On Saturday, November 12, a nine-year-old chess prodigy from the town of Oas in Albay province emerged as champion in the Eastern Asia Youth Championship Standard Rapid Blitz (U-10), an international chess competition held in Bangkok, Thailand.
Bince Rafael Operiano, a Grade 3 pupil at San Isidro Elementary School in Albay, bested 28 other young chess players from different countries.
This is the kid’s second time in an international tilt—the first one was just last year but it was held online. Bince’s coach/trainer, Archie Haig, says the young Bicolano won second place in the national age group grandfinals then. Last weekend’s Eastern Asia Youth Championship was the first over-the-board chess competition that Bince joined.
Bince learned the basics of the game at about five or six years old from his father, security guard and chess enthusiast Ben Operiano. Haig, a full-time chess coach from Naga City, started training the boy on April 6, 2021 upon the recommendation of Tessie Relleve, a teacher from Oas, Albay and currently one of the country’s national chess arbiters.
It was Relleve who introduced Haig to the Operiano family. After seeing the boy’s potential, Haig decided to allot daily training sessions for Bince. From the get-go, the trainer took note of the kid’s sharpness, his good eye, as well as his passion, dedication, and patience towards the game.
Like any boy his age, Bince also has his share of kakulitan, says Haig. So he taught him not only the needed chess skills but also proper behavior during competition. “Gina-guide ko siya ng tamang pag-upo, pagharap sa kalaban, mga mannerisms [na dapat iwasan]. Dapat tahimik at hindi tingin nang tingin kahit saan habang naglalaro, at focused dapat sa game,” he offers.
Haig would travel 80 kilometers daily—from Naga City to Oas, Albay—to play chess with Bince. “Minsan hatinggabi na ako nakakauwi dahil sa training,” he shares. And on days when he couldn’t make it to Albay, he would train the kid via video call.
It’s a good thing the Operianos are very supportive of their child, Haig offers. “Sumunod sila sa lahat ng gusto ko na klase ng training at disiplina, at katulong ko ang mag-asawa sa pagga-guide kay Bince kapag wala ako,” he says. Haig adds that he required Bince to practice his game eight hours a day when he doesn’t have classes. Otherwise, he would do his chess drills after attending to his school responsibilities.
Haig wasn’t able to join his ward in his first face-to-face international competition in Thailand due to financial difficulties. Bince and his father were supposed to fly together to Bangkok on the same day but it took awhile before Mr. Operiano, the sole breadwinner of the family, was able to raise enough money for his plane ticket.
“Kaya ang nangyari, naiwan ang papa niya sa airport at dun yata natulog sa airport ng two days habang naghihintay ng pera na papasok sa account para pamasahe,” says Haig. “Yung first game ni Bince umiyak siya dahil natalo siya at syempre wala pa ang papa nya o ako sana. Pero nung sumunod na laban [andun na ang papa niya] ok na siya.”
Haig tells ANCX he’s been working as a part-time chess trainer since 1995 but decided to focus full-time on training chess players from 2013 up to present. He has so far trained players from Bicol, Quezon Province, and Nueva Vizcaya.