By Kristel Satumbaga
Philippine chess, via the internet, continues to thrive amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Various local chess organizations have been holding chess tournaments online not only to keep players entertained during quarantine but also to sharpen their skills.
Even the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) has resorted to online tourneys to continue with their programs, attracting titled local players such as Grandmasters Banjo Barcenilla, Darwin Laylo, Mark Paragua and Joey Antonio, International Masters Daniel Quizon, Jan Immanuel Garcia and Paulo Bersamina, FIDE Masters Sander Severino and Woman Grandmaster Janelle Mae Frayna, to name a few.
Frayna, the country’s first WGM, said people’s interest in the sport heightened during quarantine.
“I think because of the implemented quarantine, mas marami ang nagkainteres sa chess dahil kahit papaano ay may activity pa rin kami unlike other sports,” she said.
“Mabuti at kahit papaano, nakakapag-practice din kaming mga national athletes through online tournaments.”
At least three to four local online chess tourneys being held daily, with organizers using chess engines such as lichess.org and chess.com.
Quizon, one of the country’s rising stars at 16, said the online tourneys help him improve his blitz techniques.
“Nai-improve po kung paano ako mag-conduct ng fast decisions at tactics, pati po kung paano mag-handle ng time pressure,” he said.
Frayna and Quizon, however, said over-the-board (OTB) tournaments are still better as it is more accurate than online.
Online tournaments also attract cheaters who use assistance from computer engines.
“With OTB tournaments kasi, may arbiter who can monitor the players. And OTB events lang din ang nagbibigay ng respectable titles and norms. Despite ng advantage ng online, sadly, marami pa rin ang nag-a-attempt to cheat,” Frayna said.
Recently, the NCFP banned several players for three months after getting caught cheating in the 10-leg Philippine National Bullet Chess Championships, which dangles more than P200,000 total cash prize.
In online tourneys, organizations usually use a technological engine that can determine if a player is using computer assistance.
“We’re reiterating our rule that if lichess.org, chess.com or other players close your account for using computer assistance or violating their fair play policies, then the NCFP will likewise impose a ban from NCFP tournaments for a period of time,” said NCFP executive director Cliburn Orbe in a Facebook post addressed to participants.
Despite these advantages and circumstances, players still flock the online tournaments. The Bullet Chess Championships, for instance, draw an average of 300 to 400 participants per leg.
For Frayna, sports is more than the competition.
“I think it isn’t just about winning trophies, but also along the way, it’s about earning friends and gaining worthy experiences,” said Frayna.