“The place of chess in the society is closely related to the attitude of young people towards our game.” – Boris Spassky
NEW YORK CITY – An avid reader of my blogs and other news websites from Manila in the Philippines once asked this writer, “Where is that mansion? What kind of mansion?”
She was referring to the “mansion” mentioned in a series of chess articles I wrote early this year about a place on Britton Street in the Queens’ Elmhurst neighborhood here.
In the mind of any reader, the word mansion conjures a large dwelling house derived from the Latin word manio or “dwelling” through Old French, an abstract noun derived from the verb manere “to dwell”.
The English word “manse” originally defined a property large enough for the parish priest to maintain himself, but a mansion is no longer self-sustaining in this way.
The mansion in our subject matter here is neither a large dwelling nor a Roman medieval villa, or a haunted house frequented by ghosts and dead spirits like in Hollywood movies.
It is a modest three-storey apartment, its basement the mecca where dreams are – and still – being made; where talent is abundantly brimming; where brilliancy is executed with head-turning incredulity; and where comradeship is forged and strengthened over bowls and plates of native pulutan (appetizers like shark and tuna meats, spaghetti, adobo, Chinese pancit taken with beer or fruit juice) amid card games and friendly chess matches.
Mansion’s main conclave is the 30-square meter wide wi fi-powered basement frequented by a coterie of Filipino chess kibitzers and serious players, considered as the strongest in New York and the East Coast, if not the best in the entire United States.
Its amenities include a kitchen, dining table and chairs, study/playing area with a large TV set, freezer, toilet room, and four collapsible beds.
“We are open (only to invited guests and chess players) every Thursday and Saturday evening,” enthuses Rainier Labay, Mansion’s de facto chief and official chef.
The place has been a regular venue of “underground” clashes by Filipino non-masters, national masters, FIDE masters, grand masters, “has been-masters” and “also-masters.”
Non-Filipino hustlers are welcome to participate, Labay confirms.
When matches romp off, the main door isn’t locked so that those who come late can sneak in without interrupting the players’ concentration.
Games can be accessed “live” from Labay’s Facebook account so that players still in workplaces and unable to participate can monitor and join the heckling in the running commentary.
Meanwhile, the July 22 blitz showdown, or a chess match with a fixed time (usually three minutes per game), was ruled by Grandmaster Mark Paragua (Fide 2520) with seven points.
He was followed jointly by Labay, a former coach of the De La Salle University in Manila and the only player to convincingly whip Paragua in the first match, and Fide Master William Aramil with four points each.
Other top finishers were Fide Master Rico Salimbagat, Philippine National Master Mario Rebano, Albert Riviera, Cesar Apalla, and Gerson Caballero.
Aramil, 2004 American Collegiate Championship winner and a regular New York visitor, came all the way from Chicago to join the Mansion chessfest.
“Gusto ni Rico (Salimbagat) mag invite ng ibang masters galing sa ibang states para magkaroon ng challenge ang tournament at mag improve and upgrade ang skills namin lahat (Rico Salimbagat wants to invite masters from other states to join us in the tournament from time to time so we can upgrade and improve our kills),” sighs Rebano, who is based in New Jersey.
Some of the strong players who missed the recent tournament but are regular habitues of the mansion were: Anthony Gallon, Gilbert Gonzales, Leo Buencocillo, Vincent Umayan, Bert Labuac, Jan Vincent Paragua, Mike Adarlo, Gerry Gamaro, and Manuel Jurado.
GM Oliver Barbosa and 2017 World Open Under-2200 champion Ramon Manon-og were absent.
Before mansion became their official chess hub, Pinoy players gathered every Monday evening for the “Ilonggo Night” at the residence of Elmhurst Chess Club founder and godfather Camelo “Jun” Galinea on Elmhurst Street.
Salimbagat, a highest rated player like Labay, also occasionally hosts the gathering of Pinoy woodpushers in his residence across the park.
When they don’t play via individual knockout system, they tangle as team against team: “Britton boys versus Hampton boys” or “Tagalogs versus Ilonggos.”
The former is composed of players who live in the mansion: Salimbagat, Labay, Labuac, Caballero, Riviera, Adarlo; the latter is composed of players who live on neighboring Hampton Street composed of Rebano, Gallon, Apalla, Umayan, Gonzales, Buencocillo.
The spirit of professionalism, brotherhood, and sportsmanship is always best exhibited and further enhanced by their active participation, cooperation and discipline like phalanx which became Alexander’s anvil when he conquered Darius III in the Battles of Issus and Gaugamela.
If the World Chess Olympiad is held in the United States and the Philippines is hard-pressed to send a team, the talented Elmhurst boys can always fill in the blanks; and possibly give some of the world chess superpowers like USA, Russia, China, Germany, and Ukraine a run for their money.
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