WFM Shania Mae Mendoza poses prior to her Saturday game (Rapid Chess) versus GM Rogelio "Joey" Antonio, Jr. (Photo by Malou Mendoza Gabriel)

Grandmaster Rogelio “Joey” Antonio blundered a sharp middle game position to eventually bow to Woman FIDE Master Shaina Mae Mendoza, the top player of the all-female Palawan Queen’s Gambit, in the opening round of the inaugural tournament of the newly formed Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP) over the weekend.

The tension-filled game served as a sore footnote to the Iloilo Kisela Knights’ otherwise overwhelming 15-6 triumph over the novelty Palawan squad. But it also underscored the grit and determination of the country’s first all-women professional chess team.

“Kinakabahan ako actually sa game namin ni GM Joey. Pero sabi nga ni Coach Susan (Neri) and WIM Catherine Secopito sa akin, relax lang, no pressure kasi nothing to lose kami sa game,” Mendoza told Palawan News.

Mendoza, the 2nd highest rated female player in the country, with a current FIDE rating of 2158, was deep into time trouble in the Rapid game format (15 minutes to finish), after parrying Antonio’s queenside attack when she decided to bite the bullet and forced an exchange sacrifice to create her own offensive on the Filipino GM’s weakened back rank.

“Sa critical position po namin sa move 37. Rxe7- Kc6. Instead of Kc6 po dapat Kc8 lang po dapat ang tira ni GM Joey then lamang na sya at quality up dapat. Pero iniisip ko that time, draw is ok na po for me. Rxe7 ang last hope ko, time pressure na po ako sa move 34, with 2:30 mins na lang ako,” Mendoza stated while analyzing the game for Palawan News.

Mendoza’s win further raised the profile of the Palawan Queen’s Gambit, a celebrity team of sorts in a PBA-style tournament format that gathers together the country’s strongest players in teams representing cities and provinces.

“When a woman stuns a strong male chessplayer, it is always big news. Shania Mae Mendoza’s conquest of many-time national champion Joey Antonio jolted the first round of the pioneering PCAP tournament,” Palawan News’ guest chess analyst Gambe Agoncillo said.

Agoncillo noted that while Antonio played “far from top form”, Mendoza rose to the occasion to add another grandmaster to her trophy.

“She had beaten Asia’s first woman world championship candidate Liu Shilan of China and Janelle Mae Frayna in a very complicated game in the 2019 nationals,” Agoncillo said.

The Palawan Queen’s Gambit, a franchise inspired by the acclaimed Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, will face Lapu Lapu City on Wednesday’s in the continuation of the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) sanctioned chess tournament.

“Our advocacy for women empowerment in chess is one thing that motivates us to play our very best and to win in this tournament. Sa team po namin, walang pressure po at lagi naming iniisip na gawin ang best at bigyan sila ng magandang laban,” Mendoza said.

The Palawan team, formed by entrepreneur Jorge Mitra, is composed of Shania Mae Mendoza, Marie Antoinette San Diego, Mikee Charlene Suede, Catherine Sacopito, Carmelita Abanes, Marife dela Torre and Yanika Eli Seratubias, and coached by Susan Neri.

Following is Gambe Agoncillo’s analysis of the game between Mendoza, playing white, and Antonio with black pieces.

Mendoza-Antonio, Rapid, Caro-kann: 1. e4 c6 (This has been Antonio’s pet defense for years and he has beaten many strong players with it. Mendoza chooses a less-played sideline) 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 Nf6 6. d3 e6 7. Bd2 Qb6 8.0-0-0 Nbd7 9. Qg3 a5 10. f4 a4 11. a3 g6 12. e5 Ng8 13. d4 h5 14. Bd3 Nh6 15. Qf2 c5 16. Be3 c4 17. Be2 Nf5 18. g4 Nxe3 19. Qxe3 Qa5 20. Rdf1 0-0-0 (A closed, maneuvering battle has ensued. Both sides castled queenside but practice shows Black has practical chances as he can pry open the b-file and double rooks. Antonio does this. Mendoza counters by opening the f-file) 21. Kb1 b5 22. f5 gxf5 23. gxf5 b4 24. axb4 Bxb4 25.Na2 Be7 26. fxe6 fxe6 27. Rf7 Rde8 28. Rhf1 Qb6 29. Ka1 Nb8 30. c3 Nc6 31. Bd1 Qb5 (31…a3 only looks better as after 32. Qc1 ab2 ch 33. Qb2 Qa6 34 Qc2 Kd7 35 Qa4 leads to exchanges. Antonio chooses to complicate the game, no doubt with an eye on Mendoza’s clock) 32. Qc1 Kd7 33. Qc2 Rb8 34. R1f2 (Antonio’s chances to pressure Mendoza’s q-side increases. Mendoza has no direct attack yet. 34…Ra8 is better as the rooks perch on Mendoza’s king after the other rook goes to b8. Looming too is a3. 32.. Rhg8 appears to waste time)32… Rhg8 35. R2f1 Rb7 36. Nb4 (Now action heats up. 36 Bxh5 Rgb8 37 Nxb4 Nxb4 38. Rxe7 ch Kd8 and the position is even but it taxes the 10-year-old engine being used here. The position has plenty of play, grist to Mendoza’s mill but she is pressed for time. She chose a brave approach, playing 37. Rxe7 immediately and sharpening the battle. Black’s knight attacks the White queen but White counters with an exchange sac. A gutsy decision).

37. Rxe7+ Kc6? (This loses immediately. The lines after 37. Kd8 is complex. White is quality down but Black’s king is exposed.

A sample line: 37.. Kd8 38 Qh7 Nc2 39. Qxc2 Rxe7 40. Qf2 Qa5 If Black plays 37.. Kc8 38. Qh7 Nc2 ch 39. Qxc2 Rxe7 40 Bxh5 Ra7 41 Bf7 a3 42. Bxe6 ch. As Black had more time, he could have played on and hope for time-pressed White to crack. Now Mendoza finishes off the game even if she missed mate in three on move 46). 38. Rxe6+ Kc7 39. Qh7+ Kb8 40. Qxg8 Ka7 41. cxb4 Qxb4 42. Ra6+ Kxa6 43. Qa8+ Kb6 44 Rf6+ Kc7 45. Rf7+ Kc6 46. Qxb7 resigns.