THE Philippines should have a walk in the Azerbaijan park in the opening rounds of the 42nd World Chess Olympiad.
Then it will be calvary the rest of the way.
With Asia’s first GM Eugene Torre making a record 23rd Olympiad appearance, the 53rd-seed Philippines open its campaign against No. 143 seed Jersey in the first round Friday at the elegant Crystal Hall in Baku.
In the women’s division, the No. 46 seed Philippines takes on lowly No. 117 Netherlands Antilles.
Traditionally, the first two rounds are considered as the easiest with the higher-rated countries pitted against the lower-seeded teams
The task becomes more difficult as the countries climb the upper half of the standings and begin to play against each other based on the Swiss system format.
But the biggest story of the opening day as far as chess historians and even plain Filipino fans are concerned is Torre, who will officially make his 23rd appearance in the biennial event dubbed as the ‘Olympics’ of Asia.
“It will be a record which will stand for a long time,” said five-time Olympic champion and SPICE founder Susan Polgar in a message to Torre and the entire Filipino delegation.
On Friday, Torre will play on board two against candidate master Krzysztof Belzo of Jersey as team captain James Infiesto decided to give US-based GM Julio Catalino Sadorra an extra day of rest.
GM John Paul Gomez will man top board against CM Paul Wojciechowski, GM Rogelio Barcenilla will play board three against CM Garry Forbes and IM Paulo Bersamina will defend board four against Graham Mooney.
World juniors fourth-placer Janelle Mae Frayna will play black against WFM Allen Mena in the Filipinas’ opening-day assignment.
WIM Jan Jodilyn Fronda will battle Mariana Sanchez, Christy Lamiel Bernales will meet Arzy Salim-Moussa and Catherine Perena-Secopito will play Taqesyah Marcos.
Shania Mae Mendoza, the fifth player in the GM Jayson Gonzales-mentored women’s team, is off.
“This is all for our country. I share this record (of 23rd Olympiad appearance) with the Filipino nation,” said the 64-year-old Torre on the eve of the team’s departure to Baku via Istanbul.
“I am truly blessed to be playing chess and the Olympiad for 46 long years now,” added Torre, who considers the 1974 Olympiad in Nice, France where he became a GM and 1988 Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece where he led the country to a historic seventh-place finish as his most memorable.
Overall, Torre has already played in 23 Olympiads: 1970 Siegen, 1972 Skopje, 1974 Nice, 1976 Haifa, 1978 Buenos Aires, 1980 Malta, 1982 Lucerne, 1984 Thessaloniki, 1986 Dubai, 1988 Thessaloniki, 1990 Novi Sad, 1992 Manila, 1994 Moscow, 1996 Yerevan, 1997 Elusta, 2000 Istanbul, 2002 Bled, 2004 Calvia, 2006 Turin, 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk, 2012 Istanbul, 2014 Tromso and now, 2016 Baku.
He played at the top board for the Filipinos for a record 17 straight Olympiads from 1972 Skopje to 2004 Calvia.
Torre played second board twice (in 1970 Siegen behind Renato Naranja) and 2006 Turin behind GM Mark Paragua) and third board twice in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
The only time he did not play was in 2008 Dresden where he served as team coach.
Top seed Russia, bannered by GMs Sergey Karjakin and Evgeny Tomashevsky, will open fire against Nigeria.
Second seed United States, led by GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, will take on Andorra, while China, topbilled by Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi, will play Kosovo.
Host Azerbaijan will test the mettle of Zimbabwe.