Inspiring words from Asia’s first grandmaster Eugene O. Torre, addressed to the graduating Class of 2023 at the 19th Commencement Exercises of the Tertiary Schools, FAITH Colleges
It is with great honor to be back here in FAITH Colleges, among the distinguished people and graduating students who are gathered here today.
Let me start by sharing that chess is without a doubt an incredible blessing in my life, providing me with cherished memories and experiences that will remain with me forever.
I come from a family that gives great importance to education. Despite great financial difficulties, our parents made sure that all 10 siblings of six brothers and four sisters attended schools and universities uninterruptedly.
Chess has always been our family’s favorite pastime. My early memories include playing with my lolo at home when I was barely six years old, and a few years later with my three older brothers. In the ‘70s, we played together as a team in a commercial tournament, with the two youngest brothers as alternate and our father as manager. It was the first and last time that a team was composed of all six brothers! Growing up in a chess-playing family was tremendously helpful in setting a solid foundation for my career as a chess player.
When it was time to enter college, engineering was my logical choice as I always excelled in Math. Further, there is a clear correlation between Chess and Engineering. Chess encourages skills such as problem solving, creativity, improved memory, concentration, and critical and analytical thinking. To me, these are the same skills that would also be fostered through Engineering.
At this point, after graduating from high school in 1968, I began participating in locally-organized top-level chess tournaments. After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take up a less demanding course so I can give my passion more time. Thus, I decided to take up Business Administration.
At that time, there were hardly any international chess tournaments in the whole of Asia. In 1972, I arrived at a crossroad. Based on how things were going, it didn’t make sense to continue pursuing both chess and college education. Inevitably, one or the other would suffer. I had a serious talk with my parents, and we made the big and difficult decision to focus on competing in the international arena. This was when I was in third year college.
I made an agreement with my father, and he essentially told me, “If you will not become a Grandmaster in two years, it would be best for you to return to college.”
I then proceeded to campaign for a year in Europe. I stayed in Madrid where at 21 years of age, I made a living on my own, away from family and friends; away from my comfort zone; away from my country.
After an entire year working so very hard, I did not succeed in getting a grandmaster norm. But the experience I gained was indispensable. That is where I realized that those years spent at home doing household chores was a training ground for me. Those years taught me to be resilient and independent. You see, like any young man, I wanted to have freedom to do certain things—like go out with friends, attend parties, go on gimmicks. I did not have that luxury growing up. I had to do manual labor at home, I had to run errands for the family. To be honest, like any young person, there were moments when I secretly wished that my circumstances were different. But I never rebelled. I just obediently and diligently followed. Little did I know that this experience was building my strong foundation for a future as bright and vibrant as I am now enjoying.
When I returned to Spain in early 1974, I finally got the first norm by winning the tournament in Malaga, Spain. Ultimately, I earned the elusive title of Grandmaster in the 1974 Nice Olympiad and captured the Silver Medal on Board 1 in the process.
My path to achieving my dream has not been easy. Yet, though I encountered challenges along the way, these struggles allowed me to experience growth and learn valuable life lessons.
Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to clarify that my family has always valued education. The decision to pursue either chess or my studies was a very difficult one. And while I may have chosen to pursue chess, my great respect for education never ceased.
The reasons I decided to focus on chess were:
- The opportunity was a rarity, and if I hadn’t pursued it, I couldn’t have known where it would take me.
- If I had not succeeded in chess, I would have undoubtedly returned to college, just as I had promised to my father.
Modesty aside, despite the trials and tribulations experienced in the world stage, there are numerous reasons to celebrate and be grateful for:
- For being the first Asian to become a Grandmaster in 1974,
- For being the first Asian to qualify in the Candidates for the World Championship in 1982,
- For being a member of the World Team during the USSR vs Rest of the World in 1984,
- For having the opportunity to share a great friendship with Bobby Fischer, and acting as his second in the World Championship Rematch with Boris Spassky in 1992,
- For establishing the record of playing for our country in 23 World Chess Olympiads starting in 1970 Siegen Olympiad and up to 2016 Baku Olympiad,
- And finally, for becoming the first male Asian to be inducted in the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2021.
Earlier, I mentioned being at a crossroads, where I had to decide between chess and pursuing a degree, and I chose chess. My induction to the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2021 is the defining moment of my chess career and is an affirmative validation of the profession I chose to pursue and that my passion for chess would ultimately result in significant achievements. And now, my being an inductee to the Hall of Fame becomes a genuine source of pride and honor—an accolade I share with my country, and an accolade that I hope would inspire young men and women like you to pursue your passion with all your heart and mind.
Through my story, I hope to inspire you with the following:
- Whatever you do in life, make sure it is something that you enjoy, something you love.
- There are times when you will be faced with your own crossroads or a set of difficult decisions. Whatever the result of your decisions— whether you fail or succeed—always see it as a learning experience.
- Sometimes, your goals may take years to achieve. Keep in mind that patience is a virtue. Always it give it your best.
- Aim for continuous growth. Even after achieving a big goal, there is always room for learning, unlearning, relearning, developing, and growing.
- Embrace change—it is a natural part of life. My role, for example, has evolved from competing to coaching. Though I am no longer focused on competing in tournaments, I continue to enjoy my passion for chess through coaching.
- Hard work is the key to success. Nothing is instant. Persevere. Be resilient. Be patient.
Finally, it is often mentioned that chess is like life. Therefore, let us always protect and promote our Mental King, Physical King, and most importantly, our Spiritual King.
May GOD bless us all.
Congratulations, Class of 2023. Ad Astra!