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Hero's welcome awaits PHL's first woman Chess Grandmaster in Legazpi City

LEGAZPI CITY, September 15, 2016-- A hero’s welcome awaits 20-year-old Janelle Mae Frayna, the first ever woman chess Grandmaster (GM) of the Philippines, when she comes home here.

“She is a Legazpeña who brought us this big honor, which is a historic achievement for all of us as Filipinos,” said Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal.


Janelle Mae Frayna
Janelle Mae Frayna

Janelle achieved the momentous feat at the 42nd World Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan Sunday night, September 11.

“I'm proud to announce that WIM (Woman International Master) Janelle Mae Frayna achieved the third and last result to become the first Woman Grandmaster from the Philippines,” said a press statement issued immediately after Frayna’s triumph by GM Jayson Gonzales, Frayna’s personal trainer and coach at the Far Eastern University (FEU).

Frayna scored six points on four wins and four draws against just one loss in nine games that earned for her the GM title.

Her opponents included three men's GM, among them Georgia's Nana Dzagnidze and India's Dronavali Harika. A major rival, Nomin Erdene, has a men's International Master title while two other WIM, Sabrina Latreche of Algeria and Alejandra Guerrero Rodrigiez of Mexico had fought against Janelle.

Rosal said Janelle’s achievement is something her “kababayans” (townmates) are very proud of.

He said the lady GM will receive an incentive from the local government.

The Mayor’s Office has ordered all the department heads and employees to prepare a heroes’ welcome for her.

A motorcade will tour Janelle around the city’s main streets while the local government is preparing a program to honor her.

Albay second district Representative Jose Salceda on Tuesday morning House filed Resolution 334 congratulating Janelle.

“The plan is to give her a congressional commendation as she is the first female Grandmaster of the Philippines,” he said.

Salceda has promised to give Janelle his one-month salary from Congress while pushing for support from among his colleagues in the Lower House for additional incentives.

“We (the family) almost forgot to sleep the whole night of Sunday after Janelle told us about the good news,” said Janelle’s mother Corazon Frayna, 55, an engineer working at the City Planning and Development Office of the local government.

She said the family, who is staying at the Teachers’ Village Subd., Washington Drive, in this city, was too stunned and excited to be thinking of anything but sleep after getting the call from Azerbaijan.

The family consists of Janelle’s father George and her two older brothers Don Marifil and Kevin.

Janelle is the youngest and only daughter in the brood.

Her mother remembers that Janelle was a typical pupil in kinder and prep school until her elementary years.

“She always fell asleep inside her class, especially when she was in grade 1 until grade 3,” said Corazon.

But during grades 5 and 6 at the Divine Word High School Janelle suddenly began to excel in class and aspired to be on top of all her endeavors.

“She graduated as the second salutatorian in elementary," said Corazon.

On her first year and second year in high school at the same school, Janelle continued to top her class.

During her third and fourth year, when she left Legazpi and transferred to Far Eastern University as a scholar on account of her acumen as a chess player, Janelle did not earn academic honors because most of her time was spent practicing for chess competitions.

“While at FEU Janelle initially was able to attend classes four times a week until it became three times a week and later two times a week. It came to a point that she was only present during their examination days,” said Corazon.

She said it was very difficult for Janelle to balance the schedules of her classes and chess practices and competition.

“But eventually she managed to cope despite the difficulties,” she added.

Corazon said during the days when Janelle was absent due to her obligations with chess, her classmates would text her about the lessons that were taken up in her absence.

"On such occasions Janelle always managed to squeeze the time to study hard,” she said.

Corazon said the family is very happy because all of Janelle’s hard work has paid off.

“Aside from being the first Pinay Grandmaster, Janelle is now a candidate for cum laude in BS Psychology upon graduation,” she said.

Corazon said her daughter began to show interest in chess when she was 12 years old and in grade six.

“This was when her Kuya Don taught her how to play chess,” she said.

The Frayna family loved toying with the chessboard as a past time which helped motivate Janelle to play the board game.

Her mother, however, said at that time Janelle was not that good yet in playing chess.

Corazon recalled how she handily beat Janelle a lot of times whenever they played chess at home.

When Janelle was a freshman at the Divine Word High School, Corazon enrolled her daughter at the Magayon Chess Club, a local chess club in Legazpi City, where she received her first serious training as a chess player.

Janelle was a club member for nearly three years during which she was able to hone her mettle as she was competing with the club’s brightest players.

“Her opponents were amazed at her because she was able to defeat all of them, including the more seasoned and senior players,” said Corazon.

This was until July 2010 when she transferred to FEU. "When Janelle defeated all the good players of their local chess club she began to ask me to go to other places to play,” she said.

Mother and daughter would then frequent Metro Manila and other places during Saturdays and Sundays just to get a chance to play in the invitationals.

“We were leaving Friday afternoons and returning Sunday evenings. From the terminal (after the 11-12 hour overnight bus trips) I would go directly to my office at the Legazpi City Hall and Janelle to her class on Mondays," narrated Corazon.

Janelle started earning berths in chess at the Department of Education Regional Meet or Palarong Bicol while in elementary and in her early adolescent years.

In 2008 when she was in grade six, Janelle competed at the Palarong Pambansa. “She emerged in fifth place in the overall under 14 years old category,” said her mother.

In March 2010, Janelle entered the “Davao Competition for National Age Group” and clinched the second spot.

Two months later, in May 2010, she joined the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Age Group Competition in Subic, Zambales, which Janelle topped.

Her win in this tilt earned her the opportunity to represent the country at the ASEAN Chess Olympic in Beijing, China in June of the same year. Janelle got the fourth spot. Janelle’s performances in the national and international competitions so impressed GM Jason Gonzales, a native of Libon town in Albay, who was also head coach of FEU in chess.

He offered Janelle to play with the university’s chess group.

The offer came with a free tuition fee but Corazon refused as she was afraid for her daughter’s safety in Metro Manila.

Corazon told the FEU coach she also had no means to support Janelle’s board and lodging and other personal needs.

Gonzales, however, saw a big potential in Janelle and insisted on providing, aside from the free tuition fee, the board and lodging expenses.

Corazon said Gonzales told her that it was the “first time the school had offered such a package to a player.”

Janelle transferred to FEU as a junior high school student and went to play with the university team.

During tournaments at the university, Janelle consistently shone.

“GM Gonzales even said Janelle was able to beat the female star player of their university and almost defeated the top male player of the school,” reminisced Corazon.

She said during Janelle’s early years in high school and in her college days they could not afford the three chess books costing P1,000 each that would help Janelle learn more about the board game.

Corazon said “someone” (whom she named as Efren Bagamasmad) lent Janelle the three chess books.

"And now, Janelle was able to fulfill her ultimate dream, that of becoming the first female Filipina Grandmaster," she said. (PNA)

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