THE Philippines and Vietnam have the same budget for chess—5 million. The big difference is that the amount for the Philippines is in pesos, while for Vietnam, it’s in US dollars. Yuck!

Vietnam is the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia. As a result, sports, especially chess, gets a lot of attention from the government.

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Vietnam adopted the old Soviet model and offers a monthly allowance to children as young as four who excel in tournaments.

The result? Two of their brightest talents made waves in the last two major tournaments.

Le Quang Liem, only 19 and is ranked higher than Wesley So at No. 55 in the world, tied for first at the Moscow Open in February. He followed that up by snaring the Aeroflot Open, the strongest Open tournament of the year. That qualified him for the Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, an elite event.

Le finished solo second behind Ruslan Ponomariov. Vladimir Kramnik and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov tied for third. The other players were Peter Leko and Arkadi Naiditsch.

This was a category 20 tournament and Le’s showing was considered a fantastic achievement. He showed he is able to compete with the top players of the world and will soon be a strong contender to be world champion.

The other Vietnamese player on his way to the top is Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, 20. He tied for third at the same Aeroflot Open behind Le.

Just recently, Nguyen tied for first with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana in the top section of the Biel Chess Festival in Switzerland where our Wesley So placed fifth.

What is Vietnam’s formula?

“Chess clubs are spread throughout the political structure of provinces and cities,” said Casto Abundo, deputy president of the Asian Chess Federation. “Each club has its own budget at its disposal and concentrates on the development of the youth. They are now harvesting the fruits of their labor.”

The coach of Vietnam’s national chess team, Mikhail Vasyliev, a Ukrainian, said the Vietnamese government’s approach to chess works because “efforts are directed at the most promising players from a young age, rather than at those children whose parents have the money to pay for classes.”

Many of Vietnam’s best players are from poor families, Vasyliev said.

Children as young as four who do well in tournaments receive monthly allowances and free chess instruction.

“They get around $300 per month plus room and board and three or four times a year they can go abroad,” Vasyliev says, “(and that’s in a country where) $100 per month is considered a good salary.”

In April, the top four male and female winners of Vietnam’s national chess tournament took home a total of $13,500 in prizes.

“Nowhere in the world are there children who get these stipends.” chess player Huang Xuan Thanh Khiet said, “If the child is talented, all the conditions (for his improvement) are created. That’s how we make good players.”

In 2008, seven-year-old Tran Minh Thang became the world chess champion for children under eight and many more are coming.

For starters, how about giving an allowance to Rhenzi Kyle Sevillano? He won the 16 and Under tournament last weekend at SM with a score of 6.5/7 and he is only 11 yrs old! Give monthly allowances also to kiddie players Vic Glyssen Derotas, Jeremy Pepito and the talented Balbona siblings--Jessa Marie,Marq Gabriele, Felix Shaun ,John Francis and James Andrew.

Calling Richie Garcia of the Philippine Sports Commission!

How about it Mayor Michael Rama, who I know is a good chess player? If the city can give P4,000 to seniors and P10,000 to high school graduates, these kids deserve it too. They can give honor to the city and country.