Nearly halfway through the 42nd Chess Olympiad, the Philippines sits within striking distance of the leaders, but faces a bumpy ride from here on beginning with a match against world champion Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and Norway Thursday in Baku, Azerbaijan.
After five rounds, the Filipinos are in joint seventh place with 4 wins against a single loss.
With 15.5 points through 20 board matches, the Filipinos have matched the scores of top seed Russia and second-ranked United States, and outshone Asian rival and defending champion China which only has 15 points to show.
Only three teams – the Netherlands, Ukraine and India – remain perfect after five rounds.
Going into the last half of the 11-round Swiss System tournament, however, the Filipinos expect an uphill battle.
The Filipinos used the one-day break Wednesday by taking the city tour and playing another basketball game at night.
After rousing wins against the Russia-Azerbaijan combine and Uzbekistan in previous games, the Filipinos finally tasted defeat at the hands of Mongolia – in basketball.
“Magaling ang mga taga Mongolia,” said national captain James Infiesto who acted as coach and cheerleader. “Malalaki ang katawan at marunong mag-dribble at may basic shooting.”
Except for GM Eugene Torre, all members of the team played, including women’s captain GM Jayson Gonzales and delegation head Ruel Canobas who served as the team’s point-guard.
“Si Banjo (Rogelio Barcenilla) pang 3 points. Si Jayson (Gonzales) parang si (Glenn) Capacio, slasher sila (Catalino) Sadorra at (John Paul) Gomez. At si (Paulo) Bersamina ala Jun Limpot,” Infiesto described the kind of play his compatriots dish out.
The first team to score 48 point wins, according to Infiesto, with the halftime break set after a team scores 24.
Infiesto said the basketball matches help the Filipinos relax and improve team chemistry.
On Thursday, it’s business as usual for the Filipinos who will face their strongest opponent so far in 12th-ranked Norway.
Sadorra, who has two wins and a draw, gets the enviable task of facing Carlsen who has a record of 20 wins against seven losses and 14 draws in five Olympiad appearances.
The United States-based Sadorra (2560) will play black against Carlsen whose ELO rating of 2857 is nearly 300 points higher than his opponent.
“Sadorra and the rest of the team are excited to play Norway. We will play to win para sa bayan,” Infiesto declared.
At board two, Gomez (2492) plays white against GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (2651) while Torre (2447) faces GM Aryan Tari (2570) at board three.
Barcenilla handles white against GM Frode Urkedal (2537) at board four.
In women’s play, the Philippines battles Mexico.
Woman International Master Janelle Mae Frayna collides with WIM Alejandra Guerrero Rodriguez in the top board.
Other matches pit WIM Jan Jodilyn Fronda against WIM Lilia Yvonne Fuentes Godoy, WIM Catherine Secopito against WFM Miriam Parkhurst Casas and WFM Shania Mae Mendoza against WIM Ivette Ale Garcia Morales.
The Filipinas share 17th spot with 3.5 points on three wins against one loss and a draw.
Russia and Ukraine share top spot with perfect 5 points. (REY BANCOD)