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


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