TALK about Philippine chess and the first thing that comes to mind is Eugene Torre. And talk about Torre and what comes next after his name? Asia’s first grandmaster (GM), no less.
Torre became the continent’s first GM at a young age of 22. He completed his norms at the 1974 Nice Olympiad where he claimed a silver medal playing board one for the Philippines. And from then on, he has become the most popular Filipino woodpusher ever and a member of the elite circle of global chess icons.
Early this week, the World Chess Federation announced Torre’s induction to the 2020 World Chess Hall of Fame along with Polish-Argentine GM Miguel Najdorf and Hungrarian GM Judit Polgar.
“It’s an honor, a big one,” said Torre, the first Asian male player to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. “This is not only a recognition for Filipinos, but also for all Asian chess players.”
Torre’s credentials in a career that spans more than five decades if filled to the brim. From winning the national champions as an 18-year-old in 1970, he went on to play in almost all major international competitions.
He saw action in 23 Olympiads as a player and twice as a coach, the most by a Filipino.
But if not for his love of chess, what could have Torre pursued?
“I think any Engineering course. I’m good in algebra and I’m good at solving,” said Torre, who had to drop out on his junior year at Mapua’s College of Business Administration because his chess schedule has become too hectic.
Torre, who will turn 70 on November 4, comes from a big family. He is the seventh in a brood of six girls and four boys, all born in Iloilo to their dad, Federico Torre, a lawyer at the Commission on Elections, and mother Vicenta Oliveros, who worked at the Food and Drug Administration.
He has a daughter, Nicole, to wife Marilyn Alano Torre and are keeping themselves excitedly busy attending to two granddaughters and one grandson at their Alta Vista residence in Quezon City.
With Torre’s charming good looks, he got himself a leading man’s role in a 1975 romantic comedy film with one of the country’s cinema icons, now Batangas Rep. Vilma Santos. The film’s title? Basta’s Isipin Mong Mahal Kita.
“I didn’t watch the premier. In fact, I just watched it in a theater somewhere in Bicol a year after it was released,” he said. “But Vilma [Santos] is very professional, a good actress and she’s very kind. I don’t know if she will still remember me. It was a long, long time ago.”
Besides chess, Torre used to pack a mean forehand as he and wife Marlyn play tennis on a regular basis, or on a more regular one when the late former Fide President Florencio Campomanes dragged them almost every day to the court.
“I can’t remember the last time I played tennis, maybe four or five years ago when I was in Baguio City. But I do walking now,” said Torre, who picked close friend, the late Bobby Fischer, as well as Garry Kasparov, Raul Capablanca, Magnus Carlsen and Anatoly Karpov as his all-time top 5 players in the world.
Politics also almost got into Torre’s system, like his contemporary, GM Utut Adianto who is a member of the Indonesian parliament.
“I considered running as councilor in Quezon City, but it didn’t push through because I wasn’t a registered voter,” he said.
Tennis perhaps kept Torre fit and sharp all these years, but as he approaches his super senior stage, the chess icon still have a mission to accomplish: keep propagating chess to the youth.
“My dream is for the youth to apply the good moves of chess in their daily life,” he said. “For example, to avoid blunders—like drugs, lies, criminal acts, wrongdoings and other vices. We always find the right moves in chess, so in life also.”
Chess, he said, is a sport where decision-making is a huge factor.
“Other than my dream of seeing the country having more grandmasters and become a strong nation in Asia, I hope the youth apply what they learn from chess or the good moves to have a better life.”
“There was a time I blundered too, like smoking. If I didn’t commit some vices, I think I achieved a lot of things,” he added.
The World Chess Hall of Fame was established in 1984 in St. Louis Missouri but names its first batch of inductees only in 2001. There are 37 players who have so far been inducted to the Hall of Fame.
The induction proceeding is set in the US but the pandemic is likely to force the organizers to hold the ceremonies online.
Torre, a close friend of the late Bobby Fischer, inventor of the Fischer Random chess, was inducted into the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame by the Philippine Sports Commission in 2016.