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EUGENE TORRE, THE FIRST ASIA'S GRANDMASTER

The Rise of the Country's Treasure

The first Asian chess player who earned the status of Grandmaster in 1974 upon winning the silver medal in the Chess Olympiad in Nice, France. Another remarkable performance was in 1976, in a tournament held in Manila where he outplayed the then reigning World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov. This won by Eugene Torre has undoubtedly created a mark in the history of Philippine Chess and is an attestation that when dedication and hardwork are put into the game, one can break barriers.

Regarded as a living-legend in his chess-mad homeland, he was born on November 4, 1951 in the Philippines’ city of love, Iloilo City. Eugene learned the rudiments of sport at the age of five through his grandfather. He played the game with his brother and father during his childhood years. His father noticed the potential from young Eugene and got him listed at several tournaments. While strategies of winning were important in Chess and undoubtedly this was taught by his father, what were important according to Eugene was the hard work and attitude that goes with it.

Inspite of his engrossment with the sport, Eugene Torre had never forgotten that he was still a child who enjoyed simple things like other boys did. He remembered the time when he played a native game of “tumbang preso” with the kids in the neighborhood. However what made Eugene different from other boys was, if the typical boys room was fitted with posters of action heroes, Eugene’s was like an exhibit which showcased various medals, trophies and plaques not to mention the Chess pieces that could be found all over his room.

He attended secondary school at Ramon Magsaysay Cubao High School (RMCHS) and as a mathematics lover, went to Mapua and took up Commerce at first but later shifted to Business Administration. Unfortunately, a person can only be in one place at any one time, Eugene found it difficult to mix sport and academics. This was especially true when he needed to go overseas to join tournaments to represent the country. A decision he regretted, chose Chess over study, but Eugene moved on instead of relentlessly dwell into it. He only made it until the third year and became a full-time chess player.

Eugene Torre is a father to lone daughter Eloise Nicole with wife Marilyn, staying in his quiet and cold place of Baguio City, otherwise known as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”.

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Achievements and Chess Olympiads

Eugene Torre was the National Junior Chess champion at age 16 and dominated the Philippine chess scene for over three decades starting in 1970 at the age of 19 with the exception of years 1990 and 2000. He was regarded as the strongest chess player the Philippine has ever produced during the 80’s and 90’s.

Eugene Torre was a veteran of four decades of Chess Olympiads starting in 1970. On the 20th stint, he tied with Hungary’s top grandmaster Lajos Portisch for the distinction of the only players to have played for 20 Olympiads. In the 40th Olympiad held in Istanbul, Turkey Eugene had surpassed this and made again a history by becoming the only player to have played in the 21 Olympiads. He played board 1 out of these 17 Olympiads. 1974 was the year he won a bronze medal at Nice, France during the 21st World Chess Olympiad where he was awarded the Grandmaster status. Overall, he brought home a total of three individual Olympian bronze medals which were not easy to snap considering he played the top board and the quality of the players participated in the tournament, being the world’s best of the best. In the 1988 Thessaloniki Olympiad, Eugene led the Philippine team to position at 7th place. The climax of Eugene Torre’s chess career was on 1983 when he ranked 17th in the world. He was qualified to play in the quarterfinal round of the Candidates Matches, a tournament to decide the challengers to the reigning world champion. He was paired with a veteran Hungarian GM Zoltan Ribli in a first-to-win of 10 games in Alicante, Spain. The resulting score was 6-4 in favor of the Hungarian GM. This would have given the Philippines to advance into the final round of the Candidate’s Matches consisting of four challengers. Whoever emerges as the winner will face the reigning world champion who at that time was Anatoly Karpov. This is to date the highest level a Filipino has achieved in the field of Chess. Below are the excerpts from one of Eugene’s interviews,

“Lack of funds was the main reason. The government promised to help me, but the letter I was asked to send, I learned later, “hindi daw nakarating sa Malacanang” (i.e. “did not reach Malacanang”), so I was forced to leave for Spain on my own by selling chess books and some of my properties,”

“Although I failed, “hindi na rin naman masama ang narating ko” (i.e. in English translation, “what I achieved was actually not that bad ”). Being in the top eight in the world ranking is something to be proud of,”

Eugene Torre also participated in the early Asian Team Championships. The Philippine team had bagged three consecutive gold medals during the games held in 1977, 1979 and 1981 to silver in 1983 and snapped the gold again in 1986. During those years, he won four consecutive individual gold medals. At the Asian Team Championships held in Kuala Lumpur in 1993, he finished with a bronze medal for himself and his team.

He made waves in 1976 when he defeated Anatoly Karpov in a match held in Manila. It was recorded as one of Karpov’s few losses during his championship reign.

He reached Elo rating of 2520 by end of 1974. In 1985, it climbed up to 2602 but the highest he achieved was in 1986 when it was recorded as 2619.

From one of Eugene Torre’s books, it was described that whenever he wants to take a rest and relax, he would visit the land of his birth in La Paz, Iloilo where he would find the comfort in his home and enjoy its pristine beaches.

An anecdote about the unexpected popularity of Eugene happened during the 1998 Elista Olympiad. Eugene and fellow GM Joey Antonio went to the market to buy some beef. The beef seller asked in awed tones “ Are you grandmaster Torre of the Philippines?” Imagine in that far corner of the world, the vendor recognized Torre and the country where he came from.

Bobby Fischer’s Confidante

Eugene Torre was one of Bobby Fischer’s few best friends and confidantes. He acted as second during Bobby’s 1992 rematch with Boris Spassky in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

A story in 1996 was told that when Eugene Torre and Bobby Fischer boarded a taxi in Buenos Aires, while on their way to promote Fischer Random Chess, the cab driver immediately recognized Eugene Torre as a chess player. However, when both of them were about to get off the taxi, the driver, not knowing who the other guy was, asked Eugene: “Whatever happened to that crazy guy Fischer?”

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Life Plans and Present Engagements

He established the Eugene Torre Chess Foundation and the Eugene Torre Chess Center, which aim to discover and develop hidden talents from the Philippines' provinces and who may eventually emerge as world champion someday. Eugene emphasized that the Foundation and the Chess Centre will be working hand-in-hand to achieve its objectives.

Eugene Torre in one of his engagements,

“We will be assisting the NCFP in organizing tournaments in the countryside, hold clinics and seminars with FIDE (International Chess Federation) instructors as resource persons,”

“Besides producing a Filipino world champion, my other obsession really is to produce players whose exceptional talents in Chess could be applied in their own lives towards becoming productive assets to Philippine society,”

Currently, he is also one of the board directors of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP), the governing body for the sport in the country. He is tasked to take care of the welfare of the thousand chess players in the country and to discover new talents that would take his place some time in the future.

To date, the Federation has discovered and nurtured a young lad in the name of Wesley So who now actively competing with the world’s best and possessed a Super Grandmaster status.

Eugene Torre continues to play chess and is still active in different chess-related organizations.

“He says that in life, like in the game of chess, every move is crucial.”

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