The ongoing online chess tournament organized by the newly formed Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP) is more than just a sporting calendar event emerging out of the pandemic handicap.
Some 24 teams representing cities and provinces are competing for its inaugural title. Each team is formed around a slew of titled veteran players drafted NBA-style into the franchise organizations to play alongside homegrown woodpushers. They clash over the virtual chessboards under strict rules designed to enforce fairness and encourage honest play.
Most of the teams have been formed around the objective of attaining a formidable combined strength of each individual player, except interestingly for the Palawan team which went for branding. Aptly called The Palawan Queen’s Gambit, all of its players are women led by a crew of internationally rated strong players.
A significant takeaway in this sporting event is the push to professionalize Philippine chess as an athletic sport. Individual licenses have been issued to each player by the Games and Amusement Board (GAB). The organizers of PCAP has laid the groundwork to transform Philippine chess into an industry where individual talents can be grown and nurtured.
While pioneering, the PCAP initiative at professionalizing chess will sink or swim with all the factors attendant to professional sports. It is nevertheless a noteworthy undertaking that begs for support from outside the small Philippine chess community but more importantly from the government and the private sector. For one thing, it provides livelihood opportunities to many athletes that will encourage them to further develop their abilities.
Unlike spectator sports that have a wider commercial appeal, chess is constrained as an athletic game, appreciated only by those who play the game. This remains a challenge to the viability and long term success of the PCAP experiment, but not necessarily a hindrance that cannot be overcome.
The Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, the inspiration behind the Jorge Mitra-owned Palawan team, was critically acclaimed and became one of the enterprise giant’s successful movie production ventures. Such success only shows that chess can be embraced and accepted by a wider audience.
For whatever its worth, PCAP deserves a pat on the back for its brave attempt at infusing energy into an otherwise lackluster Philippine chess.