Sports is one of the affected fields due to the absence of face-to-face interactions, which gave rise to online tournaments like chess.

Players are still fighting to stay in the game nearly two years after the outbreak began.

Stephanie Jabagat, a 10-year-old chess player, went through this when she was trying to make a name for herself in the game. Arnel, her teacher father, introduced her to chess at a young age. Stephanie had a wonderful foundation when she was four years old, while her father was teaching her sister, Sophia.

Her family is supportive of her endeavors, and her father provides everything she needs for the online tournament. She recently won the first leg of the National Youth and School Online Chess Championships, representing Anilawan Elementary School.

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“Minsan pinapalaro-laro ko sila, nakikitaan ko siya ng parang level na ni ate niya na moves. Sabi ko parang may potential ito siya,” Arnel said.

Stephanie began her chess journey in first and second grade, when she joined the MIMAROPA Regional Athletics Association (MIMAROPARAA) meet.

When the pandemic broke out, she began competing in various online games. However, they had to contend with issues such as electricity and internet connection stability.

“Yong panalo ka na tapos tumabla pa. Kapag online ay nagba-brownout, nagre-reconnect, nawawalan ng signal. Iyong clock time, nauubusan. Hindi pa nagbagyo, April 2021 nagba-brownout tapos ginagamit na lang namin ay load para makalaro. Ang flashlight dapat ay naka-charge, ang cellphone dapat may load. Tapos ‘yong laptop kapag tornello dapat may charge, may battery,” Stephanie shared.

“Iyon ang mga dilemma sa amin kaya struggle talaga kami lalo kapag winning na siya, natataranta na. Kaya ako rin dapat naka-ready para hindi mag-alala ang bata,” her father Arnel narrated.

Stephanie then played in many national competitions, winning championships in the National Age Group Online Chess Championship – Visayas Leg, National Youth and School Online Chess Championship South Luzon Leg, and National Youth and Schools Chess Championship.

She has competed in Asian events, such as the Asian School Online Chess Championship – Philippine Team B, where she placed 28th out of 72 countries in the girls under 11 age category.

Another issue in online contests they had to face, according to her coach, Neal Garcia, is cheating. It’s not just happening in the Philippines; it’s happening all around the world.

He said players should have cameras pointing at them so that observers can see if they are playing alone.

“Iyon nga lang, sa online tournaments, ang daming kalaban. Number one, kailangan natin ito aminin, kumusta ang internet connection ng player na sasali? Kapag na-fail ka noon, kahit gaano ka kagaling, hindi na ‘yan malalaman ng kalaban mo kasi disconnected ka na. Number two, sadly, they still exist – mga mandaraya sa online,” Garcia said.

“Isa ‘yon sa nakakainis at nakakalungkot na pangyayari sa online. Meron pa rin mga hindi makapigil ng sarili. Anong effect non? Sa unang tingin, dinaya nila ‘yong kalaban nila pero kapag sinubukan mo mag-dig deeper, dinadaya nila ang sarili nila. Mananalo sila sa game na hindi naman nila skill ang ginamit nila,” he stressed.

Dreams in chess
Stephanie was recommended to Garcia by Jess Maberit, the local chess instructor, when the latter began offering free training sessions for interested players every Monday at his home.

During Sundays, he provides free online coaching to Legacy Chess Philippines players. He belongs to a number of federations, including the Philippine Professional Chess Training Association and the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, which help to connect resources and support.

Stephanie’s young age, according to Garcia, is an advantage because not all players her age have reached her level of comprehension of the game. He went on to say that female chess players have already demonstrated their abilities for a long time.

Arnel also noted that his daughter’s aptitude is a result of both training and raw talent.

He also added that he is assisting Stephanie in developing her character in preparation for whatever the game’s outcome may be.

“Pangarap ko rin ‘yon sa kanila na makasali man lang at maabot din nila, sana (ang Olympics),” he said.

Stephanie hopes to be a varsity player at one of the country’s prestigious universities and aspires to be one of her generation’s national masters.

She also offers some advise to her fellow aspirants who, despite the pandemic, continue to dream.

“Training lagi at huwag sumuko sa pangarap na makamit. Tanggapin kapag matalo at huwag magyabang,” she shared.

Future of chess in Palawan
As a Palaweño himself, Garcia is open to mentoring local chess players to thrive because he believes in their ability to build a name for themselves. Time management and a shift in perspective are two areas where they must improve, he said.

“Siguro unang kailangan tanggalin sa mga kababayan nating Palaweño ay huwag na mahiya. Nag-o-offer ka sa kanila na ‘tara practice tayo’. Iyong iba naririnig ko, iba nararamdaman ko sa ganoong mindset na ‘ayaw ko makipag-practice, nahihiya ako, mahina lang ako’ o kaya ‘hindi kasi ako masyadong marunong’. Teka lang, ang practice ay hindi naman inaalam kung sino mas malakas o magaling. Ito ay dahil gustong mag-improve ng mga sasali,” he said.

He is also willing to share his resources with his fellow coaches in Palawan, he added.

Garcia recalled that the local chess society had already made a name for itself, but that it had gradually faded over time. However, he is positive that it will come back as local players are active again.

Despite the emergence of online games, the appeal of chess must be conveyed to the younger generation since it combines psychology, logic, and mathematics.

“Dati na malakas ang chess ng Palawan. Ayon nga lang, over time, may mga unexpected na nangyari kung saan dahan-dahan na-dissolve ‘yong chess natin. Kasama na rin doon ang pagkawala ng mga tao na nagli-lead sa atin that time kagaya na lang ni national master Renato Seratubias at sir Willie Abalos, sayang lang,” he said.

“Hindi ko masasabing magiging madali ‘yan (comeback) pero hindi siya imposible,” he stressed.

As a long-time coach, Garcia taught young chess players to pursue their passion since they will soon meet the proper people who will provide them with possibilities to advance.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.