Thursday, September 6, 2012

Beyond the 13th Move: The Story of Eugene Torre

Eugene Torre  is one of the few great Filipino sports heroes whose excellence and prominence in chess span more than four decades, and counting. I can think of two others who  fit the description for such longevity; Paeng  Nepumoceno in bowling and  the big J, Jaworski in basketball. Paeng’s career likewise span more than four decades and until now is still a force to reckon with. Jawo’s eminence in basketball span the period of my childhood, teenage years and adulthood. They all started in my growing up years and until now, they’re still there. They are all my all time local sports heroes.

Beyond the 13th move is a biography of Torre. I bought this book in the 70’s and was one of my treasured collection until Ondoy struck a few years ago.  I wish it could be re-published.

Eugene Torre was born in Iloilo city, my “happy place”. For decades, he was the toast of Philippine chess.  Beyond the 13th move was a memorable piece of history. Flashback: 1972 Chess Olympiad, Nice, France. Torre, then 22 but already the Philippines top player, played for the top Board (board 1) of the Philippine team. Ever since its inception and until now, each country normally fields its strongest player in Board . So Torre, was up against the world’s best of the best. On this fateful game ( my memory now fails me who he was up against except that he was also a top grandmaster), Torre needed only to draw the game and be crowned a full grandmaster. On that game, after some quick openings, Torre played safe and offered a draw. It was a long agonizing moment as he waited for his opponent to accept his offer. Then that moment came. His opponent formally welcomed Eugene to the elite grandmaster club by accepting the draw. History unfolded. Torre became the first Asian and the first Filipino to become a chess grandmaster. In that tournament, Torre finished  strong, 9 wins and 10 draws, to win the bronze medal for Board 1. Anatoly Karpov, who would later become world champion won the gold. But to stay unbeaten in a very strong field was already an outstanding record. The Philippine team also placed a respectable 11th place finish, until now its 2nd highest finish.

Torre would later on play for a record 19 consecutive Olympiads. Then on his 20th stint, he tied Hungary’s top grandmaster Lajos Portisch for the distinction of the only players to have played for 20 Olympiads. Now in the ongoing 40th Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, Torre broke this tie, and again made history by becoming the only player to have played in 21 Olympiads. In all of this, he played in Board 1 a record 17 times. In his entire career, his sterling record was in 1983 when he was ranked 17th in the world and played in the Candidates Matches for the 1984 world Championship, losing to Zoltan ribli,6-4 in a one on one encounter. No other Filipino has reached this pinnacle of success. Years before that, he made waves when he defeated then current world champion Anatoly Karpov in a tournament held in Manila in 1976. He was then credited for being the only player to have beaten Karpov while the Russian still reigned supreme as world champion.  Torre was also known as among the very few best friends, confidante, and second of that American chess genius, that recluse former world champion Bobby Fischer.

One of the finer moments described in the book was that in his era, whenever Torre wants to rest and relax, he would go home and find comfort and serenity in his land of his birth. Home is Iloilo ( La Paz) where he would enjoy its beaches. In some of these homecomings, he would drop by a landmark  place, a restaurant cum bookstore in Jalandoni  Street in front of the University of San Agustin. This place was also where local chess players meet and play. Torre would then play simultaneous games against anybody who would want to. It was in one of these fun simul games that my elder brod played him to a draw

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Maria Sharapova's Tie-breaker

It was a match everybody was expecting to end in the altar November this year. Instead, it was extended to a tie-break. Nobody knows now who gets the "Advantage", but definitely there will be no match point. I am referring to the Le Affaire Sharapova-Vujacic.

After winning her 3rd round match in the ongoing US Open, Maria Sharapova, women's tennis royalty, let the cat out of the bag. Her love affair with boyfriend Sasha Vujacic is over, finis. And they parted ways end of spring this year with no one, not even the nosy press knowing it. She herself was surprised that nobody asked her about it.

In happier days, they looked a perfect match. Both are good looking, both have the height, both have the physique and figure many would envy. Most of all, both are popular and famous. Sharapova need not further introduction. She's women's tennis top attraction; that I could say without fear of contradiction. She's my idol too. What she wears in her games in every tournament is being awaited. That's her fashion statement. How she plays either excites or makes your heart break.Vujacic on the other hand played was an NBA star, a member of the popular champion Lakers team of Kobe Bryant and co. for many years until he was traded to the New Jersey Nets last season. This year he disappeared in the NBA when he decided to play professional basketball in Turkey. Where then did they go wrong?

