GRANDMASTER Mark Paragua has been one of the most celebrated players in the country since barging into the local chess scene as a child wonder in the late '90s. He's been an international chess star, a triple gold medal winner in Southeast Asian Games, a super GM, and an inspiration to the golden generation of Philippine chess. But he's never been a national champion.
Paragua primed himself to become one with three rounds to go, beating GM Richard Bitoon in 29 moves of Catalan in the 12th round on Monday to join International Master Oliver Dimakiling on top in the 2012 National Open Chess Championships at the Cabagnot Training Center in Old Buswang, Kalibo Aklan.
Dimakiling managed only a draw opposite IM Emmanuel Senador in their rook and pawn endgame.
Both Paragua and Dimakiling have 18.0 points.
GM Darwin Laylo stalemated GM Roland Salvador to move into solo third place with 15.5 points followed by GM Julio Catalino Sadorra, who halved the point with top seed GM Oliver Barbosa to raise his output to 14.5 points.
The old dogs of local chess were still in the hunt with 14.0 points apiece – GM Eugene Torre after his conquest of Giovanni Mejia and GM Rogelio "Joey" Antonio after losing to FIDE Master Haridas Pascua.
The event offers three outright seats in the men's national team competing in this year's World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey on August 27 to September 10 as well as P655,000 total prize.
Top Filipino player GM Wesley So is already assured of a slot while the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) headed by chairman/president Prospero "Butch" Pichay, Jr. has the option to pick the fifth player of the men's team.
Meanwhile, Woman International Master Catherine Perena downed Akiko Charmaine Suede to maintain solo leadership in the women's division with 19.0 points.
Woman National Master Janelle Mae Frayna kept the leader in sight with 17.0 points after toppling Mira Mirano.
The race for the third outright spot in the women's Olympic team became more interesting as WNM Jedara Docena fell to Woman FIDE Master Marie Antoinette San Diego and Bernadette Galas lost to WFM Rulp Ylem Jose.
Docena remained in third with 14.5 points and Galas in fourth with 14.0 points, but WFM Cherry Ann Mejia and Jean Karen Enriquez were breathing down their neck with 12.0 each.
Supporting the tournament dubbed as "Battle of the Grandmasters" are the Boracay Chess Club, Aklan Gov. Carlito S. Marquez, Lone District of Aklan Rep. Florencio T. Miraflores, Club Paraw owned by Malay Councilor Hon. Wilbec M. Gelito and Willy's Beach Resort owned by Gen. Manager Rochanie G. Gadon, Kolai Mangyan owner Mr. Lowell Gucilo and Tawhay Condotel owner Arwen Barrios.