The most popular chess player we have is Asia's First Grand Master (AFGM) Eugene Torre. Tito Euge, as most chess youngsters know him,catapulted to fame when he garnered his title in 1972, at the age of 22. That was 42 years ago and now, unbeknownst to the public, 14 more Filipinos have reached Grand Master status.
Who are these men? My students would ask me. They know no one else besides Tito Euge. Oh how I wanted to tell them how I used to study (and sometimes copy) Antonio's games and style since we have the same pet openings, how Villamor used to conduct trainings in a cafe, how Nelson Mariano II stunned everyone at an early age, how Paragua was the first Filipino to cross into the 2600 rating (Super GM status) and was the hero of my high school years and there were so much more I wanted the public to know.
It's unfair that everyone knows basketball and volleyball collegiate players yet only a few know of our grand masters. My father once told me, 'Theirs is a spectator sport, ours is an acquired taste'. To the common eye the game I love is boring, little do they know chess is brutal.
The news of Wesley So's plea to switch federations shattered the glass enveloping every chess player. The poor bewildered public who new nothing about the Filipino who reached #12 in the world rankings shrugged their shoulders. Philippine Chess teetered on a scale.
In this age, chess needs to be known. Unless we are we do not get sponsorship or donations, funds will continue to dry out. We need to follow through and support our programs. 70% of our Grand Masters are based abroad. Some started a chess school in another country because chess schools here have a high mortality rate. Very few courageous men try to push the program but to no avail. We do not have a program for top players like Wesley, Paragua or Barbosa. Our grassroots programs are struggling.
The term 'we need it now' is overused. We needed funding years ago. What we need now is to unite. The Chess Community, divided into sides by the Wesley issue, needs to move on. We need to stop talking about what we should do. We need to act. We, the brave men who play the game of kings.