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Filipino Grandmaster Torre finally gets his due

Manila Diary by JULIET SIMBRE

ASIA’S first chess grandmaster Eugene Torre has been chosen to comprise the second batch of honourees to the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame.

It is just proper and, well, much long overdue for Torre - the long-time face of Philippine chess - to be given that special place in sports.

Torre, who became Asia’s first Grandmaster at the Nice World Chess Olympics in 1974, is now 64 years old, but still competing actively in major tournaments here in the Philippines and abroad.

In fact, he is one of the few great Filipino sports heroes whose excellence and prominence in chess span more than four decades, and counting.

For the record, the Filipino legend donned the national colours 21 times in the prestigious World Chess Olympiad over the past 40 years, 19 of which were consecutively - another world record.

His 20 non-consecutive appearances tied the record set by Hungary’s Lajos Portisch. During that 40-year period, he manned the top board for Team Philippines a record 17 times. The high point of his Olympiad career was winning the bronze medal thrice in the Individual Standings in Board 1, at the 21st Chess Olympiad in 1974 in Nice, France where he went undefeated in 19 games (nine wins and ten draws) for a total of 14 points and a 73.7% performance rating.

Torre has big dreams for Philippine chess — particularly on producing world-beaters — as well as his hopes for the sport in Asia.

To realise his dream, he is now searching for the first woodpusher from his beloved Philippines to emerge world chess champion someday. The country now has 17 GMs,

He is determined to achieve the feat he almost did but lost in the homestretch. 

A little over three decades ago, Torre fought Hungarian GM Zoltan Ribli in a first-to-win-10 showdown in Alicante, Spain, but failed in a deciding game that would have advanced him into the final four to decide the challenger to then reigning world champion Anatoly Karpov.

For many years the memory of that sad experience lingered in his mind. In fact, he thought of quitting the game. However, the thought of someday seeing, if not himself, another Filipino disputing the world championship stopped him from doing so.

Since then, the many-time Philippine and Asian champion has dedicated himself to a cause that will make a difference in the lives of so many aspiring chess players.

He established the Eugene Torre Chess Foundation and the Eugene Torre Chess Centre  which both aim to search for hidden young talents from the provinces and develop them to become world champions someday.

The goal is to help those seeking fame in the international chess arena by providing them with all their needs, including financial requirements.

The chess centre is tasked to identify fresh talents, while the foundation’s job is to polish them and raise the needed funds for the purpose.

He has also been assisting the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) in organising tournaments in the countryside, and holding clinics and seminars with Fide (International Chess Federation) instructors as resource persons.

Torre is also very positive on the future of chess in Asia considering that there are increasing numbers of strong chess players from the region today, particularly those coming from China and India.

Although history prevented him from ever reaching his ultimate goal of becoming world champion, Torre has given pride and glory to Philippine chess, and Asia. He truly is a role model for every chess player to look up to.

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