Gen. Fernando Canon, first PHL chess champion

Chess Piece
Bobby Ang

Posted on July 14, 2016

One of the Philippine dailies recently wrote about the centenary of the University of the Philippines College of Music and the notable persons in the history of this College. The title of the article was “Fernando Canon: Revolutionary, classical guitarist, inventory, chess champion, rival of Rizal.”

According to that article Gen. Canon (born Aug. 6, 1860 in Biñan, Laguna) was the first secretary of what was then the UP Conservatory of Music. He was Jose Rizal’s childhood friend and rival.

To quote: “At an early age, Canon’s family moved out of Biñan and transferred to Cabildo Street in Intramuros because of the tulisanes. He studied at Ateneo Municipal de Manila and, as an illustrado, moved to Spain where he finished a degree in engineering.”

“The reason he went back to the Philippines is the death of Rizal, that’s why he joined the revolution.”

“Canon became a member of the Malolos Congress and the Director-General of public works during the revolutionary government, the first Filipino international chess champion in 1905, a teacher at Liceo de Manila and the School of Engineering and Architecture in 1908, and the first secretary of the UP Conservatory of Music in 1916.”

“He also occupied positions in the National Library and the Bureau of Public Works during the American period.”

Now, that part about Gen. Canon becoming the first Filipino international chess champion in 1905 really got my interest and I did a little bit of research. The writer, Edgar Allan M. Sembrano, obviously wasn’t a chess aficionado, for Gen. Canon could not have been an “international chess champion.” Perhaps what was meant was the Philippine national chess champion?

It turned out to be true.

Engr. Jose “Dodong” Romero, one of the leaders in the Philippine chess community in Los Angeles (he should have been awarded the title of National Master back in the 70s but never was -- of course, that is already another story) pointed out to me that there was a book on the history of Philippine chess back in the 1950s which wrote about our past chess champions. That being unavailable the only other source I could find was NM Ramon Lontoc’s Fifty Golden Years of Philippine Chess History.

A list of our Champions from 1908-1958 is given. I will give you the first ten:

1908 Fernando Canon

1909-13 Alvah E. Johnson

1914-21 Ismael Amado

1922-24 Leopoldo Lafuente

1925 Jose D. Warren

1926 Datu Alip

1927-30 Adolfo Gutierrez

1931 Ramon Lontoc, Jr. He won again in 1935, 1940, 1941 and 1949

1934 Datu Sandangan

1936 Rogelio Catanjal

According to the Fifty Golden Years, in 1905 Canon won the “Sportsmen’s Club de Barcelona” chess championship (in Barcelona, Spain). Upon his return to Philippine shores he won the first National Chess Championship held at the YMCA under the joint sponsorship of UP President Rafael Palma and Gov. William Forbes, consequently becoming the first recognized official Philippine Champion.

This was to become his first and last championship though as Gen. Canon retired from active chess competition soon afterwards.

I looked up the databases and could not find a single game by Gen. Canon. Fifty Golden Years presents one game played against a Spanish expert, E. de Flaguet, played in the Barcelona Chess Championship of 1905. Here it is.

* * *
Canon, Fernando -- De Flaguet, E [C33]
Barcelona Ch, 1905

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4

The so-called Bishop’s Gambit.


Back in 1995 IM Ivo Donev wrote a repertoire CD vs. 1.e4. After 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf2 3.Nc3 he advocated 3...Ne7. The idea is a quick ...d5 and maybe later he can move his king’s knight to g6 to defend the f4 -- pawn. More about this in the analysis below. The ...Ne7 move does not work so well against Canon’s 3.Bc4 because here the freeing ...d7 -- d5 becomes difficult to achieve.

According to Donev the antidote vs. 3.Bc4 is 3...Nf6! “The knight engages the central pawns and simultaneously prepares d5!” 4.Nc3 (4.e5 d5!=; 4.Qe2 d5! 5.exd5+ Be7 6.Nf3 0 -- 0 “with the idea Re8. The second player gets a good game”) 4...c6 5.d4 (5.Bb3 d5 6.exd5 cxd5 7.d4 Bd6 8.Nge2; 5.Qf3 d5! 6.exd5 Bd6 7.d3 0 -- 0 8.Bxf4 Bg4 9.Qf2 Re8+ “Black has the initiative”) 5...d5! 6.exd5 cxd5 7.Bb5+ (7.Bd3 Bd6 8.Nge2 0 -- 0 9.0 -- 0 g5) 7...Bd7 8.Bxf4 Bb4 9.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 10.Nge2 0 -- 0 “Black is slightly better.” Bezold,M-Almasi,Z Altensteig (04) 1993 0 -- 1 27.

