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Eugene Torre: Forever the litmus test for Philippine chess

MANILA, Philippines – For 3 generations, Eugene Torre has been synonymous with chess: its golden age and the era now where it is struggling, bereft of sponsors and all those international tournaments which helped create many fans.

Any Filipino will ask how Torre is doing every time there is an international event, or even if they are competing abroad. Wesley So may no longer be playing for us but few care, except his sizeable Filipino fans, for there is still Torre.

The Chess Olympiad is over. Filipino chess fans will no longer stay up until midnight or even 1 am to wait for team results and the next day’s pairings. They will no longer fidget, as many did, when Torre struggled for almost 6 hours to defeat Mouthlun Ly of Australia to ensure his 10/11 performance on board 3.

That he had the white pieces in 8 of these games seems to be a factor, but the best player still no matter what pieces he handles.

They are in chess heaven, for when will we have a 64-year-old grandmaster scoring 10/11 and a 19-year-old honor student becoming the country’s first woman grandmaster?

They will be in a high, especially when the team is expected to arrive Thursday evening and hold a press conference Friday noon. There are two chess Facebook sites: Chess Philippines and Chess News and Views, and there will be tales and pictures from the Baku Chess Olympiad.

Torre has always been part of the Philippine chess scene since the 1968 Meralco Open, where a 17-year-old showed his wares. It will be unthinkable to visualize Philippine chess without Eugenio Oliveros Torre, who said this was to be his last Olympiad.

For only Torre has been able to summon his best when playing against the elite. Torre’s conquest of world champion Anatoly Karpov in 1976 in Manila remains fresh among Filipinos aged 60 and above. Karpov rarely lost at the time. This was big news in chess magazines, especially on how Torre fearlessly attacked the world champion.

Even when his giant-killing days appeared over, there was the Torre who would patiently squeeze wins from barren positions, as he did in 2014 in Tromso, as he and Ino Sadorra supported a Philippines weakened by the loss of So and Oliver Barbosa, then the country’s number two.

In Baku, Torre regained a part of the skill that made him famous and dreaded. It mirrored his credo as he told Tibor Karolyi in his biography on Torre published this year: "As you get older, you tend to prepare less and become less adventurous. You rely more on experience and it is not practical to play sharply.”

In the opening, Torre played quietly. Then in the middlegame, he would start to play, as grandmasters like to say. He would create pressure, generate some tension and sense some weakening in the opponent. In the old days, Torre would cover his eyes to prevent his opponent from reading his intention.

Then he tightens the screws: a mating attack or an endgame. It makes no difference. In Baku, he was playing like he was in his 20s, with energy and not taking any breaks.

It is no wonder that many Filipinos who used to love chess passionately until their careers demanded their attention would comment joyfully, even Torre wins on Facebook.

“HISTORY! UNBEATABLE 10/11! One of the few Filipjnos we can be proud of these days” said lawyer Joe Aspiras. “Admirable. Will always be my idol,” said former ladies champion Glenda Baylon.

And the glory years return: when chess was big news in the newspapers, when Torre even acted in the movies, when even presidents gave him awards.

Eugene Torre will forever be the litmus test for Philippine chess – whether he retires or plays on. The next generation needs to be reminded of duties they must fufill when they replace him in the national team. – Rappler.com