During the time that chess was introduced to me in the mid 1950s, it was a game some people considered nothing but a more sophisticated form of dama (checker), a game to while away the time especially among the senior citizens and the unemployed, and worse, some people consider it a game of lazy people without ambition in life. Most parents prohibited their children to play chess because their schooling could be affected by too much time consumed in this game.
Chess then was considered a dying brain sport that needed a big boost to reinvigorate to its former glory as “The Royal Game”.
It was in that era that a young man, who recently graduated from his four-year course in the United States, returned to the Philippines to inject fresh blood to Philippine chess by arousing the enthusiasm of the Filipino youths. His name was Florencio Campomanes, the pride of Atimonan, Quezon, himself a strong chess player and national master caliber. He used his management skills and immediately made arrangements with the Manila Times Publishing Company to sponsor the First National Junior Chess Championship covering the age bracket of 21 years and below. Thereafter, the First National Junior Chess Championship, and subsequent championships, were held on the summer of 1956. The Manila Times Publishing Company then was the undisputed king of local daily newspaper.
Thousand of youths from all over the archipelago participated in this tournament. With barely a year of learning the rudiments of chess at the age of 11 years old, my grandfather enlisted me to participate in this tournament. While the tournament was going on, I celebrated my 12th birthday in May 2, 1956, but still making me the youngest participant who entered the final twelve players.
This tournament served as the catalyst in arousing the interest of Filipinos in this game especially among the youths. It produced the first International Chess Master of Asia, Rodolfo Tan Cardoso, who won the First Junior Chess Championship. Other young participants gave priority to their studies and became professionals, notably Jusoph Pangadapun, who won the second place, a son of a prominent and respected Pangadapun family of Marawi City.
Encourage by the success of the First Junior Chess Championship, The Manila Times Publishing Company continued to sponsor the Second, Third and Fourth Junior Chess Championships every summer. These tournaments produced an even more number of International Chess Masters like Renato Naranja and Rosendo Balinas, and produced the first Grandmaster of Asia, Eugene Torre. Rosendo Balinas also became a Grandmaster, a remarkable feat because he earned the Grandmaster norm in a very strong tournament in Russia where a non-Russian has ever won before the first place. All of these were the products of the Junior Chess Championship. The Philippines lord it over other Asian countries and held the distinction of the King of Chess in Asia for many years to come.
Edgar de Castro, a product of Junior Chess Championship, became a Chess columnist of The Philippine Star, and continues to be in the vanguard of Philippine chess with his column that appears every Sunday. He analyze games from recent Tournaments, publishes ELO rating of grandmasters, reporting on current and future tournaments, among other chess news.
Because of the efforts of Florencio Campomanes not only in the Philippines but also in the international chess community, he ran for President of the FIDE (Federacion Internacional de Eches) and won. The FIDE (International Chess Federation) is the only prestigious governing body of the international chess organizations of the world. He later became the President for life in recognition of his efforts and success in reinvigorating chess internationally.
My chess career however was short lived although I continued to participate in the next tournaments and finally won the second place and awarded a 2-year scholarship which I used to pursue my college education. Thereafter, I stop playing chess to concentrate on my high school and college studies.
However, during my free time I organized chess tournaments on citywide coverage in Lucena City and province wide in Quezon Province to help the struggling local chess players through more exposure to chess competitions. I had full support in conducting these tournaments from the late Governor Anacleto Alcala and the late Mayor Mario Tagarao. I had full support from the local chapter of YMCA, from individuals who are chess enthusiasts and national master caliber like Felicisimo L. Ravanzo, Jr., who also represented the Alpha Phi Omega, Adormeo Lincoran. I also enjoyed the support from the business community, and other individuals and entities.
Another factor that contributed to the temporary decline of interest in chess was the scrapping by the Manila Times Publishing Company to sponsor another tournament due to the advent of the First Tour of Luzon. It was a new sports phenomenon that caught the interest of “The Times” which gave prominent publicity to the Tour. However, “The Times” continued to publish news about chess tournaments and other major chess events.
But, the decline of interest in chess was only temporary. Today, there are so many chess tournaments in the Philippines, including the junior chess championships, which produced international masters and grandmasters unprecedented in Asia. We can notice that Filipino chess players are becoming younger and younger. We have Wesley So who became one of the youngest grandmasters of all time in the world at the age of 13 years old. Inspired by the success of Wesley So, I believe there will be more Filipino youths who will follow the footsteps of Wesley So.