Friday, June 30, 2006

Chess-playing heads of states

By Frank "Boy" Pestaño

The last time Bobby Fischer played in public was in the Philippines, when he played a televised exhibition match in 1974 against the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The game lasted for 15 minutes and ended in a draw.

Fischer, who was reportedly paid a $20,000 appearance fee, later said Marcos had a good understanding of the game.

It seems we have a lot of chess playing presidents, as Corazon Aquino also plays the game and was thrilled when she met Garry Kasparov during the Manila Olympiad in 1992. Everybody, of course, knows Fidel Ramos is a good chess player and is also a benefactor of the game.

The late National Master Glicerio “Asing” Badilles once confided to me that he was a favorite, together with IM Rodolfo Cardoso, of the late President Carlos Garcia, who was probably the strongest head of state to ever play the game.

RECORD FIELD. Another dedicated chess player among national leaders is Fidel Castro, whose passion for the game has made Cuba a chess power.

Cuba hosted the largest simultaneous exhibition in history, when 6,840 players including Castro played 380 masters in Havana in Nov. 19, 1966, the birthday of the late world champion Raoul Capablanca.

Muammar Gaddafi, another chess playing head of state, has been the leader of Libya since 1969. He provided the prize money in the World Championship in 2004, which became controversial when qualifiers from Israel were not given visas to Libya. This led to a boycott by several Jews from other countries and that is the biggest factor why Fide President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov almost failed to get re-elected in last month’s Fide elections.

Yasser Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 until his death in Nov. 11, 2004. He was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 together with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for the successful negotiations of the Oslo Accords. There is a story that he respected former Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin, because he was as a chess player like himself.

Begin is also a Nobel Peace prize awardee and became prime minister of Israel in 1977. Another story says that when British troops arrived at his house to arrest him in 1944, when Israel was still fighting for independence, Begin was playing chess with his wife and his last words to his wife was “I resign,” before being dragged away. He played several matches with National Security adviser Zbigniew Brezezinski in Camp David and most probably also against president Jimmy Carter.

Vytautas Landsbergis was the first president of the state of Lithuania after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990. He is reportedly a strong chess player.

Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia from 1991-1999. An all-around athlete, Yeltsin is not only good in chess but also in boxing, gymnastics, volleyball, track and field and wrestling

There seems to be a connection between being president of the United States and knowing how to play chess. American presidents who play chess are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt , Richard Nixon, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Ulysses Grant, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Rutherford Hayes, Warren Harding, John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter. I will devote several articles in the future about these presidents and anecdotes about their game.

YOUNG ACE. Yves Fiel has certainly improved by leaps and bounds .Only 12 years old, he won the June edition tournament of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association .Last month‘s winner was Atty. Jongjong Melendez.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Chess-savvy tennis players

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

Previously, I featured NBA stars who enjoy and play chess to coincide with the ongoing best-of- seven NBA Finals between Dallas and Miami. Also featured before were football greats who play chess, as a sidelight to the World Cup.

With the French Open over and Wimbledon just around the corner, it’s tennis turn and we have a handful.

Sometime in 2002, Garry Kasparov played a “live” Internet match with Boris Becker on CNN which lasted over an hour. Garry was in Manhattan while Boris was in Munich. Boris was born on Nov. 22,1967 in Germany. He was a former world No.1. He is a six-time Grand-Slam champion, an Olympic gold medalist and the youngest-ever winner of the Men’s Singles title at Wimbledon.

Another former world No.1, Jennifer Capriati (born March 29,1976 in New York) also plays chess. She won three Grand-Slam titles as well as the Women’s Singles gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games.

John McEnroe, famous for his temper and marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal, plays chess but badly. He once played a game against Michael Chang, lost, then jumped on the table yelling, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”

Unknown to many, McEnroe was born in Germany on Feb. 16,1959 and is a former world No.1. Playing for the United States, he won seven Grand-Slam titles – three at Wimbledon and four at the US Open. He is considered one of the greatest players of all time.

