Photo from Neal Garcia

The Palawan and Puerto Princesa Chess Team will be represented by three athletes in 2023 Palarong Pambansa including the youngest of the group, the nine-year-old Carmelo “Melo” Yanong of San Vicente.

Melo, the newest among the trainees of Coach Neal Garcia, has shown great potential. He is part of the Palawan delegate for the elementary boy’s category.

Garcia first met Melo in 2022 and had a continuous mentorship with him through consistent practice starting the first week of June 2023. At the age of nine, he has shown the potential of being a young master which Melo also dreams to achieve in the future.

“I’d go as far as to say that he has the potential to become a young master! Solid ang memory nya. Akala mo lang innocent young boy na tamang ngiti lang sa discussion, pero kaya nya ulitin at i-apply halos agad ‘yong mga katuturo ko lang,” Garcia said.

Photo from Neal Garcia

Melo learned chess through his father at the age of five. From then on, he played also with his brother and other relatives. As a coach, Garcia is reminded of his younger self through Melo.

Before his game in Palarong Pambansa, Melo already won first place in an open-division tournament in San Vicente. Melo’s father, Archie Yanong, did not expect how far his son has reached in playing chess.

“Sa amin laro ka lang, kung anong marating mo, okay lang. Kahit kami ay nagulat din. Support lang kami sa kaniya kung hanggang saan ang aabutin niya,” he said.

Melo’s father will join his son on July 30 in Marikina City where the Palarong Pambansa is hosted from July 29 to August 5. Melo also hopes to bring home the gold during his first Palarong Pambansa.

“Ito yong tinuro sa akin noong five ako ni papa. Gusto ko na makakuha (sa Palarong Pambansa) ng gold,” Melo said.

Jabagat sisters

Garcia spares his free time to coach athletes from teams of Puerto Princesa and Palawan. Aside from Melo, other athletes to join are the Jabagat sisters, Stephanie and Sophia, who will both compete for the first time in Palarong Pambansa to represent Puerto Princesa.

Out of eight slots in the MIMAROPA region, Palawan and Puerto Princesa secured the three for the Palarong Pambansa, Garcia said.

The two have already competed in a number of tournaments under the mentorship of various coaches, including Garcia and Mark Ruzzel Manahan.

Sophia will compete in the high school girl’s category, while her sister, Stephanie, will represent for elementary girl’s category.

“Ang reminders po nila ay gamitin ang oras, then if walang maisip, inom lang ng tubig,” Sophia said.

She is positive that the game will also give additional experience to both of them as they move forward in their career in chess.

Strength of the local chess community

Even if no one can ensure winning in the Palarong Pambansa, Garcia believes that the athletes of Team Palawan and Puerto Princesa both “have heart which can celebrate wins with honor and capacity to accept losses with dignity.”

Garcia observed that being active in the chess community in Palawan will produce more competitive players. Chess clubs in Southern Palawan like in Narra and Brooke’s Point, as well as in San Vicente are all active in training their players.

Even the clubs in the city like Tandikan Chess Club and Sta. Monica Chess Club both have new players. It will result in a more challenging selection of players in next year’s city and provincial meet levels.

“Larger number of stronger participants are coming. Kahit yung mga napili this year ay di pwede kumampante,” Garcia said.

He is also offering free training for interested chess players or aspirants at the waiting shed outside Palawan State University main every Monday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. On Thursday, he is mentoring at Sta. Monica Chess Club from 2:00 pm to around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m.

It is Garcia’s way to pay forward after earning his skills through the support of his mentors.