Friday, February 29, 2008

Bobby Fischer: a new perspective

By Frank 'Boy' Pestaño

SINCE the death of Bobby Fischer last month, more than 100 eulogies have been written including three by Chessmoso. The one that elicited a lot of feedbacks, however, was the New York Times blog post by Dick Cavett, the host of the Dick Cavett Show, which aired on national television in the USA for more than 50 years.

The newspaper got a lot of feedbacks, which was so moving to Cavett that he penned another piece, thanking the readers. One of these read, “brilliant, insightful, and very touching–by far the best eulogy of Bobby I’ve read, and, amazingly, from someone not in the chess community. Bravo, Mr. Cavett.” featured the article (if you want to read it) and also received a lot of feedbacks. But the one that impressed me the most was the article by Bryan Green, which I liked so much that I e-mailed him to ask his permission to reprint a part of it in this column so I can share it with you. A full reprint is not possible due to space limitations. However, if you want to read, check out his blog at

(Italicized parts are mine) “Bobby Fischer was what we call a child prodigy. He was the Mozart of chess. He won the US Chess Championships when he was 13 years old! The real question is how did he do it?

He obviously had talent. But what was that talent? Was it the ability to memorize outrageously complex positions? Was it the ability to think 9, 10, 11 moves ahead? Was it the ability to devise devious traps for his opponents?

No. It wasn’t. He may have eventually been able to do those things, but those were not the talents that made him the greatest chess player ever. His talent was his obsession. He developed the ability to do all of the above things, but they didn’t come naturally. They were painstakingly develop through intense and focused effort. The type of effort that most people simply can‘t generate. Border-line superhuman.

Cavett says it better than I do:

“We assume that geniuses are blessed creatures, who don’t have to work hard to achieve their goals. Hard for us, easy for them. But Bobby, as a kid -- IQ pushing 200 -- put in 10 to 15 hours a day of brain power and heavy concentration that would kill an ordinary person. (Or at least me.)”

Does this mean that prodigies are made, not born? Yes and no. Because the simple fact is you can’t force a person to put in the quality of effort that Fischer put into his chess. That type of effort has to come from somewhere inside. It doesn’t come from fear of punishment or hope of reward. It comes from love. Love in the form of need and at the mercy of obsession.

One thing he does articulate well is that greatness isn’t all talent. He says you need talent to be truly great (which we can take to mean his level), but he follows that by saying many of the top players aren’t that talented; they’ve “just worked like dogs” and “they keep at it...they’ve got the character, they don’t get distracted by other things in life until they’ve gotten what they wanted out of it.”

I don’t know what caused Bobby Fischer to slowly come unhinged. I don’t know what caused him to isolate himself from the world and I don’t know what drove him to despise Jews and America. But I do think I know what made him into a child prodigy and a World Chess Champion. He believed his effort would improve his ability. And then he worked longer, harder, and with a higher level of quality than any of his competitors. (Harder than anyone, at anything, ever?) You can call it talent or effort, motivation or love or obsession.

Whatever you call it, it’s what makes you a champion.” The greatest ever. (

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ex-UC varsity, Sanchez, is first Cebuano GM

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

CEBUANO Joseph Sanchez, 37, tied for first in the just concluded Festival des Jeux International Chess Tournament in Cannes, France with seven points after nine rounds to snare his third and final GM norm.

His rating is now 2492 and is expected to breach the 2500 Elo level to formally be declared a grandmaster.

“Yes, Joseph Sanchez made GM norm!” said Damir Levacic , director of the Cannes Chess Club.

I remember him in the 90’s as a soft-spoken young lad who was a varsity and athlete- scholar of the University of Cebu under then coach, my cousin, Friday de la Victoria and Romeo Romagos.

He finished Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation in 1994 and went to Manila where he became the mentor of rising star Mark Paragua. Next thing I heard, he ventured abroad and stayed for a while in Italy where he achieved the International Master status.

He is now based in France, being married to a Pinay nurse working there. As an alumnus of UC, he should be considered one of that school’s finest achievement. If you ask me, it’s a much bigger achievement than topping the bar exams.

LINARES. Aside from the Olympiad, the most sought participation in the chess calendar are Wijk Aan Zee (Corus) and Morelia–Linares.

