Friday, September 12, 2008

Pestaño: Meet Eugene Torre, Asia's first Grandmaster?

Friday, September 12, 2008

THE third PGMA Cup is now on going at the Duty-Free Fiesta Mall in Parañaque up to Sept. 13 with a format of 9 rounds Swiss. At stake is $40,000 with the champion pocketing the lion’s share of $6,000 and the runners up getting $5,000 and $4,000.

Playing are 22 GMs, 12 IMs, 1 WGM, 3 FMs and 1 WIM, totaling 72 players including 33 foreigners.

The tournament has been a revelation of sorts, more like the resurrection of the one of the most revered players of the planet. Eugene Torre has made a strong statement (he is not in the Olympiad team to Germany) with five straight wins and a draw in the sixth round to lead the field. I don’t recall Eugene playing this well at the start for more than two decades.

In 1974, then 22, he became Asia’s first Grandmaster (more on this later) by winning the silver medal in Board 1 in the World Chess Olympiad held in Nice, France behind future world champion, Anatoly Karpov. The team captain and also Philippines Chess Federation President at that time was Bombi Aznar.

The high point of his career came in the early 1980s when he was ranked world No.17 and successfully went on to qualify to be a candidate for the world championship after tying for first with Lajos Portisch during the 1982 Toluca Interzonal.

He was a celebrity in the 80s due to his daily one hour TV program “Chess Today”, and was once voted one of the 10 sexiest men in the Philippines.

He starred opposite now Batangas Governor Vilma Santos in a film produced by Sampaguita Pictures titled “Basta’t Isipin Mo, Mahal Kita” and was allegedly linked to her romantically by media.

He is not the only sportsman though to be featured in a movie. Others have been Mona Sulaiman , Rolando Navarette, Lydia de Vega , Anthony Villanueva, Onyok Velasco and a few others.

He was a TOYM awardee in 1974 and is the only sportsman elevated by the Philippine Sportswriters Association to the Hall of Fame.

Eugene has been honored and is accepted all over the world as Asia’s first GM. In a region comprising more than a third of the world’s population, this is really unique and a tremendous accomplishment.

However, I came across an article that claims that the first Asian GM was Russian Alexander Zaitsev (June 15,1935 to Oct. 31, 1971), who became GM in 1967 well ahead of Eugene. His finest achievement was a share of first place at the 1968/69 USSR Chess Championship of Alma Ata. He was born and raised in Vladivostok, Russia.

Where is Vladivostok? From what I have read thus far, it is considered to be a part of Asia and is situated at the head of the Golden Horn Bay not far from the Russo-Chinese border and North Korea in the Far East. Japan is about 100 miles away.

Can somebody correct me please.

Hou Yifan. Don‘t look now but Wesley So has unofficialy lost his claim to fame as the youngest GM in the world. That status now belongs to the Chinese sensation Hou Yifan born Feb. 27, 1994 and 141 days younger than Wesley. And, she is a girl!

Just this month , Fide referred to her as a “GM-elect”, indicating that her Atatürk norm (2nd) had been confirmed. This means that Hou Yifan has qualified for the title of GM last month (3rd norm) in the World Juniors, where she finished tied at third, at the age of 14, making her one of the youngest GMs in history and the youngest female.

She is now in the semifinals of the 2008 Women’s World Championship playing against India’s Koneru Humpy. The other pairing is between Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia against Pia Cramling of Sweden. Whatever happens it will be East vs. West in the finals.

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