‘Masters’ keep Baguio chess park alive, lively


The Igorot Park in Baguio City that has been transformed into a chess arena. EV ESPIRITU/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

BAGUIO CITY—For a cup of coffee or a P10 to P20 bet, a group of men, many of them retirees and the city’s old-timers, gathers at the Igorot Park here daily to play chess.

The stakes may not be high but for these men, a game of chess is enough to make their day.

“Masters” are how the best chess players in the park are called.

Sonny Selda, “Mang Sonny” to park regulars, is one of the regular masters in the park, located near the busy intersection of Magsaysay and Harrison Roads in the heart of the summer capital.

After winning P10 in a three-round game, Selda stood up with the aid of a walking stick and placed a few coins on the chess board as rent.

Selda, who has been playing chess in the park since 1995, is 68 but he has been slowed down by a stroke last year. He stopped playing for a year but is back with the same skill he had in his healthier days.

During his match, spectators are overheard saying, “The old man has not lost his touch,” or “Only carabaos age,” to compliment Selda’s moves.

Selda said he would return to the park and play chess as long as his health and vision allow him.

“As long as my vision is clear, I will play chess. That’s the only form of recreation I know,” he said.

Another park regular, Dick Capitle, has been playing there since the 1980s.

“A good player is cautious. If you’re reckless, then you won’t get far. It’s like life, you need defense,” said Capitle, an engineer.

He said his skill in numbers serves him well in chess.

Oscar Guanzon, a longtime Baguio resident, said he learned to play chess from his father. “My father would not allow us to leave the house until we beat him,” he said.

Guanzon, 64, a former waiter and city government worker, said his desire to learn chess was nourished by watching players in restaurants on Session Road here.

By reading books on chess and constant practice, he was able to regularly beat his father. “Chess is 25 percent reading and 75 percent practice,” he said.

But one park master uses his skill to teach anyone who comes to him and asks for his help.

John Soriano, 50, has been teaching chess to students of varying skill levels (from kindergarten to college).

“You cannot turn them away. Until there are people who want to learn, I’m here to teach,” said Soriano, who used to work in a cruise ship.

But of the more than 100 students he had taught, one student stood out. It was summer of 2008 when Soriano met Conrado Agaton in Igorot Park. Agaton hanged out and played in the park until he faced Soriano.

“I beat him. Since then, he pursued me and he was relentless. I did not know that I have potential to excel and [Soriano] pushed me to be my best,” Agaton said.

He was then applying for a University of Baguio chess varsity scholarship. That summer, Soriano trained Agaton and other students for free. The chess boards in Burnham Park near the old skating rink and the chess boards in Agaton’s house were witnesses to the intensive training regimen.

“He’s a good person and an excellent chess player,” Agaton said, describing Soriano. Even after training, Soriano continues guiding Agaton and finds time to watch him compete. The two, however, keep returning to where they started in Igorot Park.

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  • Ben Tampadong

    heartwarming story for a chess lover like me. nice article!

  • mjp78

    me too

  • pepito gwaps

    Madalaw nga yan park na yan ng maiapply ko yong bagong technique ko sa chess…..To win a game one must have the right attitude and has keen observation of each piece. A good chess player is that he has the capability to win even his pieces are outnumbered.

  • Karabukov

    The Philippines is always a fighting force in most recent World Chess Olympiads. In the 2012 Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey, Team Pinoy were in contention for top three going to round 8 (out of 11) before China doused their giant-killer hopes. They did beat powerhouses Bulgaria and England along the way and tied Hungary a former world champion. The highest achievement so far was a tie for 7th place, with China, in the 1988 Chess Olympiad in Thessaloniki, Greece. Eugene Torre won the silver medal way back in 1974 in the Nice, France Olympiad. Wesley So, the country’s top grandmaster, barely out of his teens, and the youngest player ever to break the 2600 Elo rating (beating the record held by Carlsen the highest rated player in the world today), is currently number 74 in the FIDE world rankings and has a ways to go. This is one sports where Filipinos can truly excel with no height barrier, beating world champions (Torre has beaten Mikhail Tal and Anatoly Karpov previously) and even our first ever renowned master Rodolfo Tan Cardoso had a one game won against then U.S. champion Bobby Fischer when both were in their teens and made a splash as an unheralded non-entity in the 1958 Interzonal when he beat the world contender David Bronstein and knocked him out of contention. Yes, we can.

  • Don

    it’s too bad that most of our country’s funding for sports go to those that are impossible for us to win — like basketball, swimming, track and field, and volleyball.  These sports require height.  Yes, we do have tall players but they can’t run and they can’t jump and are too clumsy (marlou aquino, ej feihl, and Zandro Limpot).  Our fast players are too short.  why don’t we concentrate on sports where height is not a factor.  the best swimmers, sprinters, and tennis players are 6.3 – 6.6 in height. the average height of a recent women’s gold medal volleyball team was 6.2.  Let’s stick to chess, darts, boxing, taekwondo, table tennis, badminton, sepak takraw, martial arts, cycling, billiards, weight lifting, rowing, and gymnastics where lack of height is actually an advantage.   

    • observer1356

      if it can be considered as an olympic sport, you may add tenpin bowling to the examples.. Paeng Nepomuceno & Bong Coo are among the outstanding examples

  • Don

    Lagi naman talunan ang mga Pinoy sa basketball diba.   Bakit ba pinagkakagastusan iyan?Nanalo tayo sa jones cup pero mga team B lang ang kalaban natin, samantalang tayo best na natin yun.  pag dating ng Olympics, kalaban na ang mga team A, lampaso ang mga Pinoy!  Sa ASEAN nga, tayo na lang ang nagtitiyaga magpadala ng basketball team.  

    • CmdrAdobo

      better to have basketball. if there’s no basketball, what sport are we good?

      still we are very popular among asian to be a basketball powerhouse.

  • CmdrAdobo

    yes, we need park. kudos to people who are making this possible.

  • commontao

    Why don’t we promote this game in every barangay in the Phils. para di lang sa shabu at basketball ma- addict ang mga pinoy. 

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