A professional chess association is born

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Finally, someone had the wits and the guts to put up a professional organization in the one sport where our country can truly excel in the world stage.

I didn’t realize until recently that our country has only one professional sports association, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), and it’s in a sport where Filipinos have a natural height handicap. A second professional sports association has recently been put up, the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP), and it involves a sport where we can put to good use our self-proclaimed advantage as an inherently creative and ingenious people.

The PCAP was established by Paul Elauria, a lawyer by profession with a lifelong passion for chess. Last month, the PCAP was granted a license by the Games and Amusements Board, the government body that regulates professional sports. Like the PBA and the NBA, the PCAP will have franchise teams, salaried players per team, commercial endorsements, and regular competitions organized into league conferences each year.

There are already 50 teams interested in obtaining a PCAP team franchise. The applicants will be trimmed down to 24-32 teams. The teams will be privately owned, geographic-based, and representing a province/city/municipality, with ensured representations from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. For its first season in 2021, the teams will be divided into two geographic conferences—the Northern Conference and the Southern Conference. Teams from Luzon will play in the Northern Conference, while Visayas and Mindanao teams will play in the Southern Conference.

Each PCAP team is required to maintain a stable of players who will compete in seven boards: two top-rated, one lady, one senior, and three homegrown. Except for the homegrown category, there will be “drafts” for the other player classes. It will be similar to the PBA and NBA practice of having team owners compete in getting talents from all over the country. Chess is a sport that’s thriving under the radar compared to other high-profile sports on the world stage. Per estimates, there are hundreds of thousands of active chess players in the Philippines, and millions more are enthusiasts. With 10 million chess games played each day worldwide, it’s one of the most popular sports on earth.

The Philippines has a rich chess history. According to Elauria, chess has been played in the Philippines for more than 200 years. Our national hero, Jose Rizal, was an avid chess player. Chess is mentioned in his writings, and even when he was in prison he played against his Guardia Civil.

National championship competitions have been held in the Philippines almost continuously for the past 112 years. The first championship competition, held in 1908, was won by Fernando Canon, a military general and Cabinet secretary (welfare and public works) of the revolutionary government of President Emilio Aguinaldo. Canon was a childhood friend of Rizal in Biñan, Laguna. He was probably a genius like Rizal, as he was a polyglot who spoke six major languages, studied medicine in Spain, and taught electrical and mechanical engineering.

Other interesting chess tidbits in our country: Our Eugene Torre was the first Asian grandmaster; national master Florencio Campomanes has been the only non-European president of the International Chess Federation (1982-1995); world champion Anatoly Karpov defended his crown against Victor Korchnoi in Baguio City in 1978; and the 30th Chess Olympiad was held in our country in 1992.

In 2014, a Filipino chess prodigy, Wesley So, left our country bitterly complaining of the lack of government support. He has since become a super grandmaster, achieving second in world rankings, and is currently the world champion in the Fisher Random Chess competition. He is raking in worldwide accolades for his adopted country, the United States. A huge heartbreak for the Philippines.

With private support under the PCAP, there is hope that the tragedy of losing world-class native talent will not be repeated when another one emerges from our race.

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