WITH the country's top grandmasters barely holding on for a decent finish, youthful compatriot International Master Jan Emmanuel Garcia took the cudgel in defending Filipino pride against foreign rivals in one of the prestigious online chess tourneys initiated recently in Mindanao.

Held via lichess.org, the Fide Arena International Master (AIM) Rey Urbiztondo Thanksgiving and Anniversary Open Online Chess Tournament saw IM Garcia breaking through from a tight race with successive victories over GM Javohir Sindarov of Uzbekistan and R_Nuttalchess en route to pocketing the P5,000 top purse of the one-day chess blitz challenge bankrolled by top Metrobank executive Rey Urbiztondo.

IM Garcia, who ruled the demonstration online chess event of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Manila, also scored crucial win opposite FM AJ Literatus of Davao City and sealed the triumph with three consecutive drawls against Chinlim, IM Lucliasco and the "mystery man" Aicarte-Aiparte.

A former stalwart of Ateneo de Manila University, Garcia produced 50 points in 41 matches for the title. But his feat was almost overshadowed by the controversial "Aicarte-Aiparte" contestant who shocked the top-seeded Filipino GM Mark Paragua right in the opening round only to close his account later after victimizing some other highly-rated foes in the field.

"One participant who registered by the name (Aicarte-Aiparte) upset GM Paragua and many other strong players. But the fact that he closed his account after the tournament when he's supposed to be among the prize winners is really quite a puzzle. Some of us were now tempted to think that he'd been cheating with the possible use of an engine during the tournament," Urbiztondo told SunStar Cagayan de Oro.

Dubbed as the Philippines' two-headed monster in online chess, the pair of GMs Paragua and Joey Antonio settled for fourth and fifth places, respectively, behind eventual champion Garcia and the second-running Argentinian IM Lucas Liasvovich and third-performing Russian IM Alexander Ulanov.

Liascovich, who made 45 points in 39 games, received P4,000, while Ulanov, who also tallied 45 points, got P3,000. Paragua and Antonio were given P2,000 and P1,000 each in the tough event that drew a total of 275 entries around the world.

The multi-titled Antonio later posted on his FB wall that he used to engage in commercial chess bettings (harang) as his only other means for survival, but relying on chess engine to enjoy a clear advantage is a different thing.

Completing the top 15 performers were International Physically Disabled Chess Association online world champion Fide Master (FM) Sander Severino (sixth), GM Vugar Rasulov of Azerbaijan (seventh), Uzbekistan's IM Abdimalik Abdisalimov (eighth), GM Jahovir Sindarov of Uzbekistan (ninth) and GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov (10th), Filipino national master (NM) Merben Roque (11th), GM Shamsiddin Vokhidov of Uzbekistan (12th), Fide master (FM) Narquinden Reyes (13th), Mahdi Olami Orimi of Iran (14th) and GM Nguyen Van Huy of Vietnam (15th).

Cited for special category prizes were the top Mindanaoan players FM Austin Jacob Literatus of Davao City, FM Elect Ronald Canino of Cagayan de Oro and NM lawyer Bob Jones Liwagon; top ladies Vic Glysen Derotas, Adelaide Lim and Mary Segarra; top juniors IM Daniel Quizon, Chester Neil Reyes and Juncin Estrella; top kiddies Ruelle Canino, Ricdaniel Gorostiaga and Gladimir Romero; top seniors IM Angelo Young, IM Barlo Nadera and Tagum City's NM Jonathan Tan; and top PWDs AGM Henry Roger Lopez, NM Jasper Rom and Felix Aguilera.

"The Urbiztondo Cup was a huge success. It deserves a follow up as a service to the community," said event facilitator AGM Henry Lopez.