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Young chess champions all set for Palaro

Julienne Joven
Meet Christian Nañola and Marie Antoinette San Diego -- the future of chess in the country

CONSTANTLY LEARNING. Christian’s knowledge of chess is almost wholly self-taught.
MANILA, Philippines – If you ask children their thoughts on sports, they probably would think of stuff that involves physical, sweat-inducing activity.
But contrary to popular belief, one can still be sporty yet exert a different kind of muscular effort — that of the brain’s.
Chess has had quite a hold on the Philippines for some time now, from the heyday of legend Grandmaster (GM) Eugene Torre to the flurry caused by our youngest GM Wesley So.
In last week’s National Age Group and National Juniors Chess Championships held in Tanauan, Batangas, Rappler was able to meet Christian and Marie Antoinette, two up-and-coming chess athletes.

Taking a break from their competitions, they sat down with Rappler to share their dreams about playing for the Palarong Pambansa, promoting chess among Filipino kids, and dreaming big for the country.
Mature beyond his years
A two-time chess champion in the Palarong Pambansa (2008 and 2011), it may be hard to believe that Christian Nañola had had no formal training in chess. Christian’s knowledge of chess is almost self-taught.
Nagta-training lang po ako sa sarili ko lang po, nagbabasa po ng mga libro, tapos mga internet. Meron po kasing mga website po ng chess (I just train on my own, read books and [browse through] the Internet. There are chess websites),” this Laguna resident said.
A studious young man, Christian derives inspiration from reading books on the great chess masters, including his favorite, former World Champion Garry Kasparov, whose strategies he describes as “beautiful.”
He also learns by observing. Whenever his father enters his name into tournaments, he takes his experiences there and applies these in his following games.
Even without an actual trainer, Christian has managed to defeat many of his contemporaries who do have one — certainly an inspiration for other kids who want to start playing chess.

WINNERS. Marie Antoinette and Christian, in red jackets, both won Best in Board at last year’s Palaro. Included in this photo are Rowelyn Acedo and Daryl Samantila. From
One could say though that Christian’s first “trainer” would have to be his father Vicente “Vic” Nañola, a frustrated chess athlete, according to his wife Geraldine.

When Christian was still a young boy, Vic would encourage the child to play chess with him and other relatives. Soon enough, Christian could defeat his grandfather at the game.
He has gone a long way since then, competing internationally and in numerous national meets. His goal for this year’s Palarong Pambansa is to win the team championships (with fellow Carl Angelo Perez of San Pablo City) and the individual championships.
Christian recently graduated from high school and will be entering the De La Salle University to take up Liberal Arts. For now, he wants to focus on his studies and says that if he still desires so after college, he might really pursue chess as a career.
But the best thing that Christian has done with his chess experiences would be helping his family with the money he wins. Whenever his older sisters (also chess varsity players) need to pay school fees, Christian willingly helps shoulder them.
And he intends to help many more people by encouraging them to play because, according to him, chess instills in people the values of discipline and careful planning. “Kailangan pong planuhin muna lahat ng gagawin bago po dumire-diretso kasi di naman po puwedeng go lang ng go eh (You have to plan everything you do before simply continuing with it),” he said. “Baka po mamaya, kaka-go lang eh, kayo rin po ang maperwisyo (You might suffer if you don’t plan ahead).”
Big dreamer

For Marie Antoinette San Diego, 12, the hardest chess competition she has ever joined would have to be the 2010 Asian Age Group at Tarakan, Indonesia. So much was at stake for her during this game.
It was the game that would determine if she would become a FIDE master (FM) or not. And succeed she did. Thanks to her victory, Tonette is now recognized as the youngest female FM in the Philippines.
Like Christian, it was also her father who introduced her to chess. Antonio San Diego was a chess varsity player for the Technological Institute of the Philippines during his time. Now, all her siblings also play the game.

INTERNATIONAL ACCLAIM. Tonette brings home 3 medals from the ASEAN Primary School Sport Olympiad in Jakarta. From
But Tonette’s dreams do not stop there.
Gusto ko pong maging woman grandmaster (I want to be a woman grandmaster),” she boldly stated.
The Philippines has yet to produce a female GM. We currently have 16 male GMs, starting with GM Eugene Torre in 1974 to GM Richard Bitoon in 2011.
Although many people might view chess as nerdy, Tonette, however, is the anti-nerd. She is also a volleyball and basketball player. Like many girls her age, it is having many friends and the opportunity to travel that she enjoys the most about chess.

After all, even if she competes with the same old faces every time, she said that things don’t get bitter and personal within the chess community in the country, which she considers as her second family.
She expects to have a good game in her third time at Palaro, what with her 6-hour a day training which involves constantly studying new strategies.
Tonette said that she is now used to the hectic schedule of a chess athlete, with Palarong Pambansa quickly following the National Finals and other meets.
But she professed that, despite the schedule, chess is a cool sport that other kids should not shy away from. Aside from the lessons you can learn from engaging in this sport, Tonette said that there are many practical benefits, too.
Cool naman po yung chess kasi po ‘pag college ka na, magiging varsity, yung walang babayaran, nagta-travel ka pa sa ibang bansa (Chess is cool because when you get to college, you can even be part of a varsity, with scholarships. You also get to travel to other countries),” she said. –