MANILA, Philippines — They may be behind bars, but they’re making waves in the rarefied world of chess.
Five inmates of the General Santos City Jail (Male Dormitory) in South Cotabato are looking to replicate the Philippines’ gold-medal feat in the Olympics through weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, having advanced to the championship stage of the First Intercontinental Online Chess Championship on Thursday.
As this was being written, the Philippine team was engaging in a round-robin tournament on the chess.com website with players from 11 other countries that had qualified for the finals.
Each final team shall consist of four players, with an unlimited number of substitutions.
The Philippine team members are Borres, 34 years old; Palos, 35; Michael, 36; and Alimar and Nilo, both 41. Competition rules do not allow the disclosure of their full names, according to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology ( BJMP).
The games were livestreamed on Chess TV and the official YouTube channel of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), which said “special certificates” would be awarded to the members of the winning team.
Top 2 spots
The Philippine team and that from Mongolia secured the top two spots after defeating participants from the United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Australia, and Kyrgyzstan during the eliminations on Wednesday, the tournament’s first day and the International Day of Education in Prisons.
A total of 42 teams representing 31 countries competed in the two-day Intercontinental Online Chess Tournament for Prisoners, which was organized by the FIDE as part of its “Chess for Freedom” program launched in May 2020.
The program is aimed at introducing chess as a tool for education and social inclusion in prisons of different countries and is carried out under the patronage of Russian grandmaster and former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov.
“We find this initiative very important [as] it allows FIDE to extend its impact behind the borders of the purely chess world,” FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich said in a statement.
“Chess provides a route for incarcerated people into education; they find positive use of their leisure time and learn skills that help to turn their lives around,” Dvorkovich said.
“Playing chess teaches them how to improve their thinking and make better life decisions,” he said.
The Philippine chess team was able to enter the international competition through the efforts of Jail Officer Cedrix Cabangal, who also serves as team coach.
A chess enthusiast, Cabangal said he was constantly updated with the online tournaments of FIDE.
“When I saw a post about Chess For Freedom, and they would be hosting a tournament for PDLs (persons deprived of liberty), I immediately signed up,” he said.
After FIDE’s confirmation of the registration on August 28, Cabangal organized a chess tournament for the inmates of the General Santos City Jail.
Out of 22 participants, Borres, Palos, Michael, Alimar, and Nilo proved to be the five players best equipped to represent the country in the competition.
Cabangal said the team prepared for the competition through daily practice.
“We watched videos and tutorials of chess games. We analyzed and reviewed our past games. I also guided and taught them what to do during the tournament,” he said of the team’s regimen.
The BJMP chief, Jail Director Allan Iral, commended the efforts of Cabangal as the facility’s welfare and development officer.
“This is the first time in BJMP history that a team of PDLs is competing in an international chess tournament,” Iral said.
“I am congratulating them even if they have yet to win. I am very proud that our PDLs carry the flag of our country in an international chess competition,” he said.
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