Michael Chang is a US-born (Feb. 22, New Jersey) Chinese and is best remembered for becoming the youngest-ever male winner of a Grand-Slam Singles title when he won the French Open in 1989 as an unseeded player.

Like most Russians, Elena Dementieva plays chess on a competitive level. With Amelie Mauresmo capturing the 2006 Australian Open, she is now regarded as the best player to have never captured a Grand Slam. I think that she is even more beautiful than the current sensation, Maria Shaparova.

During a break in the 2003 US Open, Roger Federer was seen playing chess with Max Mirnyi and claims that it is his relaxation before a difficult match. He is a Swiss-born (Aug. 8,1981) player who in 2004 became the 23rd world No.1. He holds the third-consecutive stay as world No.1 (only Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors had longer streaks at number one) and is widely regarded as the most dominant player of his era. He is considered as having the potential to become the greatest player of all time.

Max Mirnyi, nicknamed “The Beast,” is from Belarus and was born on July 6,1977. Like Natasha Zvereva (another star from Belarus in the ’80s and ’90s) he focuses on Doubles. His biggest achievements so far are the two victories at the US Open in 2000 and 2002 and the 2005 French Open doubles crown

Another Doubles specialists are the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike. Both are chess players and easily the most dominant of this era in Doubles. They won the Australian Open this year and also the 2003 French Open and last year’s US Open defeating Max Mirnyi and Jonas Bjorkman, 6-1,6-4.

Anna Kournikova is renowned as the sexiest athlete ever and although she has not won a major tournament, is considered a good enough player to play in the ATP Tour.

Ivan Lendl is from Czechoslovakia and was the most dominant player in the ’80s and early ’90s. He has won eight Grand-Slam Singles titles and not only is he good at chess but also has a 0 handicap in golf.

N.B. This is a reminder to all members of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association that our monthly tournament will be this coming Sunday at the Stella Maris Center starting at 2 p.m.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chess-savvy NBA stars

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

Every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to be discussing basketball nowadays owing to the ongoing best-of-seven NBA Finals series between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks.

Even in our meetings and in-between chess games at Handuraw Cafe in Mabolo, the topic of conversation is the NBA Finals with a lot of betting on the side.

Today’s column is all about NBA basketball players who play chess. Perhaps the greatest basketball player ever was Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain, whose 100-point performance against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962 is the greatest single performance in NBA history. Known for his relentless pursuit of women (he claims to have bedded 10,000), he was also an avid chess player whose favorite opening was the center counter. He once invited Bobby Fischer to his house for dinner but Bobby declined as he did not want to meet any other people.

Another outstanding chess lover is David Robinson known as “The Admiral.” A well-rounded person who plays several musical instruments, he is a born-again Christian known for his philanthropy. The “David Robinson Plaque” is given by the league once a month to NBA players doing charitable work.

“These young guys are playing checkers, I am out there playing chess.” This is a quote from Kobe Bryant describing his style of play. He must be a good enough player as he is comfortable with the intricacies of the Budapest Gambit.

Larry Bird’s favorite opening is f4, which is known as the Bird’s opening. It is not named after him, of course, but after a 19th century English master, Henry Bird. Larry’s former Boston Celtics teammates Kevin Mchale and Danny Ainge also play chess so they must have played a lot of chess together. “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward. They may be beaten but they may start a team as one man cannot make a team.” – Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Famous for his “skyhook,” he retired in 1989 leaving a legacy of professionalism, class and success. He holds several NBA records among them – most points scored, most All-Stars selection and most playoff games. He is also a part-time actor and good in martial arts being a pupil of the late Bruce Lee. He is one of Lee’s opponents in the movie Game of Death. Other films he is in are Airplane, Fletch and Slam-dunk Ernest.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have a family-like atmosphere and one of their activities is playing chess. “We have a mini-tournament in our locker room most of the time,” says Mark Madsen. Among his colleagues who play good chess are Latrell Sprewell and Gary Trent.

