By Agnes Cruz, Special to Arab News
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2003-01-10 03:00

MANILA, 10 January 2003 — In a year, he could become the Philippines’ next grandmaster. In two years, he could even break the Super Grandmaster barrier.

Mark Paragua, the sensational 17-year-old grandmaster candidate and easily the country’s most promising chess player today, is confident the GM norm is “within his reach”.

As a matter of fact, he is giving himself a year to become the country’s fifth grandmaster.

But this early, his coaches are predicting the young woodpusher could even break the Super Grandmaster barrier in two years.

Paragua had moved four points shy from his Grandmaster dream last year.

After a strong fifth-place finish in last year’s World Youth Chess Championships held in Crete, Greece, Paragua earned additional points to top his Bled Olympiad production that gained him 20 rating points.

Paragua accepted a second draw offer in the final round with GM Berkes Ferenc of Hungary for fifth place in the premier Under-18 category.

“With the way he is playing and if given proper support, Mark can easily reach 2520 by April 2003, then 2550 in July and achieve Super GM status by January 2004,” Paragua’s coach, NM Joseph Sanchez, predicted.

Paragua, who at 15 became the country’s youngest international master, has already dislodged Bong Villamayor, the country’s fourth grandmaster, for third place in the last FIDE rankings.

From sixth place, Paragua found himself moving up to third behind GMs Joey Antonio and Eugene Torre after finishing tied from third to fifth place in the World Youth Championships last November in Verakilo, Crete, Greek.

He registered a total of 2504 in the FIDE ratings after ending up tied for 11th to 16th in the World Juniors in Goa, India last month.

“I am very satisfied with my performance since this year’s entry is much stronger compared to previous World Youth Championships,” said Paragua, who is featured in GM Eugene Torre’s latest chess book The Next Wave: Rising Stars of Philippine Chess.

Playing white, the Filipino junior champion assessed the final position to be roughly equal and decided not to risk, giving the Hungarian GM the needed half point to clinch his first World Youth Championship title after aspiring for 10 years.

“My only disappointment is it seems that they don’t recognize my performances. In Armenia, for instance, their representative Tigran Petrosyan who tied with me and who is not even an IM claimed that he will be awarded a house and lot plus a car for his third place finish. I could not believe but it’s true,” said Paragua whose laptop computer broke down at the Bled Olympiad.

He also had to rely on his chess books and borrow some of his friends’ laptop computer for his preparation in the World Youth in Greece. Interestingly, Paragua, a former World Under-14 rapid champion, is giving himself another year to become a grandmaster before he resumes his studies again.

The recent FIDE rankings is inspiring Paragua and his father, Ric, to improve his standings in the local chess scene by participating in more major tournaments abroad.

While a scholarship offer from University of Santo Tomas awaits the 17-year-old GM candidate, his father said this will have to wait as his son evaluates his priorities for the rest of 2003.

His bid to move up the ladder in the local rankings resumes this Jan. 25 when he plays in a closed GM tournament in Bermuda.

“Let’s give Mak-Mak one more year for him to achieve his goal, which is to become a grandmaster, before he resumes his studies,” said Ric.

Antonio, who saw action with Torre in the World Olympiad in Slovenia, is on top of the local rankings with an ELO of 2521 after carrying the Philippines to 42nd position.

Torre, the country’s and Asia’s first GM, stayed in second place with 2519. Villamayor now ranks fourth with 2487, with International Master Rogelio Barcenilla Jr. close behind with 2486.

Enrique Paciencia and Emmanuel Senador trails with 2454 and 2453, respectively. Paragua became one of the youngest players to join the Olympiad last year.

The National Chess Federation of the Philippines tries to rebuild its shattered image by preparing for three Asian events.

These events are scheduled this year, ahead of the 2003 Southeast Asian Games.

The Asian individual championship is set for Feb. 17 to 27 in Qatar, followed by the Asian juniors in March in Sri Lanka and the Asian team tournament early April in India.

Chess is expected to make its debut in this year’s Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam and a grand appearance in the 2006 Asian Games in Quatar, giving the Philippines a big boost in its medal campaign in both international events. Earlier, former FIDE president Florencio Campomanes said this development is “an initial step in making the sport a regular fare in all the Olympics,” which he said he is working on along with various chess leaders around the world.

“But the Olympics is going ahead of the story. Our main concern now is the SEA Games in Vietnam since I’ve been given almost 100 percent assurance by the organizers that it will be included in the schedule of events,” he said. Campomanes said that he is only waiting an official letter from Vietnam for confirmation.

Vietnam is also pushing for chess because of its large GM and international master pool.

The Philippines has three grandmasters – Torre, Antonio and Villamayor – while Vietnam has four GMs and Indonesia six.

Vietnam is the slight favorite but observers say that Torre, Antonio and Villamayor have strong chances since they are all familiar with the best players in the region.

Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Qatar on the other hand, sent Campomanes a letter last year confirming the decision by host Qatar of including chess as one of the 38 events in the Asian Games tentatively set from Dec. 2-12, 2006.

“Our dream, actually, is for chess to be included in the Olympics. I’m now working on it, getting in touch with my connection in the world chess scene, so that IOC (International Olympic Committee) will be convinced to include chess in its future games,” said Campomanes.

National Chess Federation of the Philippines president Mat Defensor urged Filipino chess players to strive harder in anticipation of chess becoming a medal sport in the SEA Games and the Asian Games.

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