9 GMs compete for national championship

FOR the first time in Philippine chess history, a national championship breached the 2500-barrier as the Battle of the Grandmasters comes off the wraps on Saturday, July 16, at the National Press Club (NPC).

Grandmaster Wesley So (Elo 2658) will be gunning for his fourth straight triumph in the prestigious event organized by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and sponsored by Pilipinas Shell, Manila Pavilion Waterfront Hotel and Casino, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), NPC, Remate and Hataw.

But he will have his hands full this time with eight other GMs and a mixture of established and upcoming stars gang up on him in the Category 11 tournament with an average rating of 2508.

The five international masters competing for the national title this year need to score 8.5 points to get a GM norm.

A Closed tournament with no foreign participant should be national championship in nature to have GM norms up for grabs.

“This is a huge step forward in our bid to produce more grandmasters from our country,” said NCFP chairman/president Prospero “Butch” Pichay, Jr.

There are currently 13 active Filipino GMs, including eight conferred during Pichay’s time as head of the local chess governing body.

Six of the GMs produced under Pichay’s leadership will see action in the tournament that concludes on July 23. They are GMs So, Darwin Laylo (Elo 2528), John Paul Gomez (Elo 2529), Joseph Sanchez (Elo 2534), Roland Salvador (Elo 2527) and Rogelio “Banjo” Barcenilla (Elo 2518).

While the young guns are dominating the headlines lately, it’s hard to count out the three biggest stars of the pre-Pichay era.

Asia’s first GM Eugene Torre (Elo 2491) and 12-time national champion GM Rogelio “Joey” Antonio (2565) are out to prove they still have enough gas in the tank to fuel their drive for another title while GM Mark Paragua (Elo 2545) is aching to get back to the ranks of super GMs.

“Anything can happen in a round robin competition,” said Torre, the most successful local player in Closed tournaments.

IMs Oliver Barbosa (Elo 2514), Richard Bitoon (Elo 2491), Rolando Nolte (Elo 2433), Jan Emmanuel Garcia (Elo 2404) and Yves Ranola (Elo 2377) are also expected to contend for more than just a GM norm.

In the distaff side, former Far Eastern University standout Woman National Master Rulp Ylem Jose will try to defend her title against a strong field that included two WIMs in Catherine Perena and Beverly Mendoza.


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