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HomeSports and GamesChess: a game for life, a game about life

Chess: a game for life, a game about life

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BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines — Only those with a deep grasp of the internal dynamics, movement, shiftings, ebb and flow of a thing, concept or phenomenon can draw out profound thoughts and link the seemingly unrelated.

Like chess and social work.

Like Sun Tzu relating Heaven and Earth to victory on the battlefield.

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Or Miyamoto Musashi relating the sword and the brush.


A keen intellectual ability that can link the seemingly unrelated – philosophy and things we see daily.

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Dictionaries define it as “the intellectual ability to penetrate deeply into ideas, deepness, astuteness, profundity, depth, sapience, wisdom – ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight,” according to thefreedictionary.com.

This ability is not only found in people with thick, horn-rimmed glasses in universities but even among sun-baked peasants or coffee shop habitues who talk like they are inside a cockpit.

Profoundness, perhaps, is everywhere, like Foucault’s concept about power.

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Like in the town of Oton, Iloilo province where the 20ish chess enthusiast John Michael Britanico Silvederio lives.

Recently, John Michael was accorded the title National Master by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines during a recent online tournament.

John, an undergraduate in social work, sees chess as a representation of life.

“The black and white pieces represent social classes; the white ones have the upper hand because they make the first move,” he tells DNX in a written interview.

That first move, he adds, is called “privilege,” while the black ones are “on the defensive by default.”

This class-based analogy is seemingly Marxist, seemingly Hegelian though John Michael is not an avowed one.

He adds though that regardless of the color of the pieces, “at the end of the day, it all comes down to strategy” — which seems to echo Jordan Peterson’s exhortations that everyone must do something to “mitigate the sufferings” of life.

John Michael explains, “In life, we may be coming from different social classes but it’s how we make do with the resources we’ve been given; our talents, intellectual capacity and all those that are innate to us that can’t be taken by outside forces.”

It was on the sidelines of a basketball game that John Michael discovered chess.

“We were playing basketball and chess was being played by the sidelines.”

He asked a friend to teach him the basic moves and from then on, John sought ways to hone his skills, among them joining a chess club called the Chess Hunter based inside the town’s public market.

The club manager was Karlo Sydney Britanico “who I found out was actually an uncle,” he says.

That uncle became his first mentor until John met Nonoy Briones, whom he addresses as “sir,” a patron of the sport who sponsors tournaments until now.


The chess world buzz with Russian surnames – Karpov, Kasparov, Spasky, grandmasters who have become role models of a lot of budding players.

There, too, is the enigmatic American world champion Robert “Bobby” Fischer, the chess prodigy who lived in seclusion after a high-profile career.

Fischer lived alone in Iceland, Hungary and, some say, the Philippines and Switzerland before he died at 64.

Alone. In Iceland.

Fischer is John’s idol.

“He can go on the offense, play defense and thinks ahead of his opponents and can recall moves even if these were made years ago,” he says in praise of his idol.

But while Fischer’s favorite opening was the Ruy Lopez, named after a Spanish priest and also called the Spanish Opening, Oton’s young master prefers the Jobava London System when playing white and the King’s Indian Defense on black.

The Jobava is a relatively “fresh opening” that has not yet “been fully explored.”

“It is also trendy,” John says in describing the Jobova that has gained popularity as a simple opening that can be used against any black defense.

When he is on the defensive side, John prefers the King’s Indian Defense, which concentrates the defense around the king, building an almost impregnable moat around the power center.

“I like to use it when the game gets confusing,” John says.

Aside from thinking how to control the center, attack the flanks, and think ahead of his opponents, he also plans about how to contribute to climb up the ranks of chess masters.

He credits to chess the travel opportunities, “I have traveled to almost all parts of the country,” he says, reaching as far as Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

He even got the chance to teach at a chess academy in Dubai last year and is now bound for Malaysia to become a chess coach.

These are like moves, a square at a time, to become a grandmaster.

“I dream of competing in international tournaments to become an international master before I become grandmaster,” he says.

Perhaps it would not be irrelevant to end a story about John Michael with his idol’s favorite quotes, one of which is “I felt that chess… is a science in the form of a game… I consider myself a scientist. I wanted to be treated like a scientist.”

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Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.
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