Saturday, May 10, 2008

Chess for the visually impaired

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

IN A November 2004 article, “Magnitude and Causes of Visual Impairment”, the World Health Organization estimated that in 2002 there were 161 million (about 2.6 percent of the world population) visually impaired people in the world, of whom 124 million (about two percent) had low vision and 37 million (about 0.6 percent) were blind.

The first Braille Chess Club has its origin in Germany in February1924 and can be considered as the first club of its kind.

The International Braille Chess Association (IBCA) was formed in 1958 thru the initiative of a blind mathematics teacher and chess player from England, Reginald William Bonham. Originally consisting of nine Western European countries, it has since grown to a network of 50 member countries all over the world.

Its purpose is to promote the game among blind players and hold regular tournaments among its members. Important team tournaments are the Olympiad and World Cup held every four years. There are also individual contests such as the World Championship for Men and Women, Youth Championships, European, Asian and American Championships.

The International Chess Federation (Fide) accepted the IBCA as full member in 1994. The Association of blind players with an international affiliation was allowed to play against the national teams of other countries on an equal footing, using especially designed chess sets and clocks.

They had their best performance in the 1998 Olympiad in Elista, Kalmykia, Russia placing at 50 to 52 in a tie with Austria and Iceland among 110 teams. In the Women’s event, the IBCA tied with the Philippines at 49th to 50th places among 72 teams.

An exceptionally good player is Milenko Cabarkapa from Belgrade, who has played in several Oympiads and has an International Master title. James Slagle won the first US Championship for the blind in 1971. The American master Albert Landrin (1923-) participated in the World Chess Championship for the Blind and played all his games from memory, without use of a board.

Everybody knows that the late famous celebrated soul singer Ray Charles, who was probably the best in this generation, was born blind. But only a few know that he was an avid chess player and a very good one. He learned chess late in life and it was his only hobby. I estimate his playing strength at 2200 ELO, which is master level.

TOURNAMENT NEWS. The first Fide Grand Prix tournament took place in Baku, Azerbaijan, from April 20 to May 6. There were three winners who tied for first, namely Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the surprise of the tournament Wang Yue of China and host entry Victor Gashimov, who all scored 8/13.

Sergey Tiviakov of the Netherlands and Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine won the European Individual Championships with identical 8.5/11 in a field which attracted 337 players in the Men’s section including close to 200 GMs and IMs.

After winning the “Battle of GMs,” Wesley So, the world‘s youngest grandmaster at 14, is a hot favorite, despite the presence of foreign GMs, to win the twin International Philippine opens which started yesterday at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center in Olongapo City.

Eugene Torre said So has all the makings of a future world champion just like Fischer. “Wesley is a rare find,” Torre said recently. “He has an exceptional talent and has a potential to be a world champion. This is a great opportunity to have a kid like him. He is still young and dynamic. He has a bright future, and we all need to support him.”

XMOPI. To all former employees of Mobiloil Phils Inc. please check your website at for the latest news and guidelines.

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