The traditional Linares Tournament, which, starting 2006 has been split in two, is also known as the “Wimbledon” of chess and the winner in this competition will be considered the unofficial World Champion of the year. The first round robin competition was held in Morelia, Mexico from Feb. 17-25 and the second half was held from March 2-10 in Linares, Spain.

The participants in this year’s edition are Viswanathan Anand (India, 38, 2801), Vasssily Ivanchuk (Ukraine, 38, 2787), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria, 32, 2769),Peter Leko (Hungary, 29, 2755), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan, 21, 2742), Levon Aronian (Armenia, 25, 2741), Alexei Shirov (Spain, 35, 2739) and the winner of Corus 2008 last month in a tie with Aronian, Magnus Carlsen (Norway, 17, 2717).

There were a total of 11 decisive results out of the first 20 games, which is exceptional, as top level chess are mostly draws. Anand leads with 3.5 points after five rounds.

NEW MEMBERS. I would like to introduce to the chess community in Cebu the following new members of Cepca:

Ramon Tapia is both a civil and chemical engineer. He has been with Ong Kin King for 19 years as production manager of its laundry soap and baking powder plant. His passion is chess and computer programming. He developed the CRM (customer relationship management) of Trans Asia Shipping Lines and the database programs of David‘s Saloon, Jayme Enterprises, Dr. David Alesna, Dr. Patricia Coronel, etc.

Jorge Gabriente of Mandaue City is a lawyer and department manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Cebu (MCWD), billing section. He is 42 years old, married with two children and the Board 1 player of the MCWD chess team. He immediately made his mark when he tied for third in our February tournament.

Byrone Pabilona is connected with San Miguel Brewery Plant as HR assistant. He is an Economics graduate of the University of San Carlos. He likes chess because “It exercises the mind and allows one to formulate strategies in a short period of time.” He idolizes Bobby Fischer and Mikhael Tal. He says chess can be played on equal footing, i.e. man vs. woman, child vs. adult etc.

Edgar Padolina is an old timer of chess in Cebu and is a contemporary of Mike Banibane in the military where he retired after 30 years of service with the Philippine Navy and eventually with the Coast Guard.

Congrats to Rene Casia for being elected the 16th president of Cepca!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Strongest chess-playing couples

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

AS far as I can recall, there had never been a team tournament that involved married couples. By writing this article, I hope someone out there reading on the internet, or a company, an individual, or a group, will make history, by sponsoring one on a global scale as there are quite a number of husbands and wives who are very strong players.

Yesterday being Valentines day, I am honoring these married couples by featuring a few of them, which is not uncommon in the chess world. They probably number by the hundred of thousands on this planet, although, there are only a unique few who are both GM, GM/IM or GM/WGM combinations.

Alexander Grischuk, 24, is one of the biggest names in the chess world today. He has an Elo of 2711 in the January 2008 Fide list. He was a participant in the eight-player Fide World Chess Championship 2007.

He is married to Ukranian GM Natalia Zhukova, 27, who has a rating of 2443 and achieved full grandmaster’s status in the 2005 Corus Chess tournament(Wijk Aan Zee). She won the First European Women’s Championship in Georgia in 2000. Their biggest event occurred in March 2007 when they had a daughter, Marsha.

Alexei Shirov, 35, has a January 2008 rating of 2755, which makes him world No.7 today. He has quite a number of big tournaments on his record besides being a well-regarded chess author.

His latest accomplishment was in the 2007 World Cup where he finished second to Gata Kamsky. He is married to Lithuanian IM/WGM Victorija Cmylite, who has an Elo 2475. She achieved quite a rare feat by becoming National Champion in 2001 in her country. They have two children together.

Wu Shaobin, 39, is a Chinese GM who has Singapore as his adopted country. His Elo rating is 2452 but his wife, Xie Jun, 38, who has Elo 2574, is twice a former world champion (1991-96 and 1999-2001). She is currently No. 3 in the January 2008 fide ratings so they still make a formidable combination.

Another former Chinese world champion (2002-04) is GM Zhu Chen, 32, who has an Elo 2548 and is ranked No. 4 in the world. He is married to Qatari GM Mohammad Al-Moldiakhi. She failed to defend her title in 2004 due to pregnancy. Mohammad played in Mandaue City last year in the Asian Championship.