The Knicks are a chess-playing team. Larry Johnson, who suffers from chronic back problems and retired early because of it, wanted “something that I could do sitting down” and when the wife of one of his friends taught him how to play chess, he was hooked.

He played often with his teammate Allan Houston, who learned the game from his father-in-law. Kurt Thomas, their center, who picked up the game while making a personal appearance at a school, is a good player and so is Erick Strickland, their guard. They usually played on the team’s airplane. “There is no betting. It’s all about respect,” says Thomas.

Other NBA players who play chess are Steve Smith, Rick Carlisle, Maurice Carter, Reggie Carter, Bill Cartwright, Sean Elliot, Greg Kite, Grant Long, Jason Williams, Michael Doleac and Bill Walton.

N.B. Mandy Baria, president of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association, has announced that the club’s monthly tournament will be on June 25 at the Stella Maris Center starting at 2 p.m.

Friday, June 9, 2006

RP women eclipse men team in Turin

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

I NEVER expected our Women’s team to perform creditably in the just-concluded Turin Chess Olympiad, after all, the ladies were seeded 60th in a field of 150 teams.

Despite losing in the 13th and final round to Slovenia, 0.5-2.5, our Women’s team placed a respectable 26th with 22 points, much better than our Men’s that could only manage a poor 44th place.

Sherily Cua was the best performer with 6.5 points, while Beverly Mendoza and Catherine Perena scored 6 points each. Board one player Sheerie Joy Lomibao limped home with only 3.5.

The ladies lost to Germany, 0.5-2.5, in the first round; whitewashed Ireland, 3-0, in the second; defeated the Swiss, 2-1; lost to the Kazakhs, 0.5 -2,5; clobbered Italy B, 2.5-0.5; swept the Finns, 2.5-0.5; tied with the Iranians, 1.5-1.5; again tied with Turkey, whitewashed Albania, drew with Lithuania, defeated Estonia, 2.5-0.5, and lost to Slovenia in the final round. Nice going, ladies!

There is no one to blame for the Men’s poor showing except to say that the competition is getting better and we are at a standstill. I believe that putting Mark Paragua on board one was a mistake as should have been Eugene Torre.

The Olympiad is an entirely different tournament and experience and nerves count a lot which Eugene has a lot of, this being his 19th Olympiad. Mark could have scored better on board two. We could have scored maybe an additional two points, putting us where we belong – in the 20th-30th position.

However, our performance is nothing compared to what happened to Russia and India. Russia, seeded first, finished in a tie at 6-10th place while India, seeded second, could manage only 30-35th in the final standings. Why this happened to India, I don’t know. It’s like the Philippines losing to Singapore in basketball – it’s that bad.

Our best scorer was Joey Antonio on board three with seven points, while Oliver Dimakiling had six on board five. Eugene and Mark had 4.5 points each and Darwin Laylo managed a respectable 3.5 points. Twelve-year-old, Wesley So, the future of Philippine chess, had a plus score of two wins, two draws and one loss – a good performance from one so young.

Armenia was the surprise winner in the Men’s Division with 36 points, with China taking the silver and the Americans the bronze medal. At the start they were seeded third, 12th and seventh, respectively –making this Olympiad the most unpredictable of all.

There was an important side event in the Olympiad – the 14th World Computer Chess Championship. The Israeli program Junior – authors Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky scored 9/11 to win the championship over Shredder – author Stefan Meyer Kahlen – 8.5/11, and Raylich author Vas Rajlich – who also had the same score.

LUCENA OPEN. One hundred eighteen players including two International Masters, a Fide Master, seven National Masters and 20 Candidate Masters participated in the Pasayahan Chess Festival 2006 recently in Lucena City. Format was Active seven rounds Swiss. It was sponsored by Rep. Raffy Nantes and organized by the Quezon-Lucena Chess Association Inc.

