IN the 42nd World Chess Olympiad which the entire chess nation would rather forget, Asia’s first GM Eugene Torre was still the man to remember.
Torre provided the lone bright spot in the Philippines’ forgettable 58th-place finish in the men’s competition which ended with the usual pomp and pageantry in beautiful Baku, Azerbaijan.
The 64-year-old Torre, who played an unprecedented 23rd Olympiad from 1970 to 2016, struggled long and hard to subdue IM Moulthun Ly of Australia and clinch the Filipinos’ lone victory in a lackluster 1.5-2.5 setback to No. 45 Australia in the 11th and final round.
That was more than enough to secure the coveted bronze medal on board three for Torre, who finished with 10 points on nine wins and two draws in the tough 11-round competition dubbed as the ‘Olympics’ of chess.
Torre’s remarkable 10/11 record and performance rating of 2836 is good for third behind only former teammate GM Wesley So (2896) of the United States and GM Zoltan Almasi (2845) of Hungary.
The Filipino champion actually emerged with the highest total by any participant, but settled with the bronze based on tournament regulation that gives the gold to the chesser with the highest performance rating.
But for Torre, it’s a bronze medal that glitters like gold.
Torre’s victory and GM Julio Catalino Sadorra's draw with GM David Smerdon, however, failed to lift the Filipinos over the Australians.
GMs John Paul Gomez and Rogelio Barcenilla, Jr. fell to GM Zhao Zong Yuan and IM Anton Smirnov on boards two and four, respectively.
The loss left the Filipinos with only 12 points for 58th place, one of the worst finishes by the country in the biennial meet.
Two years ago, the Filipinos finished 46th.
Sadorra, who turned 30 the day after the tournament, held his ground on top board and finished with five points in eight games.
His performance included a fighting draw with reigning world champion GM Magnus Carlsen of Norway in the sixth round.
The women’s team did better.
Led by newly-minted WGM Janelle Mae Frayna, the Filipinas finished in 34th place with 13 points despite absorbing 1-3 loss to No. 12 seed Lithuania
The Jayson Gonzales-captained Filipinos surpassed their 64th- place performance in Tromso, Norway two years ago.
Actually, the Filipinas could have made it to the top 10 at best and 18th at worst with a final round win over the Lithuanians.
But only WIM Catherine Perena-Secopito survived the final-day storm when she defeated WIM Salomeja Zaksaite on board three.
Frayna, Jan Jodilyn Fronda and Shania Mae Mendoza gell to GM Viktorija Cmilyte, IM Deimante Daulyte and WFM Daiva Batyte on boards one, two and four, respectively.
Still, there’s hope for women’s chess.
Frayna’s historic feats of becoming the first Filipina to ever obtain the WGM and men's IM titles in the same event after scoring seven points in 11 games are enough reasons for celebration.
“We’re excited of the future, especially in women’s chess,” said Gonzales, the NCFP executive director and one of three officials in the team.
Torre, Frayna and the rest of the 10-man team are expected to arrive in the country tonight.
A hero’s welcome in Far Eastern University is already waiting for Frayna, a Psychology student and.cum laude candidate.
Overall, the United States and China shared the limelight by winning the titles in the men’s and women’s divisions.
Led by GMs Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, and Wesley So, the United States edged Canada, 2.5-1.5, to capture the title with an 11-round total of 20 points on nine wins and two draws.
Ukraine, bannered by GM Pavel Eljanov, whipped Slovenia, 3.5-.5, to forge a two-way tie for the top spot with the US.
But the Americans,who have not won the title since 1976, edged the Ukrainians by the slimmest of margins in the tiebreaks.
Top seed Russia, led by former champion Vladimir Kramnik, whipped Italy, 4-1, to finish in solo third with 18 points.
India finished fourth, followed by record performances by Norway, fifth;Turkey,sixth; Poland, seventh; France, eighth; England ninth; and Peru, 10th.
Aside from the US, Greece wound up as the only other undefeated team in the tournament in 18th place.
China defeated Russia, 2.5-1.5,on victories by Ju Wenjun and Tan Zhongyi over Valentina Gunina and Aleksandra Goryachkina to clinch the title with 20 points.
Poland routed Hungary, 3.5-.5, and Ukraine whipped Bulgaria, 3-1, to share second and third places with 17 points.
Poland edged Ukraine on tiebreak.
Russia and India finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Thanks to their excellent performance in both sections, Ukraine won the combined Gaprindashvili Cup.
In the special rating categories that reward lower-rated teams that overperformed, there were medals for India, Iran, the third team of Azerbaijan, Sudan and Chinese Taipei, as well as for Russia, Belarus, Malaysia, Syria and Indonesia.
In all, a total 28 international title norms were scored in the event.