Sharapova herself admitted that their busy schedules was it. In short, their long distance love affair just would not click. Vujacic's Turkey assignment further added their estrangement. Since he arrived there this season, Maria revealed he has not gone home in 10 months. Absence indeed makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe they could find some rationalization knowing that this problem actually is common among sporting celebrities; especially if you're on the tour circuit where you go globetrotting the whole year round. Unless of course you are Mirka Federer, who retired in the sport and contented herself being the No.1 cheerer in every tournament of her beau of long years and husband later, Roger Federer.

The news spotlight of course will be on Sharapova. Already, the headlines are screaming: SHARAPOVA IS SINGLE ONCE AGAIN. Yahoo News put it nicely. " FINE TUNE YOUR BACKHAND, GENTLEMEN. MARIA SHARAPOVA IS BACK IN THE MARKET'.

Ouĭ Kim; Good Riddance Andy: US Open 2012

Tennis Majors always bring excitement; always with a package of surprises, controversies, disappointments, theatrics, stories and performances that will become historical highlights. The ongoing US Open 2012 is no exception. First came the  disappointment that world’s No.2 Rafa Nadal is out with injury. To me, the absence of one major character takes out some luster of the tournament. On the other hand,  a great promise loomed as the “greatest who has returned", Roger Federer, further takes another great step in cementing this crown. Or will it be Andy Murray’s time to finally bag his elusive major crown following his Olympic victory? On the distaff side, Serena looks supreme and has resumed her winning ways and habit of collecting records. Only Sharapova I think could stand in her way but only if, my Maria would be consistent  in her top fighting form.

 But the greatest drama that unfolded  was provided by two past champions announcing their retirement. Like previous tennis greats, the US Open, being the last in the calendar of the majors, is always reserved for retirement ceremonies.

Yesterday, after losing her 2nd round match against upcoming British teen Laura Robson in a close 2- set heartbreaker decided by tie breakers, Kim Clijsters finally called it quits. Age, motherhood, and all, the 29 year old Belgian finally bid adieu the 2nd time around  to the sport she loved most. The first time she called bye bye in 2007 to give birth to her child, she came back in 2009 and won that year’s US Open. That was a spectacular win, surprising everyone considering that she had only few tune up games prior to the tourney. She even defended it the next year. This time though, it will be a final goodbye.

Kim was on top of women’s tennis in the last decade along with fellow Belgian Justine Henin, the Williams sisters, and Maria Sharapova. Her matches against these great rivals were always worth my time. She was a 4- time grand slam champion. Early on in her tennis fame, her popularity somehow rose with her publicized love affair with the then equally popular and top men’s tennis player, Australian Leyton Hewitt. The press called her  Aussie Kim, a tag she perhaps also loved, especially when sitting and cheering in Hewitt's box.  But she married someone else and later proved to all that motherhood is not a hindrance to becoming a champion. She was the first mother to become a grand slam champion since 1980. We will surely miss her. I will miss her competitiveness, her grit, and fighting heart. Her most enduring image to me were her  “splits” when retrieving deep baselines shots as no one else in the tennis circuit can do.

 Merci Kim. And good luck to your next journey.

Andy Roddick came next in announcing he is done for good in tennis. He too was once my idol. Fast, furious, he with that power and booming serves.  He was on the rise in the early 2000, winning his first and only grand slam tournament, the US Open in 2003. That year, he was also rated world No. 1. It was bright note to American tennis. It came at a time when  Pete Sampras and in a way, Andrei Agassi were already closing on in their careers. Roddick therefore became their heir to carry the hopes of American tennis. Sadly, he came short of that billing. He stayed among the top 5 and for years lingered on that spot. Unfortunately for him, another greater Swiss maestro named Roger Federer was on the rise and set to dominate the field. They fought in the 2006 US Open finals just as Federer was starting to collect US Open titles. Thrice, they played in the Wimbledon finals. All these times, Federer simply outclassed him. Their last meeting in 2009 Wimby was a classic 5- set marathon thriller. Roger won, 16-14. In this time too, 2 other outstanding players came, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  Andy drifted and stayed in the top 10 and soon after, outside of that exclusive club. He could hardly advance  even to the quarters. He realized it was time to go. There was no other way as he said he did not want to be a mere passenger in this journey. So now, he is saying goodbye to tennis with no apparent heir to carry the torch of American men's tennis.

God job Andy. Now you can finally take off that trademark hat to your loyal and favorite Flushing Meadow crowd. Take a bow!