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Alex's Letter from Manila Print E-mail
By Alexander Onischuk   
December 8, 2006

by GM Alexander Onischuk

The idea to go to the Philippines came to me very unexpectedly. A week before the tournament I was in Chicago visiting my friend Yury Shulman and I got a call from the FIDE vice president Florencio Campomanes. He discussed conditions with me and convinced me to play in the tournament.

The trip from Baltimore to Manila took more than 24 hours. First I flew to L.A. and then I took the direct 14 hour flight to Manila. I arrived at the Manila airport at 4:30 AM when I was met by a group of people. I was kind of surprised to see so many people and I got even more surprised when I learned that I'm the only person they are waiting for.

Two young ladies, Shelly and Monique, from the organizing committee took care of all the problems of the foreign GMs. We did not have so much free time, but when we had some, the main organizer Mr. Abalos and the chief arbiter Mr. Abundo were always available to show us the local attractions. It was very nice to spend some spare time with them. The tournament was played in a duty free area, which was unusually located a few miles from the International airport. There were always many spectators.

Chess is very popular and loved in the Philippines. Everyone in the country knows a name of the first Asian grandmaster Eugene Torre from the Phillipines. However, for the past five years this tournament was the first FIDE rated event. It explains a gap in a rating between local GMs and International masters. There are so many strong players with a rating around 2400 in the Philippines, but because they almost don't play in international tournaments it's very difficult for them to grow up in chess. They cannot increase their ratings just playing each other. The situation is changing now with the new president of the Philippine chess federation congressman Prospero Pichay. He is incredibly supportive of chess in the country.

The tournament was named for the President of the Philippines, Gloria Makagapal Aroyo. A day before the start of the tournament, I was told that she will attend the opening ceremony and because I have the first rating in the tournament she will play a game against me. I thought that she might just make one, random ceremonial move. I remembered Gorbachev's 1. g4... In fact, we played a short game and she turned out to be quite a good chess player.

The U.S. Champion plays the President of the Phillipines and the tournament namesake, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The tournament was quite strong. Six players had ELOs over 2600 and many hovered just below the 2600 mark, such as GM Varuzhan Akobian(U.S.A),Viktor Mikhalevsky (Israel) and Vladimir Belov (Russia).

Both American GMs had a very good start. After four rounds Varuzhan Akobian and I were leading the tournament with a perfect score.

An Unusual Combination

1.d4 Nc6?! 2.Nf3 d6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 e5 5.0–0 Be7 6.d5 Nb8 7.c4 0–0 8.Nc3 c6 9.dxc6 bxc6
9...Nxc6 10.Bg5 with a slight edge for White.
10.c5 d5 11.Nxe5 Bxc5 12.e4 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Ba6?!
14...Qd4 was probably the best choice. 15.Qxd4 Bxd4 16.Nf3 with a better endgame for white(16.Nxc6 Nxc6 17.Bxc6 Rb8=)
15.Re1 Bb4?

Position after 15....Bb4

This mistake allows a nice combination. After 15...Qxd1 16.Rxd1 Re8 I was going to play 17.Bf4 and if black plays 17...f6 (17...g5 18.Ng4! gxf4 19.Nf6+ Kf8 20.Nxe8 Kxe8 21.Rac1±) 18.Nd3 Bd4 19.Bf3
16.Qh5 g6 17.Nxg6 fxg6 18.Bxg6 Qd7 19.Re6!

Position after 19.Re6!

Black is lost. White is threatening to take on h7 and to play Rg6.
19...Kh8 20.Bxh7
20.Bxd3 Qxd3 21.Qg4+ Kf7 22.Re4 Na6 23.Qf5+ 1–0

After the 3rd round there was a free day. All the foreign players were invited by the mayor of Tagaytay City Abraham Tolentino to visit his town which is located approximately 40 miles from Manila. It was a great trip. We saw the gorgeous Taal Lake and an active Taal Volcano. Tagaytay is a great place to go and it is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to.

L.A. based Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian

The second half of the tournament was less successful for me and for Varuzhan. I made four draws missing some chances in my games with White and Varuzhan even lost two games. The last round became decisive. I was a half of point behind the Chinese GM Zhang Penxiang, but he played with black against another strong Chinese GM Zhang Zhong. I had the best tiebreaks and thought that winning the last game would clinch the tournament for me.

A rocky endgame: Dableo-Onischuk

In the following game against Ronald Dableo, a Philipino IM, I got an advantage in the middle game but my opponent defended very well. Finally he achieved drawish endgame but lack of experience did not let him to hold draw; he started to make mistakes and lost.


