Philippine chess teams all-out to better their Olympiad finish

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AGAINST all odds, the Philippine team sets out to challenge the best and the brightest the world could offer headed by a powerhouse, Wesley So-led United States team that is the heavy favorite to win it all in the 44th World Chess Olympiad unfolding on Friday in Chennai, India.

United States-based Grandmaster (GM) Banjo Barcenilla, accompanied by wife and Olympiad veteran Lilibeth, was the first to arrive in Chennai on Wednesday morning after a long, tiring 28-hour flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Dallas to Heathrow, London and, finally, India’s mecca of chess.

GM Mark Paragua will be coming from New York and was expected to arrive last night.

The rest of the 12-strong national team that also consists of GMs Darwin Laylo and John Paul Gomez and International Master (IM) Paulo Bersamina, WGM Janelle Mae Fryana, WIMs Jan Jodilyn Fronda, Marie Antoinette San Diego and Kylen Joy Mordido and Woman FIDE Master Shania Mae Mendoza flew at 3 p.m. on Wednesday via a Malaysian Airlines flight.

GMs Eugene Torre and Jayson Gonzales are also with the team serving as coaches and non-playing team captains.

The Filipinos will be gunning to improve on a 37th-place finish in the men’s division and 67th in the women’s section in the last face-to-face edition of the biennial event in Batumi, Georgia four years ago.

A total of 188 teams from 186 countries are seeing action in the men’s while 162 from 160 nations are playing in the women’s section in this 11-round, 12-day tournament.

And they will be facing their friend and Cavite-born Mr. So, whose American side is being tipped as the country to beat as it boasts of four players currently ranked in the world’s top 10 in No. 7 Mr. So, No. 5 Fabiano Caruana, No. 6 Levon Aronian, and No. 7 Hikaru Nakamura.

The tournament will be minus powerhouse Russia and China due to various reasons. — Joey Villar