After long wait, chess legend Eugene Torre sees dream of local pro competition come true

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Nov 22 2020 07:00 AM

Grandmaster Eugene Torre says he sees being granted a professional license by the Philippine government as “another milestone” in a career spanning some 50 years. ABS-CBN Sports/file

One of the dreams of the late International Chess Federation (FIDE) president Florencio Campomanes was to professionalize Philippine chess, according to Grandmaster Eugene Torre.

“I believe Campo would have been very happy with this development,” said Torre, Asia’s first grandmaster, after receiving on Wednesday the first Games and Amusements Board (GAB) license for chess, paving the way for local players to join the professional ranks. 

“My experience with Campo is that he has always been very professional. His professionalism actually was what made him the first Asian president of the World Chess Federation,” added the well-respected Torre, who considered Campomanes one of his mentors.

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GAB professional games division head June Bautista “awarded” the license to Torre in a virtual event witnessed by GAB chairman Baham Mitra, National Chess Federation of the Philippines executive director Atty. Cliburn Anthony Orbe, and International Master Rico Mascarinas.

Joining them was Atty. Paul Elauria, founder of the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines, which will be launching a series of competitions next year with at least 22 teams seeing action.

“I would like to express my thanks and appreciation for another milestone in my chess-playing career. It is indeed an honor to be recognized by the government and my chess colleagues as the first government-licensed player in the Philippines,” Torre said in his acceptance speech.

“Among my achievements, this is one I will also cherish,” he added. “It has been my long dream that our local chess players be given the accolades of a professional and for them to serve as role models and inspiration of our youth.”

Mitra said: “Today marks a milestone for chess in the Philippines. We are very happy that chess has embraced professionalism.”

“We welcome chess to the GAB regulatory family. Don’t treat us a regulator but treat us your brother because we will walk the path with you,” he added.

Elauria also cited the significance of the license turnover, saying: “GM Eugene has carried Philippine chess on his shoulders for over 50 years so this is somehow one way we recognize the invaluable service to our country and chess-loving Filipinos.”

“We have done some research and this is probably the first of its kind in the world, a feat and a record that will never be erased from history books,” added Elauria, pointing out that the occasion was also apt since Torre celebrated his 69th birthday last November 4.

He said there were already 22 registered teams, averaging 7 to 12 players each, “making us one of the biggest professional leagues in the country with around 200 to 220 players competing.”

“Our vision is for these players to receive salaries and have corporate sponsors to sustain their livelihood,” Elauria added.

Like in the PBA, Elauria said, the players will have a “uniform player contract” and they also have drawn the PCAP code of ethics that all participants must abide by, adding that they were lining up three conferences in 2021, hopefully beginning in the first quarter.

“We will also use the FIDE and Elo ratings in determining the qualifications of the players who can join these teams,” he said.

Mitra said: “We consider this a healthy sign for PCAP because as we have previously said that we are all for self-regulation.”

Orbe said the group would cooperate with the PCAP because this was a means of livelihood for local chess players after being assured that those on the national team would be released in fulfilling the country’s international commitments.

“We have an understanding with PCAP that they will prioritize our international commitments that our national players will be available for them,” he said.