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Frayna is 20 years old and a psychology student at Far Eastern University. Learn more about the first Filipina chess grandmaster
MANILA, Philippines – A few years ago, Jayson Gonzales noticed one of his players read every book he lent to members of the FEU women’s chess team. So, he took her aside, gave her special instruction and honed her skills for something higher.
Last Sunday, Janelle Mae Frayna became the country’s first woman grandmaster after she drew her ninth round game against Mongolia in the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Although Frayna’s final norm for her woman’s grandmaster title will have to pass through FIDE, the ruling body for world chess, Gonzales is confident the last norm is in bag. “We have earned more than enough,” said Gonzales in an email to Rappler.com.
Nobody thought Frayna, who was in sight of the world junior championship a few weeks ago only to lose two of her last 3 games, would regain her bearings quickly in time for the Olympiad.
But doubters did not reckon that the 20-year-old Frayna, who is known for her focus, could recharge her batteries in time for the Olympiad.
In the second round, Frayna’s mettle was tested as Georgian grandmaster Naza Dzagnidze sacrificed a piece for two pawns to stir up an attack. In the tense position that followed, Frayna answered her foe blow-for-blow, repulsing her attack and sending the game to a truce. That draw helped sustain the momentum of the Philippines’ 3-1 upset of fourth-seeded Georgia.
In the seventh round against Hungary, Frayna mishandled a superior position against the former Vietnamese world junior champion Hoang Thanh Trang and lost. But she recovered from the defeat and scored 1.5 points, including her draw against Mongolia, in her next two games.
Her triumph is certain to create more interest in chess among women in the Philippines.
“This is very good news,” said Mila Emperado, who has run the successful Milo Checkmate Clinics for the past 26 years. “Girls now enroll in our classes because they like the game.”
Emperado is a member of the first Philippine women’s team to a Chess Olympiad. The others are then top board Herminia Cartel, Andrea Lizares and Carmelita Alvarez, both of whom are lawyers.
Girme Fontanilla, the country’s first Woman International Master, said Frayna’s performance was “great.”
Frayna, whose parents are government employees in Legazpi City, Albay, is also pursuing her cum laude degree in psychology at Far Eastern University at the end of this year.
After she gets her psychology degree, Frayna will have a long campaign to improve her game and hopefully break the stranglehold of the Vietnamese in the Asian Zonal tournament. Vietnam has ruled Southeast Asian women’s chess for close two decades.
Frayna may help give them a run for their money for years to come.