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.