Young sisters, Elle and Deandra Castronuevo, just wanted to have fun when the family stayed at home in Imus, Cavite after the COVID-19 lockdowns were imposed nationwide in 2020.
Their uncle, Robert Franz Grafil, began introducing them to chess pieces, and later showed them how to play and enjoy the sport in the months that followed.
Soon enough, the girls were learning to compete online, with family, friends, and competitors, and began joining tournaments sanctioned by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP). And they love what they’re doing.
Last year, the pair enjoyed their experience in being in online national age group championships and started making waves in the chess community.
The year 2022 was different, though, their parents, Bridson and Abi decided to bring them out of the virtual world and into a face-to-face confrontation with other young rivals when lockdowns began easing in March and April in Cavite.
Elle and Deandra showed their fighting form in the National Youth Age Group Championships, landing at second and third places, respectively, in their first-ever face-to-face events.
They traveled last July to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte for the National Youth and School Championships, a tournament that served as qualifiers for the 6th Eastern Asia Youth Chess Championship in Bangkok, Thailand.
It yielded great results with Elle making it to the second spot and Deandra at no. 4 in the under-9 category, and in a trip that was supported by the NCFP and the Philippines Sports Commission.
Inspired, their parents Bridson and Abi sent them first to Kuala Lumpur to join a chess festival to have them get a feel of how to compete in an international event.
Bridson, an information technology employee at the BPO in Makati, and Abi were surprised at the result as Elle and Deandra returned home as under-8 and under-10 champions.
“Nag-champion iyung dalawa. Pinadala namin sila duon para matuto maglaro sa board. Kasi, puro online games ang natutunan nila,” said Abi in an interview with Manila Standard.
They went to Bangkok for the East Asia event from Nov. 4-13, with Elle earning a Women’s Candidate Master (WCM) norm for winning 23 and 25 games she played there.
At age eight, she has become one of the youngest candidate masters besides Bince Rafael Operiano of Albay. Elle and Bince were among the 10 candidate masters who were named.
This happened after Elle took home three gold medals in the individual category, first for winning seven of nine games in the standard event, then sweeping seven matches in the rapids, and emerging unbeaten in nine rounds of blitz.
As for Deandra, she settled for the two team golds with teammates Janelle Tan of Cagayan de Oro City and Ann Hilario of Bulacan in the rapid and blitz events.
“Masaya po ako at nakapag finish po ako. At nagkaroon ng mga friends,” said Elle, a grade 3 student at the Imus Pilot Elementary School, of her experience with Deandra.
Deandra also expressed happiness in joining two international meets and she dreams of someday following the footsteps of chess legend Judit Polgar.
Bridson and Abi hope that their daughters would shine even more next year when they compete in more international tournaments.