Friday, 25 April 2014

Robert Abitan: Mambulao kid chess wizard

Chess wizard Robert Habitan plays with an adult from his neighborhood at Purok 5-7 in Parang.

 Robert poses in front of a tarp celebrating his victory.

 Robert with his trainer, coach and uncle Joseph Abitan.
Enjoying a morning dip ... training to compete at a year-end chess tournament in Meetro Manila. - MWBuzzpics by AP HERNANDEZ


SOMETHING funny happened at the recent chess tournament sponsored by Daet local government.

Several minutes into the Mayors Cup, a man arrived at the hall where the games were underway and asked the arbiter to register him as contestant.

The man, who turned out to be an Army captain based in Daet, was told that’s possible, provided he played with “that kid” seated nearby and beat him.

The captain, who was in semi-civilian get-up threw a glance at the boy, who then busied himself watching the games in progress. He just finished his round with an elementary school kid wizard from Daet, ending in victory.

“No sweat,” the soldier said and so the play table was set up for them to begin the battle.

Twenty-minutes had passed. The captain noticed the boy seemed not  paying attention to his pieces, and was just looking at the hall where the games were in progress, his cheek propped on his right hand.

In fact he looked disinterested in his game with the soldier, who was then telling himself: “Mukhang nagugutom ang batang ito (looks like he's famished)… very soon, I’ll get you.”

But the soldier never knew a thing: Inside the boy’s head, he had already set up a trap on him. In four moves, he will demolish him.

When the soldier pushed a piece forward, the boy leaped two squares and prepared for the kill.

Horrified, the soldier poured his eyes on the board, quickly reading the positions. Then, he stood up and left the game table on his way out of the hall, speechless.

Those who were monitoring the game broke into a wild applause, cheering the boy, as they hollered towards the humiliated soldier: “Doon ka na lang maglaro sa inuman sa kampo …” (Just play your chess with your drinking buddies…)

Robert Habitan, 8, has become an idol among chess enthusiasts at Purok 5-7, the seaside neighborhood in Baranggay Parang.

A son of a fisherman whose family squats along the beach of Parang, Robert had learned the game of chess at six, honing his skill by playing with anyone who would care to bet P2 against him.

He did this every time he felt hungry – and this happened most of the time -- challenging every tricycle operator with a P2 bet. 

As usual, he would beat them up, take their money and buy some bread for himself.

His uncle and trainer Joseph Abitan, 16, said he decided to teach him the game to keep him off the streets.

“I have noticed that when he was six, he was for most of the day in the neighbourhood street playing aimlessly with other street urchins,” he said.

Although Robert was underweight at his age and obviously malnourished, he quickly picked up on the game and was playing with the adults in the neighborhood.

For his public debut, Robert joined the mayor’s cup tournament in Mambulao last August 29-30, 2012 and emerged as champion in the kiddie division, earning big praise from no less than Mayor Ricarte “Dong” Padilla.

At the governor’s tournament held recently in Labo, Robert played with a six-grader, a son of a wealthy family.

The boy’s parents hushed a P7,000 bet for their son against Robert. 

Most of those rooting for the Parang wizard were just laborers, who went around trying to raise the counter bet.

As expected, Robert’s supporters went home a few hundred-peso richer each after beating the wealthy boy in 25 middle game moves, to his parents great disappointment as their son was considered the best in Labo in the kids’ division.

Says his uncle Joseph: “The truth is that Robert that time was already playing the junior and senior divisions and he had beaten a number of the good ones in both levels.”

And he has mastered making annotation of his moves and that of his adversaries. He's become quick with the use of the timer.

Joseph and Robert are members of the Mambulao chess club and are both training for the September and December chess tournament in Metro Manila. 

Robert will play in the open tournament – meaning, although he belongs to the kids’ division, he will play in the junior and senior levels.

Right now, Robert is one of the players “adopted” by the Department of Education in the province.

“Dep-Ed is rooting for him to representCamNorte in the regional tournament taking place soon in Bicol,” Joseph said.

Ranil Tadios, a high school teacher in Daet and chess trainer, said: Believe ako sa batang (Robert) ‘yan … at very proud kami for having him in our stable of kid chess wizards…”

Babylita Abitan, 52, Robert’s grandmother told MWBuzz: “Naaawa po ako sa batang ‘yan kasi po nahihirapan po siyang sumali sa mga malalayong tournament dahil wala po kaming pangbayad sa game fee at pamasahe (it's a pitty that he's struggling to raise bus fares and tournament fees to join chess matches in other towns.)

The grandma said Robert is saddled with poor health as he is malnourished.

His father barely makes enough from fishing to support a wife and four other children.

“Kaya nga po ako na ang umako sa mga pangangailangan niya tulad po ng pagkain sa araw-araw at konting pera pandagdag sa kanyang pasahe pagpunta sa mga tournament sa ibang bayan (I have taken him up for his basic needs such as meals and bus fare in going to tournaments in other towns in the province.)

“Sabi nga po ng doctor na tumingin sa kanya, kelangan niya ang vitamins para sa utak resistensya, dahil mahirap na laro ang chess dahil malalim na pag-iisip ang ginagamit dito … kung mahina ang resistensiya, baka hindi siya tumagal habang naglalaro …” (The doc says he needs vitamins to boost his brain cells because chess is a difficult game and he has to think properly to stay in the tournament … if he is weak physically, he might not be able to last in the game.)

When I learned of his urgent need for healthcare, I did not think twice to chip in for his brain vitamins and other upkeep and promised to find help from friends so he could prepare adequately for the Metro Manila tournament towards the end of this year.

If you think you can spare something for Robert’s health upkeep to help him prepare effectively for this year-end tournament, please email me at and and I will coordinate your assistance.

One of Robert’s brilliancy plays:
Position                                  Moves
W         B                                 W      B
Ka6     Kb8                              B7t    MATE!

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