The King’s Gambit

By Limuel Celebria

Perhaps only those who play chess will immediately know what I’m talking about. But for the uninitiated, the title of this column is about one of the numerous opening strategies available to players of the game.

Characterized by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.f4, the King’s Gambit is described as “an old opening from the romantic era of chess – one of the spiciest, most aggressive openings and gambits in chess and a surprise weapon for White to catch Black off-guard.”

Chess was often in my mind in recent weeks since I’ve been following the exploits of our compatriot, Super Grand Master Wesley So who has been mixing it up and often dominating the big boys of world chess. Wesley, playing under the colors of the US Chess Federation, recently captured the over all title in the Grand Chess Tour – a series of tournaments played in different countries. And he is currently just a few points behind World Champion Magnus Carlssen in the race for top honors in the Meltwater Champions Tour – another series of online events which started last year and culminates late this month.

Anyway, The King’s Gambit came to mind when President Rodrigo Roa Duterte accepted the recent nomination by the (Energy Sec. Alfredo) Cusi wing of the PDP-Laban as the party’s official candidate for Vice President in the looming 2022 elections. Long time PRRD aide, Sen. Bong Go was nominated as candidate for President but he declined.

Certainly, this is totally unprecedented. No sitting President in Philippine History has tossed his hat into the political ring to slide down into what is generally seen as a next to useless position. By doing the unthinkable, PRRD tossed the presidential race and Philippine politics in general into unchartered territory.

This is why I hasten to describe the move as akin to The King’s Gambit. Studies in chess theory describe this particular opening as “unconventional.” It violates much of Chess’ opening principles among which is to first develop minor pieces (the knights and bishops) instead of offering to the opponent a pawn that defends the King and create a seeming vulnerability.

But the ploy can be deceptively decisive. In one of their encounters, former Russian World Champion Boris Spassky ambushed the legendary Bobby Fischer with the King’s Gambit. Current World champion Magnus Carlssen occasionally essays the Gambit in blitz tournaments to catch opponents off guard and world challenger Ian Nepomniatchi recently employed it in beating down upcoming GM Alireza Firousja in the still on-going over the board tournament in Norway.

I asked some of my friends who have known Rody for years and they said they have never seen him play chess. He prefers big bikes, the firing range, as well as golf. But they all agree he is a master strategist in the manner of Confucius and Machiavelli – a mixture of Oriental ideology and European thought.

One close political ally of many years say Duterte is fond of launching trial balloons and conducting loyalty checks to address or eliminate every threat, from within and without. There’s no doubt he is a “segurista.” And that is why he has remained undefeated in all political battles he has ever engaged in.

Here’s another description of the gambit that offers a perfect parallel: The King’s Gambit veers away from mainstream theory. It is a common occurrence that club players try to develop naturally against the Gambit and soon find themselves in a tactically lost position. They lose the game without even understanding why they lost.

Let me repeat the last juicy line – They lose the game without even understanding why they lost.

So perfect, isn’t it? From Day One of his presidency, President Duterte was not allowed any rest by the political opposition, the oligarchs, and their conscripts in mainstream media. They relentlessly threw everything, including the toilet bowl and all its contents, on Duterte and his administration.

And yet, despite his uncouth, totally unorthodox manner, he continues to come out smelling like roses before his adoring public.  His trust and approval ratings are virtually unassailable – the envy of world leaders. And his detractors are left wondering why this is so. Hahaha.

The immediate response by the political opposition Duterte’s nomination and acceptance of it are similarly and pathetically lame. Lacking the proper response, they dismiss it as pure drama saying, “we’ve seen this before.”

Indeed, we’ve all seen it before. It’s like the Duterte’s 2016 script playing out all over again. But then again, what are they gonna do about it? Duterte’s moves have made the opposition look like pathetic fools scratching their scratching their balls absent-mindedly. The opposition has been reduced to a few but they couldn’t even get their acts together.

I can probably guess where this is headed. But, in the meantime, let’s just enjoy the tragi-comic spectacle the opposition offers.