Friday, August 5, 2011

Eugene Torre

It seems odd that after writing about chess for 8 years now I have written no article exclusively about Eugene Torre. He recently showed that he still has “it” in the just concluded 4th Battle of GMs

He was voted by sportswriters as the athlete of the millennium beating Carlos “ The great difference” Loyzaga, who was chosen one of the best 10 basketball players of the competition in the World championhip in Brazil in 1954, Felicissimo Ampon, who made a gallant stand in Wimbledon in the late 1940s and the great Gabriel “Flash” Elorde,the longest reigning boxing champion in the Junior Lightweight division.

Please take note that it is not for a year,a decade or a 100 years but for a thousand years!

Eugenio Torre was born in La Paz in Iloilo City on November 4, 1951, and with the possible exception of Wesley So, is considered to be the strongest Filipino chess player ever.

Torre has the distinction of being the first Asian to earn the title of International Grandmaster in a region of 3.2 billion people!.

He accomplished the feat at the age of 22 while winning a silver medal at the 21st World Chess Olympiad held in Nice, France in 1974 where he went undefeated in 19 games (9 wins, 10 draws).

Torre has been a veteran of the World Chess Olympiad for 4 decades now and led the Philippine team to a 7th place finish at the 1988 Greece Olympiad.

He also won a bronze medal in the 24th Olympiad (1980 La Valletta, Malta) where he scored 11 points in 14 games (9 wins, 4 draws and 1 loss) and another bronze in the 27th Olympiad (1986 Dubai, UAE) where he garnered 9.5 points in 13 games (7 wins, 5 draws and 1 loss).

He beat Anatoly Karpov in Manila in 1976, one of Karpov's few losses during his championship reign. Torre qualified for the Candidates round in 1984 but lost to Zoltan Ribli of Hungary. That year he was chosen as one of the top 10 players in the world.

He became a celebrity later due to his daily one hour TV program "Chess Today", and was once voted one of the ten sexiest sportsmen in the Philippines - all of which ultimately led to a cameo spot in a movie opposite Vilma Santos with whom he was romantically linked.

I think the title of the movie was “Basta isipin mo mahal kita”.

It is not well known but he was considered by Bobby Fischer as his best friend. He worked on Fischer's team in his 1992 rematch with Boris Spassky in Yugoslavia. During this rematch present was Cebuano Eric Gloria who did the research for Fischer.

Much later, Torre conducted interviews on Bombo radio with Fischer. Those interviews gained notoriety for Fischer and despair for his fans.

One anecdote in 1996 says that when Torre and Fischer boarded a taxi in Buenos Aires, while both were promoting Fischer Random Chess , the driver immediately recognized Torre as a chess player. As both were about to leave the taxi, the driver, not knowing who the other distinguished passenger was, asked Torre: “Whatever happened to that crazy guy Fischer?”

Another anecdote to the seeming popularity of Eugene happened during the 1998 Elista Olympiad. Eugene and fellow GM Joey Antonio went to the market to buy some beef. The beef seller instantly asked in awed tones “ Are you grandmaster Torre of the Philippines?” Imagine that in a far corner of the world and the vendor recognized Torre!

In 1990 I invited Eugene and another GM,Jaime Sunye-Neto of Brazil, to dinner in the now Marco Polo and one of the topics in our conversation was about computer programs.

Eugene believed that no computer programs will ever be created that could defeat the current world champion. That has been proven wrong, of course, as computers now can defeat any human being.,

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