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View from Board 2: International Master Jem Garcia

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
View from Board 2: International Master Jem Garcia

MANILA, Philippines – The view from Board Two of the Caloocan LoadManna Knights is two-fold for International Master Jan Emmanuel Garcia or “Jem” for short.

On Board One is his former UAAP rival turned Caloocan teammate and friend, IM Paulo Bersamina, who battles the Grandmasters, imports; generally, the toughest opponents on the opposing team. 

That doesn’t mean Garcia faces chump change on the second board. The opponent remains a top-rated player.

“Mabigat din yung Board Two pero iba yung bigat ng Board One,” modestly dispelled Garcia, who was named Player of the conference in the first ever All-Filipino Cup of the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines earlier this 2021. 

On Board Two, Jem faces the likes of IM Rolando Nolte, AJ Literatus, FM David Elorta, IM John Marvin Miciano or even Karl Viktor Ochoa to name but a few.

During the recently concluded Wesley So Cup that saw foreign players join the PCAP squads, Garcia found himself facing off against international GMs like Kirill Shevchenko. 

“It’s always a challenge,” Garcia softly said.

The view from Board Two finds Garcia’s staring at three pursuits — to help the Knights win a PCAP title, to help his alma mater of Ateneo de Manila raise its chess profile, and to become a Grandmaster.

If there is anything that chess has taught Garcia is that it is one step at a time.

For Caloocan, it is to get to the playoffs first of the ongoing PCAP-San Miguel Corporation-Ayala Land Premier Cup then try and hurdle the top squads of San Juan and Laguna.

The Knights struggled in the first round of the third conference. They have stepped it up another notch in this second round although they know the tourney is far from over.

For Ateneo, it is to slowly build both men’s and women’s teams then go for third after which they cast an eye towards a possible title.

Unlike Caloocan with its top-rated players, for the Ateneo chess team, it’s going up. The second and fourth place finishes are a memory. The lower tier finishes fuel Garcia who for a time was the one carrying the cudgels for the squad.

As program head for the blue and white, he is putting pieces on the board to make Ateneo competitive.

“It’s also about patience,” he noted. 

For the GM title, it’s staying focused in this time of pandemic. 

“I strive to maintain my sharpness,” he offered. “I am busy with competing in PCAP and learning from the games of Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So online. 

“One of the positives of this pandemic is that it has given me more time to analyze the games of the Super Grandmasters and learn from them.”

As a youngster attending Milo Checkmate, Garcia found himself following the games of Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik who Garcia says had a profound influence on his position style play. 

“It is important to learn from the best if you want to be the best,” said Jem.

In this ongoing third PCAP conference, Caloocan has some new-found flexibility with Bersamina sometimes sliding down to Board Two and Garcia moving up to Board One. “It depends on the match-ups,” reasoned Garcia. 

The view from Board Two makes him appreciate his teammates even more. Woman player Arvie Lozano has been a teammate before while senior player Domingo Ramos is a former coach. 

“We have good synergy in Caloocan,” summed up IM Garcia. “We all know each other well and respect each other. Right now, it’s being there for one another as we make a push for the playoffs. And management is very supportive. You have to appreciate what they do for us.”

Winning a Player of the Conference award is nice. But for IM Garcia, the view from Board Two says he’ll be happier if his team is finally able to take that next step to a bag a podium finish.

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