MANILA, Philippines – Any sports team doesn’t win on talent alone — stacked lineup or not.
It takes willingness and understanding of one’s place within the team.
It takes humility to accept the admonitions of others.
It takes an element of strategy.
And of course, a deep reservoir of belief.
That is the formula for any winning team, and that is why the Laguna Heroes are the first-ever champions of the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines after they dispatched the hard-fighting Camarines Soaring Eagles, 2-1, in Armageddon play.
A Tale of Two Grandmasters
Rogelio “Banjo” Barcenilla. John Paul Gomez.
Two of the Philippines’ best and brightest chess minds. Two Grandmasters. Two winners. So how does one play Board One and the other, Board Five?
Barcenilla occupied Board 1 with Gomez on Board 5; for homegrown players.
You would think that both GMs would occupy either the first two boards. But Board 5? That is like asking LeBron James to come off the bench (with all due respect to GM Joey Antonio, who is the LBJ of the Iloilo Kisela Knights).
“It is important for me that everyone knows their roles,”pointed out Gomez. “That we have a hierarchy.”
“When we had an opportunity to get AJ Literatus on the final day of putting the team lineup, we also thought about putting him on Board 2 because he is a Fide Master and a very good player.”
“Going down to Board 5 in the homegrown slot (Gomez is from Biñan, Laguna) gave us flexibility up and down the lineup,” added team owner and coach Dr. Alfred Paez. “It takes great humility for a GM to accept that and fulfill his role within the team. It’s a matter of match-ups too. This is chess after all.”
A stacked and loaded lineup
There’s that famous quote from Rudyard Kipling about the strength of the pack being the wolf (the GMs) and the strength of the wolf being the pack (the team).
Having two GMs in Laguna is like having a nuclear arsenal. But even if the two GMs win all their games, it will not be enough to get a team win because it is team play.
“I used to think that it is only in basketball where team play is important and not in chess,” admitted Gomez “But after this win, I have changed my mind.”
With Literatus, Woman National Master Karen Enriquez, and FM Efren Bagamasbad on Boards 2, 3 and 4, respectively, in between the two GMs, Laguna had a talented lineup.
Even their homegrown lads — Vince Medina, Kimuel Lorenzo and Arjie Bayangat — had their strengths. Medina’s specialty was blitz play. Something that Gomez readily admitted wasn’t his forte at first.
“All the games we play and by all our teammates are important,” succinctly put Literatus.
“When you draw or lose, part of the game just like winning,” chimed in Enriquez. “We have to do our part.”
Bagamasbad recalled where he struggled against San Juan’s International Master Ricky de Guzman who didn’t beat all season long.
Paez’ advice was, “Even a draw will be good for us.”
And Bagamasbad did get a draw that allowed for a draw that setup Armageddon play in Game 2 of the Northern Division Finals; one where the Heroes won, 3-0.
“We had faith in one another,” said Bagamasbad, who also pointed out to an earlier encounter with Camarines last March 3 where the Heroes played minus Enriquez who was indisposed. “There were only six of us but we won convincingly,” pointed out the senior player. “That gave us more confidence.”
A willingness to roll the dice
Part of the team’s strategy was to occasionally roll the dice on match-ups.
Lorenzo paid tribute to team owner Dr. Fred for his strategies and willingness to listen to the gut feel of his players.
“Our opponents would be confused because Doc Fred would shuffle my spot with Vince’s,” he said. “That helped a lot along with our preparation by researching our opponents on how they play through the years.”
Barcenilla himself offered to slide down to Board 3 for the final Armageddon match against Camarines. That meant pitting Gomez versus the Soaring Eagles’ wondrous GM, Mark Paragua while Barcenilla would go against Christian Mark Daluz.
It was GM Banjo who also suggested that they play white-black-white as he is an aggressive player while Literatus favors black).
The gambit nearly backfired when Gomez lost to Paragua. Barcenilla held his part of the bargain with a triumph of his own. Now it was all up to Literatus to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
“AJ was losing but he turned the tables on Ellan Asuela,” said Lorenzo. “He is a bluffer, and even if in a bind, he always finds ways.”
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