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Beat the Russians

SPORTS EYE - Raffy Uytiepo (The Freeman) - December 22, 2020 - 12:00am

After hosting the successful 1991 SEA Games, the Philippines was in the spotlight anew as the country prepared for the 1992 Manila World Chess Olympiad. PSC chair Cecil Hechanova gave me a surprise call and instructed to train the Philippine Chess Team in Baguio City. Of course, I declined at first since I don’t even know how to play checkers (dama). “You’re not playing chess with them, whip them into a physically-fit team as most of them are out of shape”.  Hechanova said.  So as a good soldier, I was off to Baguio City and reported to our quarters, the 24-room Haven of Rest, near the Botanical Garden. The camp was headed by GM Eugene Torre and the players were IM Joey Antonio, Rico Mascarinas, Econg Sevillano, Banjo Barcenilla, Rolando Nolte, Barlo Nadera, Eric Gloria, Fernie Donguines, Manny Senador, Rodrigo Atotubo, Ruben Rodriguez, Ricky De Guzman, Chito Garma , Maging Maga , Adrian Pacis and Roking Roca. The women’s team was headed by Cebuana Susan Itaas. For 10 months, I gave them a marathoner’s regimen while playing  basketball in between.  In the afternoon, they start honing their intellectual skills with skirmishes  on the chess boards. The physical conditioning really worked for the team as even the most inactive ones, Rodriguez and Mascarinas, started to climb the hills. The Russians  were led by world champion Garry Kasparov, fast-rising Vladimir, Kramnick (then 17 years old), Alexander Khalifman, Alexey Dreev and Sergey Dolmotov, were however a hard nut to crack as they dominated the Olympiad by amassing 39 points.  The Philippines could have improved its standing but the break-up of the Soviet Unions resulted to more stronger teams to contend with like Armenia, Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia and Uzbekistan.  The Philippines team-A came in at 31st place with 30.5 points while the Philippines Team C occupied 42nd place with 29.5 points. Our third team Philippines-B, also scored 29.5 points but settled for 44th place .  At least we were ahead of Poland,  Romania, Spain, Denmark and Norway, who are powers in chess.  The Philippines’ best finish was in Thessaloniki, Greece  in 1988 were the Pinoy chessers landed seventh.

Russia versus Philippines

Two days after the Olympiad, it was time to relax for the drained players. Some went to resorts in Baguio, Tagaytay and Batangas while others just went around the malls of Metro Manila. Garry Kasparov who became a friend asked me if we could play basketball as to drive away the stress after the grueling tournament.  Of course we agreed as we’ve been playing basketball at the Teacher’s Camp for sometime. Although the Russians were taller with Kramnick at 6’3”, we were faster. We also had Ricky De Guzman, a former MICAA player with the Galleon Traders.  My first five consisted of Banjo Barcenilla, Eugen Torre at the wings, De Guzman at center and Econg Sevillano and me at the gaurd position. Coming from the bench are Roca, Manny Senador, Adrian Pacis, Fernie Donguines and Rodrigo Atotubo. So the stage was set as I arranged for the game behind the Philippine Plaza, where most of the delegates played  including the Russians. Since we have the luxury  to field many players we could tire them by playing full-court press and substitute by platoons.  We could also afford to foul, so my instruction was double team Kramnick, who I believed, had no experience in street basketball. Just as we were preparing for the game the next morning, then FIDE president Florencio Campomanes called to inform that we will be meeting with the top officials and players of recently-concluded Olympiad to discuss the next hosting in Greece.  So the game was aborted.  “Sayang”, we could  have beaten the Russians.

NOTES:  The 30th Manila Chess Olympiad drew 111 teams with over 600 grandmasters, International masters, FIDE masters and national masters.  The Soviet Union champion of 18 of the last 20 chess  Olympiads, was represented by grandmaster-powered teams from 12 independent republics.  Vladimar Kramnick won the gold with 8.5 points out of 9 for an amazing 94.4 percent.   World champion Gary Kasparov tallied 8.5 out of 10 on top board.  The Philippines Eric Gloria of Cebu City, won the silver on Board 5 by scoring 6 wins out of 7 games for an 85.71 percent

Did you know?

Jennifer Capriati

Won the gold medal in women’s  tennis in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics upsetting the favored Steffi Graf of Germany. She held her first racket at age 3 and become  the youngest player ever to turn pro at age 13.  In 1991 at age 15, she beat Martina Navratilova to become the youngest-ever female semi-finalist at Wimbledon.  In 1993, she was cited for shoplifting a $35.00 Marcasite ring at a kiosk in a  Tampa Mall, although the case  was dismissed.  In 1994, she was arrested in a Coral Cables Hotel room and charged with possession of marijuana.  She spent 23 days in a Miami Beach rehab center.  In 1999, she was named Comeback Player of the Year and won the French Open singles in 2001.

Jet Li

Who’s real name is Li Lian-jie, began his study of martial arts at age 7 to overcome a sickly childhood. He performed Kung Fu exhibition when he was 11 before President Nixon at the White House.  Li won China’s gold medal for Wushu, four times.  He starred Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon.

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