Another GM/GM combination is Sweden’s Pia Cramling,44, Elo 2524(world No.6) and Spain’s Juan Bellon, 58, Elo 2455. Since the 80’s, Pia has been consistently one of the strongest female players in the world and even plays in the “men’s” team in the Olympiads. Bellon is a five-time Spanish champion.

Boris Gulko, 61, Elo 2576, is originally from Russia but is now a resident of the US since 1986, where he lives together with his wife Anna Akhsrumova. They are “refusedniks” meaning they were Soviet Jews originally denied permission to migrate to other countries. Boris is the only player to hold both Russian and U.S. championships and has a plus score against Kasparov. Anna also won the USSR and USA championships and is a WGM.

Other married couples who are both competitive and world class are GM Suat Atalik and GM Ekaterina Polovnikova, GM Bartozz Socko and IM Monica Socko, GM Yona Kosashvili and IM Sofia Polgar, GM Laurent Fressinet and IM Almira Skripchenko, GM Sergei Movsessian and WGM Petra Krupkova Movsessianova, GM Dibyendu Barua and WGM Saheli Dhar Barua and GM Pravin Thipsay and WGM Bhagyasree Thipsay.

CEPCA NEWS. The winners of the February tournament last weekend at Deep Blue Café in SM City Cebu were champion Lito Tagimacruz , who won on a playoff over new president Rene Casia. Tied for third to fifth place were Miguel Banibane, Ramon Pangilinan and newcomer lawyer Jorge Gabriente.

The kiddies and juniors divisions will have their competition this Sunday at 1 p.m. at the same venue.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tug-of-war over Fischer's fortune

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

AFTER disappearing mysteriously for about 20 years, Bobby Fischer played a rematch in 1992 against Boris Spassky in Sveti Stefan, a resort in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, despite United Nations’ sanctions due to the civil war in Bosnia.

The prize fund was a staggering $5 million, with the winner receiving $3.65 million, aside from TV income as the match was broadcast over most of Europe. Fischer was 49 years old then and Spassky was 55.

The sponsor of the match was Jezdemir Vaseljevic and Bobby’s second was our very own Eugene Torre.

Bobby easily won the match 17.5-12.5 after 30 games and earned almost $5 million. With Fischer’s death two weeks ago, this money is now the subject of contention by his heirs. What is left of the money is about 140 million Icelandic Kronor and based on the latest exchange rate, it is about $2.4 million. I read sometime ago that Bobby converted some of his money into gold holdings and with the tremendous appreciation of gold, I estimate Bobby‘s estate to be at $3 million.

There are three claimants to this money, or four, if you include the Internal Revenue Service.

Joan Fischer Targ, Bobby’s sister, died in 1998. She was married to Russel and they had two children, Elizabeth and Alex. Russell went to Iceland to see if Fischer indeed had a legal wife or children. He intends to make demands on Fischer’s money in behalf of his children, since they are his next of kin.

Here is a brief background on the Japanese connection. When Bobby was in Japan in 2004, he was put to jail for about nine months when the United States cancelled his passport and wanted him extradited. During the course of his defense, Bobby decided to marry Miyoko Watai, with whom he had been living with as common law partners for years.

This marriage was confirmed by John Bosnitch, a former chairman of a committee in Japan, trying to free Bobby Fischer. He was the male witness to the marriage and the document bears his name, although it was a marriage of convenience.

The Japanese embassy in Iceland questioned the validity of that marriage, alleging it may have been unlawful because of Fischer’s lack of valid passport at that time.

The third claimant is the alleged daughter of Bobby Fischer, Jinky, who was born in May 21, 2001 in Baguio City to a Filipina, Marilyn Young. Young may have the strongest and most valid claim to the fortune.

In a release by Reuters yesterday, lawyer Samuel Estimo said that he has copies of the passports, pictures, signed notes and bank accounts of Bobby’s daughter, Jinky, whom Bobby sent the latest remittance of 1,500 Euros to on Dec. 4, 2007, including copies of birth and baptismal certificates.

