JUST for a sparkling warm-up or a bleak sign of what lies ahead?

Local woodpushers, who are now studying in Manila, narrowly missed a seat in the first two qualifying legs of the 2010 National Shell Youth Active chess championships.

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Right after Misamis Oriental native Richelieu "Jongjong" Salcedo III finished fourth in the kick-off leg of the nation-wide Shell chessfest for the National Capital Region (NCR), another local talent did the same, also settling at fourth place in the second leg concluded over the weekend in Tuguegarao province.

"Younger players are getting better and better nowadays and a bit change in format for the time control suits well their mode of play," said the 16-year-old Salgados who was upstaged by the much younger Vince Angelo Medina, the eventual junior division champion, in the fifth round.

Far Eastern University--with its regular senior varsity mainstays (Medina, Kevin Mirano, Mc Dominique Lagula and Salgados) perched up high for a top-4 finish among over 200 juniors--is hailed as the big winner in Tuguegarao. While 7-year-old Stephen Rome Pangilinan was labelled to be RP's next wonder boy in the footsteps of GM Wesley So after he played through undefeated (9 of 9) to top the 14-under kiddies division.

"Kung i-match ang mga kiddies sa juniors karon posible nga modaug pa ang mga bata," remarked national arbiter Lorenzo "Jun" Cuizon after learning the dramatic development.

Salgados is seeking to qualify for the sixth-time around in the national finals of the Shell tourney that made him the national kiddies champion in 2007 and the NCR leg ruler in 2009.

More desperately yearning for a place in the prestigious Shell event is the 18-year-old Salcedo who emerged gold medalist in blitz competition of this year's ASEAN Youth being held in the country at the Subic Bay in Olongapo City.

While Salcedo is undoubtedly one of the fastest juniors in the country today as manifested by his joint first place in the recent Angping Cup rapid tourney, the ironic twist of fate apparently played a joke on him.

Since his kiddie years, Salcedo has yet to hurdle any of the Shell tourney's regional qualifiers.

"Ambot ba na malas man gyod kaayo si Jongjong pag Shell chess na. But with still several legs left for Southern Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, I'm hoping and praying na ma-break na gyod n'ya kana nga jinx karong tuiga," said the elder Richelieu Salcedo Sr., known through his nickname "Totong" to most friends in the local chess community.

Next up to watch is the Batangas leg (July 17-18) followed by the Naga leg in Bicol region on July 31 to Aug.1.

Shell chess regional eliminations will then swing off to the Visayas strongholds on Aug. 14-15 for Iloilo and Aug. 28-29 for Cebu City.

After some years' break, Shell chess will go back to Cagayan de Oro on Sept. 11-12 at the City Tourism Hall before its last and final stop in Davao City on Sept. 25-26.

It will culminate with the Grand Finals on Oct. 23-24 at SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City. (LLS with MB reports)