Almost any other move would be better. He places his rook in a very passive position.
1...a4 2.Rd8
A mature decision. Despite the loss of tempo, this move is the best

Position after 2...Ra2+?

Now it is my turn to make a mistake. At that moment I had about 3 minutes on my clock. I calculated the line that occurred in the game and concluded that it was winning for me. 2...Rb3 was a correct move 3.Ra8 a3–+
3.Kf1 Rc2 4.Ra8 Rc4 5.Ke2 Kd4 6.Kd2 Kc5

Position after 6...Kc5


7.f3! was the move we both missed. Now black cannot win 7...Kb4 8.Rb8+ Ka3 9.Rb5
7...Kb4 8.Rxe5 a3 9.Re8 a2 0–1

Chinese battle

After I won this game I learned that Zhang Pengxiang also won and became clear first with 7.5 points. He showed a great result and he deserved to win the tournament. Here is his game from the last round.

Zhang Zhong-Zhang Pengxiang


1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d3 c6 4.Nf3 d5 5.Bb3 Bd6 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.0–0 0–0 8.Re1 Bg4 9.h3 Bh5 10.Nbd2 Nd7 11.Ne4 Bc7 12.Bd2 Bb6 13.a3 Re8 14.Ba2 Nf8 15.Ng3 Bg6 16.Rb1

Position after 16.Rb1

I like such moves. Immediately b4 was not so good because of a5. 16.Ne5 also did not work 16...Qf6
16...Bc7 17.b4 a6 18.Qc1 Qd7 19.Nh4 Ne6 20.Nxg6 hxg6 21.Ne4 f5 22.Nc5 Nxc5 23.bxc5 Rab8 24.Qd1 Kh7 25.Qf3 Nf6 26.Bg5
26.Qg3! would give white some advantage
26...e4 27.dxe4

Position after 27.dxe4


27...Nxe4 seems to be a better move, but after 28.Rb4 black is in trouble. I'm sure Zhang Zhong saw this move during the game. The same idea came up in his game against Akopian in the Turino Olympiad.
28.Qe2 Qf5 29.Be3 Bf4 30.Bd4 Be5 31.c3 Rbd8 32.Red1 Re7 33.Bxe5 Rxd1+ 34.Qxd1 Rxe5 35.Qd4 e3 36.fxe3?
It was a good time to think about draw. After 36.Qh4+ white could still achieve it] 36...Re4

Position after 36....Re4

Now white is worse. His pawn structure is very bad. In addition black creates some attack on a king.
37.Qd6 Rxe3 38.Rf1 Qg5 39.Qd4 Re2 40.Rf2 Re4 41.Qd2 Qxc5 42.Bb1 Re3 43.Bd3 Ne4 44.Bxe4 Rxe4 45.Kh1 Qxa3 46.Rf7 Re7 47.Rf4 Qa1+ 48.Kh2 Qe1 49.Qd8 Qe5 50.g3 Qe2+ 0–1

This was a very creative game like most of the games played by Chinese players. Zhang Zhong was pushing and probably was slightly better, but at some point Zhang Pengxiang overtook the initiative and led the game to a win.

Varuzhan also won, finishing in fourth place with 6.5 and the best tiebreaks. His last round game was long and exciting.


Final Standings

1. GM Zhang Penxiang CHN 7.5
2. GM Alexander Onischuk USA 7
3. GM Viktor Mikhalevski ISR 7
4. GM Varuzhan Akobian USA 6.5
5. GM Ni Hua CHN 6.5
6. IM Wang Rui CHN 6.5

Future plans

On the next day all the winners and the chess officials were invited to the president's Gloria Makagapal palace. We spend about 20 minutes with her talking about chess. She knew quite a lot about local GMs and chess in the Philippines. She congratulated all of us and exprsesed full support for chess in the Philippines.

I'm very glad that I went to Manila. I was happy to see that chessplayers get so much respect there. After the tournament I spoke with the congressman Prospero Pichay. I was really impressed by the depth of his knowledge of chess and his concern for local players. He has huge plans for the future. In December and March the Philippine Chess Federation will arrange another two big international events, in October 2007 they are planning to organize the second president's cup. Next year they want to start the chess league. The congressman also told me about his idea to play matches against other countries and they want to invite the US team. One of his goals is to help young talented children develop their skills to become new Grandmasters. He believes that in 5 years there will be 10 new GMs in the Philippines. Can the USA also promise 10 new GMs in 5 years? Don't get me started…