LOCAL chess heroes Johnnel Balquin and Lennon Hart Salgados regaled the hometown fans as they were able to deliver in Mindanao's biggest chess event this year that assembled the country's finest pawnpushers at the Limketkai Mall, Cagayan de Oro City on June 28-30.
The last men standing for Cagayan de Oro's cause entering the last two rounds of the 11-round 2nd Robert Tan Memorial Cup individual rapid chess event, the 41-year-old Balquin and his former pupil Salgados, 25, unleashed their might against highly-rated master opponents to make the money circle.
After defeating FIDE Master Nelson Mariano III, the City Hall chess instructor Balquin experienced rough sailing with black in the final round against youthful International Master Jan Emmanuel Garcia of Manila who won the tactical combat in mid-game intricacy with a whole piece advantage.
But it did not dampen Balquin's spirit as he continued to fight.
Unable to find the winning line under time pressure, Garcia countered Balquin's own pawn-storming with a light Bishop sacrifice which proved to be his undoing.
In the nick of time, Balquin survived with a slambang victory en route to nailing the third prize honor worth P10,000 in a tie with fellow 9-pointer Joel Pimentel of Bacolod City.
"Dili pud siya sa draw maong na upset pa (He won't just settle for a draw)," Balquin later said of IM Garcia.
Besting International Master Nouri Hamed and National Master Edsel Montoya in succession, the Air Force man Salgados waylaid Grandmaster-elect, IM Ronald Dableo in the penultimate 10th round via positional battle with white.
Against frontrunning Grandmaster Rogelio "Joey" Antonio Jr. in the final round, the black-wielding Salgados could not just sustain his big comeback from early round's debacle to fellow non masters Jeriel Manlimbana of Malaybalay City and Venancio Loyola of Cebu City with another victory.
The rejuvenated Salgados tried to complicate matters, but the many-time Philippine champion Antonio won't take the bait as he simplified the pieces to set the tone for an easy draw.
"I give him a fight for a possible crack in the top-3, but GM Joey is just too smart not to take the risk," Salgados said of the 57-year-old "living legend" in Philippine chess.
Salgados, who finished high school at Corpus Christi School, Cagayan de Oro before his college varsity years with Far Eastern University, shared fifth to 7th spots with Ellan Asuela and FM Narquingden Reyes at 8.5 points out of 200-plus participants from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
Antonio actually ended up tied for first with GM Darwin Laylo at 9.5 points apiece but had the superior tiebreak results, 83-76, to secure the championship trophy.
The two, however, equally divided among themselves the combined P50,000 cash prizes for first and second places.
"Ewan ko kung bakit naglalaro pa ako hanggang ngayon. The field is 30 years younger than me hanggang 9 rounds lang talaga ang kaya kung laruin," later said Antonio, who once represented the Philippines in the World Cup a decade ago.
Completing the top-15 winners are: GM Joey Antonio and GM Darwin Laylo, 9.5 pts; Johnnel Balquin and IM Joel Pimentel, 9 pts; Ellan Asuela, Lennon Hart Salgados and FM Narquingden Reyes, 8.5 pts; Sherwin Tiu, IM Jan Emmanuel Garcia, NM Edsel Montoya, IM Ronald Dableo, IM Nouri Hamed, FM Nelson Mariano III, Eduardo Tare II and Cyril Ortega, at 8 pts each.
Already, National Master Rustum Tolentino of the organizing Masters Class Chess School said National Master Roly Tan of the sponsoring Goldcrest Marketing Corporation had bigger plans for next year's episode.
"We started last year, but the second year was the big one kay nidako ang prizes ni-participate gyod ang mga top GMs and IMs sa Philippines. In 2010, everyone can expect nga mas bongga pa gyod atong tournament in memory of pards Roly's older brother Robert Tan who was also very supportive to local chess development when he was still alive," Tolentino told SunStar Cagayan de Oro.
The two-day Memorial Cup had a guaranteed P420,000 in total cash prizes with the team champion after the individual event out to receive the lion's share of P100,000 plus trophy. (Lynde L. Salgados)