Campo stories

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Bobby Ang

Chess Piece

Florencio Campomanes
Florencio Campomanes

Mr. Florencio “Campo” Campomanes was the moving spirit behind the participation of the Philippine national team in the 1956 Moscow Olympiad. He did everything — organized the team, arranged for funding, coordinated with the Russian organizers and a hundred and one other tiny details.

This was no small feat as shortly after the Second World War the “Cold War” was in progress between the United States and the Marxist-Leninist state of the USSR. Mr. Campomanes had a column in Manila Times and naturally asked the paper to sponsor the team, but they refused to fund anyone going to Moscow. After frantically looking around for alternate sponsors the Lopezes of Manila Chronicle agreed to put up the money on condition that Campo move his column to this rival paper. Naturally he agreed.

The team to Moscow was composed of Mr. Campomanes, Glicerio Badilles, Carlos Benitez and Rodolfo Tan Cardoso (he actually wrote his name as Rodolfo Tan y Cardoso, Rudy’s surname is Tan. However, somehow the “y” got dropped and “Cardoso” was to become his chess surname forever and ever). Campo was the Philippine champion at that time and was supposed to be board 1, but when they arrived in Moscow he asked Badilles to take over the top board for the 1st round as there were too many details to take care of and he wanted to give his full attention to these rather than the matters over the board. He didn’t realize that once the board orders are set they can no longer be changed.

Campo told me many years later that the story was he asked Badilles to play top board so that he could have a weaker opponent on board 2 to contend with. That is completely not true, for this was their first outing in the Olympiad and they were the underdogs on every board in every match. In short, if the opposing team has names like Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres and Bronstein facing you across the table, it doesn’t matter what board number you are — you will be wiped out.

In any case the Philippines’ first foray in Olympiad competition was a success — they finished no. 1 in Group “C,” Rudy Cardoso got a silver medal on board 4 and this game of his was mentioned among the best in the Olympiad. It was on the basis of this excellent performance that Campo petitioned the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to grant him the International Master title, and they acquiesced (yes, at that time there were no norms or ratings in existence; to get the title, you applied for it and the titles committee will decide whether to give it to you or not).

Cardoso, Rodolfo Tan — Thibaut, Georges Pierre [C61]
Olympiad–12 Preliminaries D Moscow (3), 03.09.1956 Philippines vs Belgium

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 4.0–0 Nd4 5.Ba4 Qf6 6.Nxd4 Bxd4 7.c3 Bb6 8.d3 Ne7 9.Nd2 a6 10.Nf3 h6 11.Be3 0–0 12.Qd2 Ng6 13.Bb3 d6 14.h3?

An elementary mistake. But watch what happens!

14…Bxh3 15.Nh2 Bd7

Black was happy with the pawn grab and consolidates his loot. Instead he should pave pushed forward with 15…Nh4! 16.gxh3 Qg6+ 17.Bg5 Kh7 18.Kh1 Qxg5 19.Qxg5 hxg5 with a pawn to the good and superior position.

16.d4 Bb5 17.Rfd1 Rad8 18.f3 Nf4?

This only looks good — it actually loses back the pawn.

19.Ng4 Qg5?

Compounding the problem.

20.g3 h5 21.gxf4 exf4 22.Bxf4 Qg6 23.Kf2 hxg4 24.Rh1 c5 25.Rh4 cxd4 26.Rah1 dxc3+ 27.Be3 1–0

In the next Olympiad, Munich 1958, the Philippine team was composed of IM Rodolfo Tan Cardoso, Florencio Campomanes, Meliton Borja and Romualdo Aldecoa (Aldecoa is the only member of any Philippine team who was never awarded the title of National Master. This is a matter which really has to be corrected by the current NCFP administration). This was the first time the Philippine team encountered their counterparts from England, and Florencio Campomanes his future sparring partner IM Harry Golombek. Golombek was at that time the dean of English chess journalists and the moving spirit behind English chess.

Campo has this habit of walking around during the games and standing behind his teammates to take in the action on all boards. He also liked, street corner style, to whisper advice, for example if the opponent was laying a trap to fork his teammate’s queen he would whisper in Tagalog “ingatan mo ang babae mo” (take care of your woman) so that the opposing team would not understand what he was talking about.

When the Philippines faced England in the 1958 Munich Olympiad Cardoso got a winning advantage against IM Jonathan Penrose and our team was on the verge of tying 2-2 with the “arrogant Englishmen.” Here is what happened.

Cardoso, Radolfo Tan — Penrose, Jonathan [A42]
Olympiad–13 Preliminaries C Munich (9), 09.10.1958 Philippines vs England

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.c4 d6 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Nge2 e5 6.Be3 Nh6 7.h3 f5 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Nb5 Bd7 10.Qd2 Nf7 11.Bc5 a6 12.Nbc3 Be6 13.Nd5 Qd7 14.f3 0–0–0 15.Nec3 Kb8 16.b4 Bf8

[16…Nd4! is correct.]

