Chess Piece

WIM Arianne Caoili, circa 2000

WIM Arianne Bo Caoili died last March 30 from injuries sustained after her car crashed into a supporting column under a bridge in Yerevan two weeks prior. She was only 33 years old. She played for me when I was Team Captain of the Philippines’ 2000 Istanbul Olympiad team, but to describe her as a chess player would be a grave injustice. She couldn’t sit/stand still and always had to be doing something, and she excelled in everything she did. Just read on.

The daughter of Mr. Arnold Caoili (a former Deputy Minister of Agriculture during the Marcos days) and Ms. Annette Caoili of the Netherlands. I first met her in 1999 when I was still the Executive Director of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines and no less than Hon. Florencio Campomanes recommended her as a great talent to be nurtured.

“Campo” as everyone knows was a chess junkie and played chess anywhere and everywhere. During a local tournament he spotted this tiny cute girl playing blitz against all comers and he had to try her out for himself, losing three games in succession in the process.

To make a long story short the Philippine Chess Society sponsored the “Philippine Chess Center Women’s Championship” where all the top women players in the country participated and Arianne confirmed her skill by winning the event.

She played top board for the Philippines in the 2000 Istanbul Chess Olympiad. I was captain of that team (also the men’s team, but they did not need any captaining from me if you know what I mean!), and fondly remember them all: board 1 WIM Arianne Caoili, board 2 Beverly Mendoza, board 3 Leah Bernardo, board 4 Christine Grace Espallardo, Team Captain: WIM Cristine Mariano.

After breakfast each day the team would go out for a walk in the long pedestrian shopping street near Taksim Square, after which we would go to review our various strategies for the game in the afternoon.

During the morning strolls I felt on top of the world because I was rubbing elbows with famous chess organizers and administrators from all over the world and even famous grandmasters like Ulf Andersson, Michal Krasenkow, Peter Leko would stop and chat a bit. Players who I hardly knew would greet me and strike up a conversation. It was only later on that I realized that this newfound “popularity” was because we had two “lookers” in the team, Arianne and Christine Espallardo.

I would regularly go to the Internet cafes to send reports to the Philippines on the performance of our players and these cafes were usually filled with players from other teams playing online games and chatting with their friends on social media. Now, I am aware that Facebook was created in 2004, Twitter in 2006, and Instagram even later, around 2012. At that time what we had was Internet Relay Chat and the chat rooms. Also, online sites like the Internet Chess Club (ICC) allow players to log in, play, analyze and talk/chat/gossip with each other. It was there that I first got wind of the “babes in the Philippine team” and their clueless team captain!

At the end of 2000 the Philippines hosted the Asian Under-16 Boys’ and Girls’ Championship in Bagac, Bataan, and Arianne won the Girls’ event to get her Woman’s International Master (WIM) title.

In 2004 Arianne transferred chess federations to represent Australia. She played for the women’s team Down Under in the chess olympiads of 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012.

2006 was a very eventful year for Arianne. She was one of the celebrity dancers in the fifth Australian season of Dancing with the Stars. Her professional dance partner was Carmelo Pizzino and she finished as the series’ runner-up behind Anthony Koutoufides.

In an episode of the Australian TV show Deal or No Deal she won a car for the home competition entrant.

Later on during the 2006 Turin Olympiad there was some negative publicity. Every Chess Olympiad has a “Bermuda Party” (so named because it is sponsored by the team from Bermuda) held on the eve of a free day, which is usually a big celebration, a wild, noisy affair with multiple imported bands playing well into the wee hours of the morning.

Anyway, Arianne attended that party at the arm of Latvian/German/Azerbaijan GM Arkadij Naiditsch and at some point she started dancing with Levon Aronian then as now considered something of a national hero in Armenia. Suddenly, out of nowhere, England’s GM Daniel Gormally, drunk and in a jealous rage, lunged at Aronian and sent him sprawling on the dance floor. Immediately, GM Varuzhan Akobian of the US team (a native Armenian) rushed Gormally and tried to engage him in fisticuffs. I believe at this stage GM Yasser Seirawan intervened and separated all the parties.

It was not yet over, of course, the next day a group of Armenians waylaid Gormally and roughed him up. The English board 4 was really in physical danger and had to depart from the Olympiad.

Next year when Aronian and Caoili met again in a tournament they connected and started going out. Two years later, in 2008, they were officially in a relationship, became officially engaged in 2015 and were married on Sept. 30, 2017 with no less than Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his wife Rita Sargsyan in attendance.