4.Nc3 d6

In the spirit of the line 4...Ng6 5.Nf3 c6 would be better. As BusinessWorld readers know the worst thing that Black can do in a King’s Gambit is to go passive. After 6.d4 Be7 7.0 -- 0 0 -- 0 8.e5 d6 Black has nothing to fear.

5.d4 g5?!

[5...Ng6 is still best]

6.h4 Ng6 7.h5 Ne7 8.g3 fxg3? 9.Bxg5 Rg8 10.Nd5! 1 -- 0 <D>


In view of 10.Nd5 Rxg5 11.Nf6# Black resigns. We can say that De Flaguet was shocked into submission, because actually the resignation is premature. He can still make a fight of it with 10.Nd5 Nd7 11.Qd2 c6 etc.

Let’s take another look at the 3...Ne7 move against the King’s Gambit. It is really not as weird as it looks. The Bulgarian-Austrian IM Ivo Donev (who by the way is more famous as a professional poker player and is no. 1 in the Austrian All-Time Money list, but once again that is a story for another day) wrote a repertoire CD back in the 90s on playing against 1.e4. We start with 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Ne7. What is the general plan? Let’s take a quick peek.

* * *
Fedorov, Alexei (2495) -- Malaniuk, Vladimir P (2615) [C34]
Nikolaev zt (2), 1995

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Ne7!?

One again, the idea is to prepare ...d7 -- d5 or to cover f4 after ...Ng6.

4.d4 d5!

Typical for this line.


Donev: 5.Nc3 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Nd5! 7.c4? Bb4+ 8.Bd2 Ne3 and suddenly Black is winning.

5...Ng6 6.c4 dxc4 7.Bxc4 Be7 8.Nc3 0 -- 0

The side check 8...Bh4+! 9.Kf1 0 -- 0 should also be considered (Donev).

9.Ne2 Nd7

Donev recommends 9...Bh4+ 10.Kf1 Bg4 11.Bxf4 Nxf4 12.Nxf4 Bxf3 13.gxf3 Nc6.

10.Nxf4 Nb6

Another good continuation is 10...Nxf4 11.Bxf4 Nb6 12.Bb3 Nd5 13.Bd2 Be6 with ...c7 -- c5 to follow;

Also 10...Bb4+ 11.Kf2 Nxf4 12.Bxf4 Nb6 13.Bg5 Be7 14.Bxe7 Qxe7 15.Bd3.

11.Nxg6 hxg6 12.Bb3 a5 13.a3 Nd5 14.h4 Bg4 15.Bg5 Re8 16.Bxe7 Rxe7 17.Qd2 Rd7 18.0 -- 0

With the idea Ng5, which is why Black chops off the knight right away.

18...Bxf3 ½--½

The move 3...Ne7 figures in the repertoire of GMs Ivan Sokolov, Bidyendu Barua and Zoltan Almasi, to name just a few. It even has a name -- the Bonch-Osmolovsky Defense! Weird move or not back in my active chessplaying days one of my friends, Lowell Liwat, played the King’s Gambit all the time. After getting checkmated several times I used the Bonch-Osmolovsky and it worked with great effect. Too bad not many players essay the King’s Gambit anymore -- I am still ready to give it a go!

But I digress. Let us go back to Gen. Canon. I believe the game from the Barcelona Championship came from the files of Mr. Jose Rocha, an active player/organizer in the 1940s during the heyday of the Manila Chess Club, which was the de facto national chess body then. Mr. Rocha’s son, a former executive of the San Miguel Corporation, also became an active player/organizer in the 60s.

Mr. Sembrano’s main source of information on the life of Gen. Canon was from the granddaughter Ma. Teresa Canon Garcia. Ms. Garcia said in an informal interview initiated by UP Music Dean Jose Buenconsejo that Gen. Canon was a talented guitar player and sought the preservation of traditional Philippine music and musical instruments such as the kumintang, kudyapi, kundiman and balitaw.

As a scientist he invented a radian vitalizer for paralyzed persons, soap for lepers and a cane that doubled as a stun gun.

Canon made contributions to La Solidaridad and wrote in it under the pen name “Kuitib.” Together with his wife he brought La Solidaridad to the Philippines. The copies were not detected by Spanish authorities because they looked like bank ledgers.

So there you have it. Gen. Fernando Canon, revolutionary, a giant in Philippine History, and the first National Chess Champion of the Philippines.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.