1st win that feels like a championship

By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno

January 29, 2021, 8:26 am

MANILA – Oftentimes, teams being tagged to be lowly tend to bask in the glory of finally getting their elusive first win of the season.

The Palawan Queens' Gambit of the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP) is no exception to that.

Starting the season 0-6, the expectations continue to temper for everyone following the lone all-female team in the PCAP All-Filipino Cup.

So when Palawan finally got out of the early season slump by taking down Iriga, 17.5-3.5, in Round 7 on Wednesday night, the team was jubilant as if they have already won it all.

"Feeling ko, nag-champion na kami (I felt like we already won the championship)," head coach Susan Neri said on Thursday in the Usapang Sports online forum.

While they beat a moribund Oragons squad, the Gambit put on total domination somehow resembling a title contender.

Palawan set up its dominance over Iriga in the blitz matches, going unbeaten with only a draw between Board 2 players Women's International Master (WIM) Catherine Secopito and Joeven Polsotin preventing the Gambit from getting the perfect seven points in blitz.

The Gambit eventually clinched the series after they also romped the Oragons in the rapid matches, getting five wins and one draw for 11 more points.

"Finally, nakuha din namin 'yung tamang indak (we got the right groove)," Neri said.

While it is still a long way to go, especially that Cebu City, the only winless team left in the season-opening tournament, can still beat Palawan, she believes that Palawan's win put them in a good position of not flunking out in the tournament.

"Sobrang saya po namin. At least, hindi kami makukulelat talaga sa league (We are too happy, At least, we will not be shut out in the league)," Neri said.

Celebrating small victories

Trying to live up to the Queens' Gambit moniker turned out to be easier said than done for the Palawan side especially that, according to Neri, the club was only formed right on draft night on Dec. 22.

The Gambit passed on two grandmasters (GM) that could go toe to toe against GM Joey Antonio in the first two rounds of the draft and went for Women's International Masters Shania Mendoza and Catherine Secopito. They eventually stayed true to their word by drafting or recruiting nine more female woodpushers--reserves included.

The fact that Palawan let go of the chance to take Banjo Barcenilla and Oliver Barbosa, the only GM's left available when the team finally took its turn in the snake format draft at 24th and 25th overall, was a high-risk move.

So when Mendoza pulled off the biggest Opening Night upset on Jan. 16 by beating Antonio, the second overall pick of the draft in their rapid showdown, Palawan, despite eventually falling to Iloilo as a whole, celebrated as if they actually clinched the series.

"We celebrate these small wins and achievements that we do individually and as a team," Neri said.

She even said that she wanted her team to go a bit festive in celebrating their breakthrough PCAP win.

"Magpapa-pizza ako sa mga players ko (I will treat my players to pizza)," Neri said.

No one is sure if Neri is really going to throw out a pizza party or she just said it in jest, but one thing is for sure: the queens are up for more king-slaying this season. (PNA)