This game, played 20 years ago almost to the day, was quite a sensation at that time. A cute 13-year old girl defeats Vladimir Epishin, one of the top players of the world then, 3rd placer in the 1991 Soviet Chess Championship and a second to former world champion Anatoly Karpov. He is also a theoretician and even has a variation of the Benko Gambit named after him (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.Nf3 d6 8.g3 Bg7 9.Bg2 Nbd7 10.Rb1)

Caoili, Arianne (2097) — Epishin, Vladimir (2667) [E15]
III Open de Malaga (4.12), 28.02.2000

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6 3.c4 e6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb7 6.Bg2 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 a5

This is a popular line with Black hoping that the little girl sitting opposite him would play 8.Bxb4? axb4 rewarding Black with a semi-open a-file. However, Arianne has done a lot of work in her opening repertoire and knows that the crucial square for this line is e4.

8.0–0 0–0 9.a3

The most common moves here are 9.Nc3 and 9.Qc2. On the other hand, the move 9.Bc3 has largely lost its popularity because of Black’s 9…c5! 10.a3 Bxc3 11.Nxc3 d5 12.Ne5 Na6 and it seems that White does not have anything out of the opening.

9…Be7 10.Nc3 d5 11.cxd5 exd5 12.Qc2 Re8 13.Rfc1 Na6 14.Bf4 Qd7 15.Na4

You know what this knight move is for? This is to prevent Black’s knight from re-activating itself via …c6, …Nc7 and …Ne6 because of the attack on b6.

15…Bd6 16.Bxd6 Qxd6 17.e3 h6 18.Nb2 c5 19.Nh4 Rac8 20.Nc4!

Can you believe that a 14–year old girl is handling the white pieces?

20…Qe6 21.Qf5 cxd4 22.exd4 Qc6?!

An inaccuracy. Better is 22…Qe7 defending his hanging bishop on b7. Now, when White moves out his knight 23.Nxb6 there will follow 23…Rxc1+ 24.Rxc1 Qxa3 and Black’s position is looking decidedly better!

23.Rc2 b5 24.Ne3 Qd6 25.Rxc8 Bxc8 26.Qd3 Nc7 27.Nhf5 Qb6 28.Rc1 b4 29.a4 g6?! 30.Nh4

If that wasn’t one of the world’s top grandmasters sitting opposite her maybe Arianne would have gambled with 30.Nxh6+!? Kg7 31.Qd2! because if Black now tries to win the knight by 31…Rh8 then 32.g4! looks strong.

30…Kg7 31.Nf3 Ba6 32.Qc2 Ne6 33.Qd1

Defending her d-pawn and preparing one last thrust at the Black King.

33…Bb7 34.Bh3 Ne4 35.Bxe6 Rxe6 36.Ne5 Nc3 37.Qg4



Pressed for time, Epishin counted only on 38.Qxd4 Ne2+.

Some commentators wrote that Epishin blundered grievously at this point and should have won since 37…h5 would have won Arianne’s rook. That is true if she had intended to play 38.Qf3?? Rf6. But her intention (and Epishin saw this) was to play 38.Nf5+! Now Black’s King cannot go to f6 or f8 because of Nd7+, and neither can it to the h-file because of Qg5 and Qh6. Forced, therefore, is 38…Kg8 39.Qg5! Ne2+ 40.Kg2

• Trying for a win with 40…Rxe5?! backfires: 41.dxe5 d4+ (41…Nxc1? 42.Qh6) 42.f3 White’s threat of Qh6 is deadly.

• Black should agree to the draw with 40…Nxc1 41.Nh6+ Kh7 (41…Kf8?? 42.Nd7+) 42.Nhxf7 Kg8 43.Nh6+ Kh7 (43…Kg7 44.Nf5+) 44.Nhf7 and the draw is a fitting conclusion to this thrilling game.

38.Nf5+! 1–0

Wins the queen and forces Epishin to resign.

Arianne hardly played chess after her 2012 olympiad stint. But that doesn’t mean that she was not active elsewhere. She found time to get her Ph.D. in Economics on “Russian foreign policy, especially its economic and business relations with Armenia on a state and individual level.” She became the Special Economic Advisor for the President of Armenia (2013–2015) and Advisor to Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan.

After working as a consultant at Price Waterhouse Coopers, she founded Akron Consulting in 2015, a global strategy consulting firm based in Yerevan, Armenia, with a presence in Cambridge, Maryland. The firm is active in public policy and economics. In this role she has advised international leaders, including the President of Armenia.

Arianne was also active in several social philanthropic projects. For example in 2018 she made a 2,000-km bike tour from the city of Ayas in Cilicia to Agarak, a town located on the Armenian-Iranian border. Her aim was to raise US $5,500, which she exceeded by collecting US$6,016 in two weeks. These funds were donated to the Children of Armenia Fund which builds schools where chess is now taught.

She was the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Champord, a free mass-distributed newspaper in the Caucasus region (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia) with a print run almost 10 times larger than any other printed press in Armenia. She also served as Chairman of the Champord Fund, an organization invested in the development and training of young Armenian journalists.

She has accomplished much in her 33 years with us.

Rest in Peace, Arianne.


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.