“The place of chess in the society is closely related to the attitude of young people towards our game.”
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — Carlos “Sonny” Padilla Jr. was the toast of Philippine sports in 1975 when he earned praises from Don King, among other top honcos of world boxing, for his impressive handling of the Ali vs Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” in October.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos rejected the three American referees brought by the World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Association (WBA) and insisted on “inexperienced” 42-year-old Padilla to be the third man in the ring.
In summer the following year, however, the loud cheer did not only shift from boxing to chess, it transferred from Padilla to 24-year-old chess sensation Eugene Torre, Asia’s first Grandmaster (GM).
In the 1976 Marlboro-Loyola Kings Challenge chess tournament held in Manila, Torre (2505) made history by becoming the first chess player in the world to finish clear first ahead since Anatoly Karpov (2695) had become FIDE World Chess champion.
Torre, who notched his full GM norm at 22 in the 1974 Nice Chess Olympiad, did not only top the tournament, he also whipped the Russian world champion and two other GMs–Yugoslavia’s Ljubomir Ljubojevic (2620) and United States’ Walter Browne (2585).
Torre’s shining moment came seven years later in Alicante, Spain when he became the first Filipino to qualify for the Candidates Matches, a tournament that would decide the next FIDE World Championship challenger.
From April 4 to 26, 1983, the Filipinos followed Torre’s struggle against GM Zoltan Ribli of Hungary.
With no Internet then, I followed the results in the Manila Bulletin and its sister publication, Tempo, which had access to the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.
There were six qualifiers from three Interzonal tournaments plus two seeds for a total of eight with the winner facing Karpov in 1984.
Robert Ang, accounting professor in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila, recalled that “there were very unhappy circumstances before Torre’s departure for Alicante when he faced the prospect of being unable to leave for Spain due to lack of support. Financial difficulties hounded him every day and played havoc on his physical and mental preparation for the match. Finally, on literally the last minute the President of the Philippine Chess Federation Federico Moreno managed to come up with the tickets for Spain.”
After nine rounds, Ribli, older by only one month to Torre, crushed the Filipino, 6-4. The Hungarian, a two-time European Junior Champion and is now an international arbiter, was ousted in the next round by GM Vasily Smyslov, 6.5-4.5.
Smyslov, who died eight years ago at 89 in Moscow, was clobbered by future World Champion Garry Kasparov, 8.5-4.5
Smyslov, who lost to GM Mikhail Botvinnik in the 1953 World Chess Championship in Moscow, advanced to the semifinal round over GM Robert Huebner of West Germany.
Torre’s highest accomplishment was the same stage reached by 24-year-old Filipino Wesley So (2799), formerly the world No. 2 player who is now representing the United States.
So could eclipse Torre if he wins the Candidates Tournament 2018 that would determine 27-year-old World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger.
The tournament romped off on March 10 and winds up on March 28 in Berlin, Germany.
So, the highest-rated Filipino GM, was at the bottom with two defeats and a draw after three rounds of an eight-player double round robin chess tournament.
So is in the league with GM Sergey Karjakin (2763), GM Levon Aronian (2794), GM Ding Liren (2769), GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2809), GM Alexander Grischuk (2767), GM Fabiano Caruana (2784), GM Vladimir Kramnik (2800).
Like Torre in Alicante, Spain, So needs the moral support of his countrymen as he struggles in Berlin. Although So now plays for the US, his battle is also our battle; his pride is also our pride; whether he wins or loses, So has already lifted the spirit of Filipinos by this scintillating performance of reaching the Candidates Tournament, a feat no other Filipino chesser in international chess competitions has achieved, except Torre, now 66.