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Prison gambit: Filipino prisoners shine in international chess

Manila, Philippines – They may be behind bars, but they are making waves in the rarefied world of chess.

Five inmates from the General Santos City Jail (male dormitory) in southern Cotabato seek to replicate the Philippines gold medal feat at the Olympics through weightlifter Hidilyn Díaz, who advanced to the stage of championship of the First Intercontinental Online Chess Championship on Thursday.

As of this writing, the Philippine team was participating in a free-for-all tournament on the chess.com website with players from 11 other countries who had qualified for the final.

Each final team will consist of four players, with an unlimited number of substitutions.

The members of the Philippine team are Borres, 34; Sticks, 35; Michael, 36; and Alimar and Nilo, both 41. The competition rules do not allow the disclosure of their full names, according to the Bureau of Penitentiary and Penitentiary Administration (BJMP).

The games were broadcast live on Chess TV and the official YouTube channel of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), which said “special certificates” would be awarded to members of the winning team.

The first 2 places

The Philippine and Mongolian teams secured the top two spots after defeating participants from the United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Australia and Kyrgyzstan during eliminations on Wednesday, the first day of the tournament and International Prison Education Day.

A total of 42 teams representing 31 countries competed in the two-day Intercontinental Online Chess Tournament for Prisoners, which was organized by FIDE as part of its “Chess for Freedom” program launched in May 2020.

The program aims to introduce chess as a tool for education and social inclusion in the prisons of different countries and is carried out under the patronage of the Russian grandmaster and former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov.

“We find this initiative very important [as] allows FIDE to extend its impact beyond the borders of the purely chess world, ”said FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich in a statement.

“Chess provides a route for incarcerated people to access education; They find positive use of their free time and learn skills that help them change their lives, ”said Dvorkovich.

“Playing chess teaches them how to improve their thinking and make better decisions in life,” he said.

Coach Cedrix

The Philippine chess team was able to enter international competition thanks to the efforts of prison officer Cedrix Cabangal, who also serves as the team’s coach.

A chess enthusiast, Cabangal said that he was constantly updated with FIDE online tournaments.

“When I saw a post about Chess For Freedom, and they would be hosting a tournament for PDL (people deprived of liberty), I immediately signed up,” he said.

After the confirmation of the registration by FIDE on August 28, Cabangal organized a chess tournament for the inmates of the General Santos City Jail.

Of the 22 participants, Borres, Palos, Michael, Alimar and Nilo proved to be the five best equipped players to represent the country in the competition.

Preparations

Cabangal said the team prepared for the competition through daily practice.

“We watched videos and tutorials of chess games. We analyze and review our past games. I also guided them and taught them what to do during the tournament, ”he said about the team’s regime.

The director of BJMP, the director of the jail, Allan Iral, praised Cabangal’s efforts as the facility’s welfare and development officer.

“This is the first time in BJMP history that a PDL team has competed in an international chess tournament,” said Iral.

“I congratulate you even if you haven’t won yet. I am very proud that our PDLs carry the flag of our country in an international chess competition, ”he said.

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