He further said, “I believe we have substantial proof to back the claims of Marilyn Young and her daughter. They even stayed with him in Iceland for three weeks in 2005.”

This effectively dismisses the contention in Iceland that Fischer was not in contact with Marilyn since their daughter was born.

Also, Marilyn said that she and Bobby were exchanging text messages everyday. The last time they talked was Jan. 16–the day before Bobby died.

CEPCA NEWS. The board of trustees for 2008 recently elected the following officers: Rene Casia (president), Maggi Dionson (VP internal), Malou Pagarigan (VP external), Tony Cabbil (secretary-PRO), Fabio Abucejo (treasurer), Jong–jong Melendez (auditor), Joe Atillo (tournaments), Ben Dimaano (membership) and Boy Pestaño (ways and means). Induction will be this Sunday 1p.m. at Deep Blue, to be graced by national master and honorary member Bombi Aznar.

Our Monthly tournament will be this Sunday at Deep Blue at 2 p.m. This will be a thematic tournament and must use the following openings: English, Reti, Modern, Caro Kahn and King’s Gambit.

The Kiddies will have their competition on Feb. 17 at the same time and venue.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Post mortem and tributes to Bobby

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

MOST of the news in the chess world has been about Bobby Fischer since his death a week ago. Even in death, he has managed to generate some controversy.

It seems that at his request, his burial was a closely guarded secret last Monday and only about five persons were present. He was buried in a village in Selfoss about 60 kilometers from Reykjavik, Iceland in a Catholic ceremony. The burial was allegedly unlawful as both Miyoko Watai and Gardar Sverrisson were not his legal representatives and were not allowed under Icelandic law.

Lately though, John Bosnitch, who led the “Free Bobby movement” while Fischer was in detention in Japan, attested that Miyoko and Bobby were indeed married in Japan and he was a witness to it and that the marriage certificate bears his name.

“Bobby could be such fun,” said Einar Einarsson. “I remember him singing “My Way” as I drove him in the car. He could be gentle and kind, particularly to children. In many ways he was quite a normal person. But there was always that dark side—he believed that dark forces were out to get him.”

Saemi Palsson was another close friend. He was Fischer’s police bodyguard during the Spassky match in 1972. He said, “Bobby was a genius, he could have been a great doctor, scientist—anything. But he was not emotionally intelligent—he didn’t know how to behave with people. He did not trust many people. He did not trust doctors and that is why he did not want treatment for his condition.”

He died of kidney failure which is curable today by a kidney transplant. One of my friends, Bert Ocon, had one in the late 70s and he is still alive and healthy today in Australia. An original member of Cepca, Fred Sandalo, had a transplant years ago and he is doing well.

TRIBUTE. Garry Kasparov: “The gap between Fischer and his contemporaries was the largest ever.”

Viktor Kortchnoi: “A chess genius has died; a loss for humanity.”

Lajos Portisch: “A big shock; the best chess player in history has passed away.”

Ljubomir Ljubojevic: “A man without frontiers. He didn’t divide the East and the West. He brought them together in their admiration for him.”

Jan Timman: “A great player and a great example to many. His book, My 60 Memorable Games, had a big impact on me. It is a shame he didn’t continue to enrich the world of chess with his unparalleled understanding after 1972.”

There had been some speculations on who would inherit his money, which is estimated to be around $3 million. If he had indeed married Miyoko, I think that she will share it with Bobby’s biological daughter, Jinky, whose mother is a Filipina who lives in Davao.

A close friend of Miyoko said, “There is simply no question that Miyoko was the closest person to Bobby and by far the most special person in his life. She is a woman of absolute integrity who will undoubtedly ensure that his daughter is taken care of, should she inherit his estate. She met Bobby in the 1970s and there was probably a relationship from that time. She was passionate about him and is devastated by his death. She promised never to betray his confidences and she will observe that

LARGER THAN LIFE. A legend in his own time. A god among mortals. These are some of the quotes describing his life. Another writes “He was fascinating and captured the attention of the world in an extraordinary period of its history. For better or worse, there probably won’t be anybody like him again.”

His triumphs and the prize money he demanded helped transform what had been considered a parlor game in the early 70‘s into mainstream sports today and an honorable profession. All professional chess players should thank him.