The winners and their prizes are 1. Rodolfo Panopio (P8,000) 2. NM Alex Milagrosa (P6,000) 3.Ali Branzuela (P4,000) 4. IM Richard Bitoon (P2,000) 5. NM Ronald Perez (P1,000).

The Ozamiz City National Chess Open Tournament will be held on July 1-3 at the Ramiro Gymnasium along Pingol St. It is expected to attract the country’s top players, including the Olympiad team that is now playing in San Marino.

The champion will get P30,000; first runner-up, 15,000; second runner-up, P5,000; 4th-5th, P2,000 each and 5th-10th, P1,000. There will also be prizes for top Juniors, Boys, Women and Seniors players.

Registration is P300 and P150 for kiddies.

Friday, June 2, 2006

More on Mt. Everest

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

I had an interesting feedback on my article last week on Mt. Everest from Rock Olofernes (, who seems to be an expert on mountaineering.

“I am Rock M. Olofernes. I was a freelance and disillusioned mountaineer in the early ’90s. At present, I am a program director of New Hope Recovery, an institution that treats alcoholism and drug addiction in Cebu City.

“I agree with you when you wrote that climbing Mt. Everest should not be commercialized and is no big deal. A decade ago, many of us were dying to climb Mt. Everest but it would cost each climber P400,000 to P500,000 for the Sherpa guide alone, excluding supplies, plane tickets and gizmos.

“If they want to commercialize mountaineering, they should consider my advice. First, they should scale Mt. K2 (Karakorum) ‘The Savage Mountain’ in Pakistan. It is the second tallest mountain in the world (28,250 feet) and the third deadliest mountain. Compared to Mt. Everest, where almost 2,000 climbers have reached its summit, K2 has less than 200 climbers who reached its summit with a 23 percent fatality rate. It was first climbed by Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli on July 31, 1954.

“Second, in order to have more thrills, they should climb Mt. Annapurna. It is the tenth tallest mountain in the world (26,545 feet) but it is the second deadliest mountain. Mt. Annapurna was climbed first by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal on June 3, 1950. Lachenal lost all his toes because of frostbite, while Herzog lost all his fingers and toes.

“Third, and the most exciting of them all, is that they should climb Mt. Nanga Parbat, ‘The Man Eater’ or ‘The Mountain of the Devil.’ It is the ninth tallest mountain in the world but the most difficult to scale and the deadliest mountain to climb. Mt. Nanga Parbat is in Pakistan and was first scaled by Hermann Buhl of Austria on July 3, 1953.”

I agree with Rock that the challenge is in these mountains not Everest anymore.

Now back to chess.

MAY CHAMPION. Jongjong Melendrez defeated veteran Felix Balbona in the fifth and final round to score a rare five-straight win run to snare the monthly handicapping tournament of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association at Stella Maris last weekend.

Percival Fiel prevailed over Maggi Dionson to garner second place with four points. While new member Manny Abucay also had the same score with a fine performance against Mike Banebane but had to settle for third spot via the winner-over-the-other rule.

Just as we were celebrating at Handuraw Cafe in Mabolo over our fine wins over Ecuador, 3-1, and Iceland, 3.5-0.5, we were devastated by the news that we were almost whitewashed by China, 3.5-0.5, in the eighth round. I can’t recall a worst defeat before.

Apparently, the Chinese prepared for us. The last time we won, 2.5-1.5. We made a comeback in round nine with a draw against favored Romania and thrashed Malaysia, 3.5-0.5, in round 10.

It is e-mail this columnist looks forward to:

“Thanks to your Chessmoso. I have really enjoyed reading your column for quite sometime. I am a Filipino from Oroquieta City now residing in Florida, USA. I’ve been playing since I was a kid. I am not really good. I play only for relaxation. When I chance upon your column in the Internet, it revived my interest in chess again. You are very good and knowledgeable on chess. Chessmoso is worthy of great chess literature. Carry on, Frank. I am proud of you as a Filipino.

“Arturo V. Ello ( Jacksonville, Florida.”

Thanks Art.