SURIGAO'S PRIDE. Arena International Master (AIM) Rey Urbiztondo prepares for another virtual chess match for the Surigao team's cause in the first-ever professional chess competition in the country. As of Friday (March 5, 2021), the team was in the ninth spot and is vying for the last eight slots in the semis round of the 24-team rivalry. (Contributed Photo)

SURIGAO CITY – Although struggling to make it to the semifinals, the all-solid Surigaonon team known as Surigao Fianchetto Checkmates is proud to represent Mindanao in the first-ever professional chess competition in the country.

Currently occupying the ninth spot, the Surigao woodpushers are vying for the last eight slots in the semis round of this 24-team rivalry nationwide under the first Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP) in Asia, the country's second professional league after the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

"It's very unfortunate that we're trailing behind at the ninth place though it's still a long way to go, for we still have at least nine remaining team matches to play. In our hearts, we're deeply honored to represent Mindanao, along with the Zamboanga team, in the inaugural season of this professional chess league," Arena International Master (AIM) Rey Urbiztondo said Saturday.

Fully aware of chess renaissance after Filipino-turned-US citizen Wesley So upstaged anew Classical World champion Magnus Carlsen in their recent international chess tussle, Urbiztondo noted that Surigao's participation is mainly in the hope of helping to boost chess' reputation as the Filipinos' new favorite sport during the pandemic.

A dark horse entering the tough challenge, Surigao yielded in the early round to championship-favorite Caloocan but with Urbiztondo scoring a big upset win at the expense of International Master (IM) Barlo Nadera on Board 7.

Surigao team's victories worth six points for the ninth place came from its head-on duels with Cagayan Valley and Quezon province in the north, and Iriga (twice), Palawan, and Cebu in the South.

In the last nine rounds, the Surigao gems are to play against Mindoro and Palawan on March 6; opposite Toledo and Cebu on March 10; and versus Iloilo and Lapulapu on March 13.

Its final three rounds will be against Negros, Zamboanga, and Camarines.a

Also at the forefront of Surigao's quest for glory are former national junior champion FM Vince Alaan and Haifa, and Israel Olympiad veteran FM Cesar Caturla.

Completing the team are Tyrone Alaan, Jayson Salubre, lady chess player Jessa Mae Lisondra, seniors (60 above) Joselito Serna and Allan Diez, and homegrown bets Cyrus Donasco, Marcelito Penera (recently replaced by Rogelio Canoy due to poor signal), and San Dro Ladion.

"The core of this team is built around 30 years of friendship. So, we'll fight it out, win or lose," Urbiztondo said.

Asia's first Grandmaster Eugene Torre and many-time Philippine Open champion GM Joey Antonio Jr. led a stellar cast of Filipino chess stars in the PCAP tourney, alongside fellow GMs Mark Paragua, Banjo Barcenilla, Darwin Laylo, Ino Sandorra, John Paul Gomez, Mark Paragua, Roland Salvador, Oliver Barbosa, and candidate GM, Ronald Dableo.

More than 50 other titled players are also taking part, led by International Masters Jan Emmanuel Garcia, Paulo Bersamina, Oliver Dimakiling, Ricky de Guzman, Cris Ramayat, Angelo Young, Marvin Miciano, Barlo Nadera, Joel Pimentel, and returning IMs Domingo Ramos, Rolando Nolte, Vince Alaan, Chito Garma and Eric Labog. (Lynde Salgados/PNA)