Julio Sadorrra, GM John Paul Gomez, IMs Haridas Pascua and Emmanuel Garcia and FM Mari Joseph Turqueza can improve the country’s 58th-place in Baku, Azerbaijan two years ago.
The 58th-place finish was the worst for the country in Olympiad history, but Torre is confident his “young but talented team can finish in the Top 30 or even Top 20” in the 185-nation competition spread over two weeks.
With only two GMs in the line-up, the Philippines is seeded only 54th with an average ELO of 2473.
The WGM Janelle Mae Frayna-led Filipinas also set a modest Top 25 finish in the women’s tournament, two years after their historic 34th-place finish in 2016.
GM Jayson Gonzales set the target not mainly due to their previous good results but because of a stronger line-up and better preparation and training this time.
The team will be without WIM Jan Jodilyn Fronda, who held fort at board two years ago.
But Gonzales said Frayna and WIMs Catherine Secopito, Shania Mae Mendoza, Marie Antoinette San Diego and Bernadette Galas are just as capable.
The Filipinas are seeded 43rd out of 151 participants.
The Filipinos, whose campaign in the Olympiad is fully supported by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), headed by Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez,and the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP), led by President Prospero “Butch” Pichay, left for Batumi last Friday evening in time for Sunday’s opening ceremony.
“Just do your best in Batumi,” Pichay told the players before their departure for the Georgian capital.
Torre, for his part, had an urgent message to Filipino chess fans.
“I now call on our countrymen to pray and support our teams to the Olympiad,” said Torre, who still holds the record for 23 Olympiad appearances from 1970 Siegen to 2016 Baku.
Torre, now 67, also bagged the individual bronze on Board 3 behind only So and GM Zoltan Amasi of Hungary during the 2016 Baku Olympiad where he scored 10/11.
This year, Torre was appointed as head coach as the NCFP decided to gamble on its young players who excelled during a series of qualifying tournaments
To this date, Torre and So were still regarded as the two greatest players in the game.
So, who had an acrimonious relationship with the local sports body following its refusal to recognize his historic gold-medal triumph in the 2013 Kazan Universiade, played for the Philippines in four Olympiads in 2006 Turin, 2008 Dresden, 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk and 2012 Istanbul.
When he transferred to the US, he first served as non-playing coach in 2014 Tromso Olympiad.
The Filipinos’ best finish ever in the World Chess Olympiad was seventh place overall in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1988.
Torre led the team, which also included IM Rico Mascarinas, IM Ruben Rodriguez, with GM Rogelio Antonio Jr., GM Rogelio Barcenilla and NM Eric Gloria.
The second best finish was 11th place place in the 21st Olympiad in Nice, France in 1974 and the third best result was 14th place in the 18th Olympiad in Lugano, Switzerland in 1968.
Overall, this would be the Philippines’ 31st appearance in 43 Olympiads.
The country’s first participation was in 1956 -- the 12th Olympiad held in Moscow, Russia -- where the national team of Florencio Campomanes, Glicerio Badilles, Carlos Benitez and Rodolfo Tan Cardoso finished in 25th place.
Since 1956, the Filipinos have participated in all Olympiads except in 1962.
In the Batumi Olympiad, the US team of GMs Fabiano Caruana, So and Hikaru Nakamura is top seed with an ELO of 2772.
Also in the top five are Russia (2764), China (2756), Azerbaijan (2754) and India (2724).
In the women’s division, the top countries are Russia (2523), Ukraine (2486), China (2485), Georgia-1 (2484) and India (2458).