17.Rb1 Bxc5 18.bxc5 Rdf8 19.Qb2 Nfd8 20.Bd3 Qg7 21.0–0 Rf7 22.Qa3 Ka8 23.Rf2 Bc8 24.Rfb2 f4 25.Bc2

25.Nb5! with the ideas of 26.Nd6! cxd6 27.cxd6 followed by c4–c5 and Nb4 would have been deadly.

25…g5 26.Ba4 h5 <D>


Here Campo saw that 27.Nb4! would be very strong. He whispered to Rudy “kabayo!” (horse) which was overheard by Golombek. Now, you must realize that the eminent chess author worked as a wartime codebreaker together with C.H.O’D Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry on the German Naval “Enigma,” and thus spoke several foreign languages. He recognized that “kabayo” is the Filipino equivalent of “caballo,” or horse and loudly called out Campo for coaching his players. He got the arbiter to severely sanction the Filipino captain and really humiliated him on the floor. All this brouhaha severely shook Cardoso who made a point of NOT playing 27.Nb4 so as to avoid any charges of collusion.

27.Bb5? g4!

The final moves were played in pulse-pounding tension, but Campo had been banished from the playing area and could only ask the other Filipino players “what is happening?” He never forgot this incident.

28.Na4 gxh3 29.Rd1 Ka7 30.Nab6 cxb6 31.cxb6+ Kb8?

Penrose is himself flustered and makes an inexactitude that throws away the win. Best is 31…Ka8.

32.Qd6+ Ka8 33.Nc7+ Rxc7 34.bxc7 Nf7 35.Qc5?

The correct square for the queen is a3 so that 35.Qa3! Ng5 36.Bxc6 Nxf3+ he has 37.Qxf3.


[35…Ng5! wins for Black. After 36.Bxc6 Nxf3+ 37.Kf1 hxg2+ 38.Rxg2 Qxc7 39.Rg6 bxc6 40.Rxc6 Qb7 41.Rb6 Qxe4 Black mates first]

36.Bxc6 Qxc6 37.Qxc6 bxc6

White is winning but …


He should have played 38.Rd8! Rxd8 (38…Nxd8? 39.Rb8+ Ka7 40.Rxc8) 39.Rb8+ Ka7 40.cxd8Q Nxd8 41.Rxc8 Ne6 42.gxh3 this is an easy win for White.

38…Rg8 39.Rd2?

Last chance for 39.Rd8!

39…Rxg2+ 40.Rxg2 hxg2 41.Rxc6 Kb7 42.Rf6 Ng5 0–1

And now it is Black who wins.

From that time on the two delegation heads were mortal enemies. Golombek also likes to walk around the boards to watch the games from various angles. In future Olympiads in Philippines vs. England matches every time Golombek wanders to the Filipino side of the boards Campo would scream at him and demand that he go back to his own side.

Golombek wrote once that Filipino players could be likened to “penguins and polar bears” and Campo confronted him and called him a “big hairy ape.”

The war in words continued all through the years, both in words and in writing.

But you know what happened in 1985? Golombek was born in 1911 and had already retired when Mr. Florencio Campomanes became FIDE President in 1982. In 1985 Campo created the title of Honorary Grandmaster and conferred it upon IM Harry Golombek, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

I was “Campo’s boy” in the period 1998-2001, and together we upended the Philippine Chess Federation (PCF) to replace it with the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP). We introduced the Philippine Age Group Championships and with his blessing and support I organized several international tournaments in the Philippines. He gave his life for chess and demanded the same from you. Unfortunately, this really wreaked havoc with my family life and bankrupted me financially. I had to quit the NCFP in 2001 to address my obligations to my young family and start earning money again.

But you know what? During those three years I achieved everything I had ever dreamed of accomplishing in chess. I represented my country in international competition, led the Philippine team to the 1998 Asian Team Championships and the 2000 Istanbul Olympiad. I dined with royalty and sat across the table with the highest officials in the International Chess Federation, arguing my case for a new Federation, negotiated for several country’s support for our fledgling association, discussed the way going forward for chess, whether we needed a new time control. The team captains of several chess powers approached me during meals to discuss this or that matter, when I enter a room I would see the other officials bending over to whisper to each other’s ear that I was “Campo’s boy.”

A lot of us when we reach the age of 60 would look back over our life and realize that we have achieved nothing and that when we leave the earth no one will remember us. Not me, I have done something, and it is because of Mr. Florencio Campomanes. Other people like to complain, to point out defects and claim that they could have done it better. Campo is the opposite — he made things happen and didn’t give a whiff on what other people said. It is well known that I quarreled with Campo many times and uncharitable words have been exchanged. It cannot be denied though that he allowed my dream to come true, and for this I am eternally grateful.


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.