MANILA, January 2, 2005 
(STAR) Filipino bet Joseph Sanchez made the country proud as he finished tied for first place with Grandmaster Vladimir Epishin of Russia in the 20th Nice Chess Open International tournament in France, the same place where Eugene Torre became Asia’s first GM in 1974.

Alone on top going into the final round after stunning Croatian GM Nenad Sulava, Sanchez, 34, opted to play it safe and halved the point with Hamdouchi in the last round to finish at joint first with Epishin, who downed France’s Julien Lamorelle, with six points each.

The Cebu-born International Master, who was IM Mark Paragua’s former second before going to Europe last year to concentrate fully on playing, could have finished better if not for a draw with France’s Gerard Drogou, whose rating of 2094 is far off compared to his 2430, in the first round.

Mustering all the will and energy he could summon, Sanchez strung together five straight victories he highlighted with a giant-size triumph over Sulava in the penultimate round.

But before that, he smashed a group of French locals–Jean Marc Gudenian (2039), Michel Graille (2048), Mickael Diaz (2209) and IM Fabien Libiszewski (2419)–in succession to set up a showdown with Sulava, rated 2477.

As a result, Sanchez gained 10.57 rating points plus the money purse, prestige and pride that go with it.

Sanchez, however, finished second in the resolution of tiebreak after garnering only 32.5 Buccholz points as against the 37 obtained by Epishin, who is rated 2599 and a former standout of the Russian Olympiad team.

The seven-round Swiss System tournament was participated in by 172 player that included four GMs–Epishin, Hamdouchi, Sulava and Miroljub Lazic (2512)–six IMs and three FIDE masters.

Like the 20-year-old Paragua, whom he guided for almost a decade now, Sanchez is also seeking to join the elite RP club of GMs composed of Torre, Joey Antonio, Buenaventura Villamayor and newly-installed Nelson Mariano II.

To date, Sanchez is currently in the top 20 among Filipinos based on the tentative rating list released by FIDE, which comes up with a list quarterly.

Paragua, who has yet to become a GM, tops the list with 2584–the best a Filipino has reached since Torre zoomed to 2580 in 1983–with Antonio (2539), Torre (2530), IM Rogelio Barcenilla Jr. (2507), Mariano (2468), Villamayor (2463), IM Jayson Gonzales (2459), IM Idelfonso Datu and 2004 World Championship qualifier Ronald Dableo (2540) following next.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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