GM Mark Paragua: When student becomes teacher and master

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
GM Mark Paragua: When student becomes teacher and master
While growing up in Manila, Mark Paragua (left) would go to the Luneta chess plaza with his father, Engineer Ricardo, who himself is a noted chess player, to learn from the wizened masters of the game.

MANILA, Philippines – If real life were science fiction, then chess Grandmaster Mark Paragua would be a Jedi Master — one overseeing his younglings and padawans, to borrow from Star Wars lore.

Paragua actively oversees and teaches in the New York Chess Academy (NYCA) and at Hunter College Elementary School in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York City.

“When I moved to the United States, I chose New York because of its strong chess culture,” recalled Mark of his decision to migrate to North America. “It wasn’t only to compete, but to also teach.”

Formed several years ago, the NYCA has thrived more so since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With students from Continental USA to outside, Paragua and his co-founders have seen the fruits of their labor.

Prior to the pandemic, many NYCA products went on to compete in scholastic competitions and have done well for themselves.

As it is in places where chess thrives, Paragua believes that learning in an encouraging climate and from the best will produce even better players. After all, he lived through it.

While growing up in Manila, Paragua would go to the Luneta chess plaza with his father, Engineer Ricardo, who himself is a noted chess player, to learn from the wizened masters of the game.

Engineer Ric was happy that his son has finally showed interest in a game he initially thought was “boring.”

“Na-challenge ako,” admitted Mark. “Nung una, siyempre, puro talo. Imbis na ma-discourage, na-challenge ako. So pinag-aralan ko yung laro.”

Young Mark would save his school allowance that he would use to compete against the masters of the chess plaza. 

“What I loved about the game was that it teaches you to think and rethink your every move,” he said. “By continuously doing that, you learn to become calculating and patient and not given to emotion.”

Thus, with his father, the quest to become a chess Grandmaster was hatched. It involved much personal sacrifice, where he spurned the offers of playing in the NCAA or UAAP and spent long months in Europe learning, training and competing. When Paragua became the youngest Filipino Grandmaster at the age of 20 (since broken by Wesley So), both father and son rejoiced.

“Father ko ay yung number one supporter ko,” said Mark. “All that hard work and sacrifice we both put in paid off.”

Paragua returned home to Manila two weeks ago to mourn the passing of his father. Although grieving, Mark is also happy that his father lived to see the putting up of the NYCA, his teaching at Hunter, and the birth of the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines.

Paragua competes for the Camarines Soaring Eagles, who are currently in second spot in the Southern Conference for the All-Filipino competition of PCAP. 

“Noong na-plan itong PCAP, masaya kami ng father ko kasi may chance yung mga players at aspiring players. Maganda ito for Philippine chess. Malaking tulong. May kaibigan nga ako na European chess player at nagtatanong kung yung PCAP ay mag-open for imports. Alam ko in the process pa ‘yan so malaking bagay itong popularity nitong PCAP.”

Lest you think that Paragua is content with his life, he isn’t. The thirst is there for more — the World Cup, World Championships, Chess Olympiad, and so on. 

“I want to qualify for these tournaments. I want to help Camarines win in PCAP. And I want to help in growing the sport by continuing to teach. Para alam ng mga bata kung paano makakatulong ang chess para makakuha ng scholarship sa school kasama na rin sa personal development at sa buhay.”

Spoken like a true Jedi, er, chess Grandmaster.

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