Filipino chess champ laments lack of support from Philippine government
He is the lone delegate from the Philippines
Visiting Filipino Grandmaster (GM)-elect Haridas Pascua is not just aiming to achieve a full-fledged GM status at the inaugural Sharjah Masters International Chess Championship, he also wants to bring to the fore the issues hounding Filipino chess players like him.
Pascua told Khaleej Times he is the lone delegate from the Philippines in the tournament, where 250 chess players - including 70 GMs - from around the world are participating, because his government "does not provide enough financial support."
"The (Philippine) government can only provide limited financial support. For a chess player like me, I am forced to spend from my own pocket to join international tournaments to improve by Elo ratings," Pascua said.
Elo rating system is a method for calculating the relative skill of a chess in competitor-versus-competitor games sanctioned by FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation). Currently, Pascua has 2440 Elo rating with a title of GM-elect.
To become a GM, the highest title a chess player can attain, Pascua has to accumulate at least 2500 Elo points. He is also aiming to take a piece of the total prize worth $60,000 (Dh220,000), where the champion will go home with $15,000 (Dh55,000).
Aside from the Sharjah tournament happening at the Sharjah Chess and Culture Club until March 31, he will also participate at the 19th Dubai Open Chess Tournament next month.
Pascua first learned how to move the chess pieces from his father, Gilbert, at the age of five. With his father as his coach, Pascua first joined a chess tournament at the age of six. When he was eight, he participated in his first international tournament in Philadelphia, USA, where he finished third in the unrated open category and beat opponents five times his senior.
He attained a 2100 Elo rating at age 14 and played at international tournaments intermittently because he was balancing his academic workload (he has a degree in Information Technology, major in Multimedia) with his chess life, and also due to limited funds, he said.
Last year, he achieved a GM-elect status at an international tournament in Abu Dhabi. And if he is successful in the back-to-back tournaments in Sharjah and Dubai, he will become the Philippines' 17th GM.
Pascua, however, lamented the fact that his country, despite producing Asia's first GM (Eugene Torre), has been lagging behind other countries such as India and China in producing internationally-recognised players.
"We have so many talented players but opportunities are limited for us to reach our full potential," Pascua said.
Case in point, he said, is his compatriot, Wesley So, who is currently ranked as the world's number 2 strongest chess player, after Norway's Magnus Carlsen. "So has been forced to play for the the US chess federation in the past two years due to lack of active support from the Philippine government," Pascua underlined.
"Good thing for So, he is still a Filipino citizen and every time he plays on the board, he never forgets his roots by wearing the Filipino national costume," he said.
Pascua added he is thankful for the support of Filipino expats in the UAE, particularly the members of the Filipino Chess Players League (FCPL) and a company called Travelwings.com for providing logistical support to his campaign.
Meanwhile, four UAE-based Filipino players, who are members of the FCPL, are also participating at the Sharjah chess tournament.