MANILA – The Laguna Heroes made history on Saturday night as they became the first ever champions of the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP).
In a rare Philippine sporting event happening during the Holy Week holidays, Laguna clinched the All-Filipino Conference title after beating Camarines in the grand finals.
The Heroes, led by their grandmaster (GM) duo of Board 1 player Banjo Barcenilla and homegrown talent John Paul Gomez, was on pace for a cruise control after taking Set 1, 14.5-6.5.
But the GM Mark Paragua-powered Soaring Eagles bounced back in Set 2, taking an 11.5-9.5 win that sent their championship battle to the Armageddon matches.
Paragua took the first point for Camarines after forcing Gomez to resign after 25 moves in the King's Indian Defense.
But Barcenilla got one back for Laguna after downing Mark Daluz on time attack, leaving the showdown between FIDE Master AJ Literatus and Ellan Asuela to decide the tie.
Asuela, playing white, was ahead on the quality of pieces captured and time as he looks poised to breach through Literatus' Sicilian Defense.
But a pawn check at f3 in his 37th move started Asuela's endgame collapse as he went full throttle on his time attack against Literatus.
The match completely swung on Literatus' favor as Asuela countered his Kf4 by Kf2, seemingly looking to trap him to the side, which like f3 was analyzed as a mistake.
After Literatus checked him twice with his rook, which was already deep into white's territory at the c-file, Asuela committed a huge blunder by placing his king at d2.
After another rook check, Asuela was forced to let go of his own rook at d7, but as he tried to get the rook back by putting his knight at e5, Literatus found the mating move at Rd4, ending the contest and handing the Heroes the championship.
Up next for PCAP is its reinforced conference, which will be called the Wesley So Cup in honor of the Filipino-American super GM who even helped in the betterment of the world's first professional chess league.
Before the reinforced tournament, an All-Star Game will be played in May.