MANILA,  September 21, 2004  (STAR) International Master Mark Paragua became the country’s youngest grandmaster at 20 after obtaining his third and final GM norm following a rousing victory over Russian GM Veniamen Shtyrenkov in the 14th and penultimate round of the second Alushta GMT in Alushta, Ukraine Sunday.

The victory gave Paragua his10th point in 14 rounds even as he pressed his bid for a second straight closed tournament title. He faces IM Yuriy Kuzubov of Ukraine in the final round.

Paragua, the country’s top rated player, thus broke the long-standing record of the Eugene Torre as the youngest Filipino GM. Torre was 22 when he became the country and Asia’s first GM in 1974 Nice Olympiad in Nice, France.

Paragua just turned 20 last March 29.

"I’m glad Mark did it. It only showed that we are slowly but surely catching up with the other countries in developing chess talents," said Torre.

Earlier reports said that the former child prodigy must sweep his last two matches to clinch the GM title, but according to the FIDE handbook, a player who scores 10 points in 14 rounds can obtain a GM norm provided he has faced at least seven titled players including three GMs from no less than five different federations.

According to Ric Paragua, Mark’s father, organizers of the event informed them of the possibility before his match with Shtyrenkov.

Filipino International Arbiter Gene Poliarco confirmed Paragua’s ascend to the elite rank after computing the ratings of the field and consulting the rules through the FIDE website.

Paragua has actually faced 13 titled players along the way while beating all of the three GMs in the 16-man closed tournament. His effort fell on Category IX as he met players with rating average of 2454.

He beat Russian GMs Ramil Hasangatin and Andrey Nikitin successively in the fifth and sixth.

Paragua gained his first GM norm in the 2001 Mondariz International Open Swiss tournament before nailing his second norm in the first Alushta GM tournament, which he ruled early this month.

He will be proclaimed a full-pledged GM in the FIDE Congress next month in Majorca, Spain, which coincides with the 36th World Chess Olympiad.

First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, an ardent chess supporter, believes there are many more Paraguas in the country.

"Mark’s success goes to show that we should really start developing our athletes at a young age," said Arroyo.

"We should concentrate on developing sports like chess that are potential gold mines for the Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games," Arroyo furthered.

"Magandang pasalubong ni Mark sa term ko ‘yung GM title," said Go Teng Kok, the newly appointed president of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines.

The other Filipino GMs were the late Rosendo Balinas Jr. (1976), Rogelio Antonio Jr. (1990), Buenaventura Villamayor (2000) and Nelson Mariano II (2004).

Paragua was the second Filipino to complete GM requirements in a former Soviet Union republic. Balinas bagged the GM title after ruling the Odessa GMT.

Antonio and Villamayor clinched their titles in Philippine soil while Mariano got his in Thailand earlier this year.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved