CROWD-darling Johnnel Balquin rose from the grave to emerge champion in the Misamis Oriental Chess Cup 2010 concluded Tuesday at the Capitol ground here.
Showing no sign of discouragement after his 3rd round defeat to bitter rival Jaime Joshua Frias II, the "never-say-die" Balquin racked up six-straight wins, including slambang finishes against Fide Master Christopher Castellano and National Master Rustum Tolentino, to pocket the P20,000 top prize plus trophy.
Richelieu "Jongjong" Salcedo III, 18, who just received P30,000 cash incentive from Governor Oscar S. Moreno for winning the blitz event in this year's ASEAN age-group, downed John Vincent Cayaba to secure solo second worth P10,000.
Third to 5th placers were FM Victor Lluch of Iligan, Tolentino and Joseph Maestrado Jr. They got P7,000, P5,000 and P3,000 respectively. While the rest of the top-10 winners (Jason Salubre of Davao, Lyndon Lumancas, Fami Fazon of Surigao, Castellano and Cayaba) went home with the consolation prizes of P1,000 apiece.
Salubre later won the blitz competition, serving as special sidelight to cap the three-day chessfest organized by Capitol Chess Club president Memen Moreno alongside National Arbiter Doming Oga and National Master Roger Verganio.
"Balquin is such a rare breed of sports entertainer. Kadaghan na mahitabo nga apiki iyang sitwasyon apan maka-recover gihapon og mo-champion pa. Rising from the grave is a thing he's most expert at," observed National Master Roly Tan.
Balquin's last-round conquest of the top-seeded Tolentino delighted NM Tan and the rest of spectators who watched the thrilling finale in a throng like those in a cockfight derby.
Having the advantage of playing with the white, Tolentino opened with e4 and the combative Balquin countered with c5 to turn the most important match of the day into a wild and wooly Sicilian Paulsen variation encounter.
Known for his rich theoretical knowledge, Tolentino quickly gained advantage in the opening which paved the way for the former MOGCHS standout to sacrifice his white Bishop to get a strong attack.
An inferior Be4 move by Balquin gave Tolentino a chance to make another Rook sacrifice that could set up for a mating net.
"Maglisod na'g eskapo si Balquin kay King at the center unya naka-occupy ang mga Rooks ug Queen ni Tumtum sa open files," comments like this could be heard around.
At that juncture, however, after some desperate maneuvers by Balquin, the now "fire-on-board" Tolentino made an inaccurate Qg5 thrust. A slight miscue, with still 15 minutes left on his clock that allowed Balquin's pieces in the back row to regroup.
From there on, momentum swung to the black side and death for the white side.
"Oh what a grave error. Bh6 lang unta ma-zugzwang na siya unya daghan akong pawns," later said Tolentino of his first loss to Balquin in at least three board meetings.
The appreciative crowd greeted Balquin at the end with a thunderous applause.
"Kuyaw gyod si Balquin kay dili master pero mopilde sa mga titled players. He deserves another chance to work for MisOr," one Capitol employee was overheard as saying.
His lone conqueror cum perennial tormentor could only shower Balquin with praises.
"I know him as a great player mao nga proud sab ko nga nakapilde sa iya. With or without title, it's difficult to beat a player of Balquin's caliber," acknowledged Frias, the youthful chairman of brgy. 23 who loves chess more than politics.