MANILA, Philippines - Sans its top player, the Philippine men's team to the 41st Chess Olympiad remains upbeat of being competitive for the Aug. 1-14 tournament in Tromso, Norway.
Grandmaster Wesley So will be missing the biennial meet for the first time in its last four editions, but that didn’t stop officials of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) from thinking positive about its campaign of surpassing the 22nd place finish the team achieved during the 2012 staging of the meet in Istanbul, Turkey.
NCFP executive director Jayson Gonzales said the team is looking at a top 20 finish even in the absence of the 20-year-old So, ranked No. 12 in the world who chose not to play for the country this time following a misunderstanding with the country’s top chess and sports officials.
“We’re still hoping we will land in the top 20, “ said Gonzales in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Shakey’s Malate. “Nung nawala si Wesley, we asked (Julio Catalino) Sadorra to fill in the shoes.”
Sadorra is tasked to handle board 1 for the PH team with So opting to take his act to the United States. Oliver Barbosa will be at board 2, followed by John Paul Gomez (board 3), the unsinkable Asia’s first GM Eugene Torre (board 4), and Paolo Bersamina as probable alternate. GM Rogelio Barcenilia serves as the team’s non-playing captain.
The women’s team meanwhile, will be bannered by WIM Cheradee Camacho, Janelle Mae Frayna, Catherine Perena, Jan Jodilyn Fronda, and Christy Lamiel Bernales. GM Gonzales will be acting coach of the team.
But Gonzales did acknowledge So is a big loss to the country’s campaign, having been the country’s top player in the last three staging of the Olympiad, where he had been unbeaten in board 1 during the 2008 (Dresden, Germany), 2010 (Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia) and 2012 editions, respectively.
“Hindi natin minamaliit ’yung pagkawala ni Wesley dahil since 2008 na nag-board 1 siya, hindi pa siya natalo. At sa Olympiad, pag ang board 1 player mo matibay, malaki ang chance mo,” said the NCFP executive director in the session presented by Shakey’s, Accel, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Gonzales bared that just last week the NCFP already received a letter from FIDE informing them that So is ready to change federation, the Filipino GM being currently one of the assistant coaches of the US team to the Olympiad.
Still, the NCFP is taking an open stance as far as Wesley’s standing in the national team is concerned.
“Anytime for him to change his mind at bumalik sa Pilipinas, siya ay muli nating yayakapin dahil mahal siya ng Pilipinas,” said Gonzales.
“Parang `yung prodigal son na kuwento. Sana ganun ang mangyari sa kanya (So). Kasi itong maliit na butas, itong tuldok na ito dapat hindi na natin palakihin pa.”