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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The great popularity of chess

This piece is inspired by Florencio B. Campomanes, honorary president of the World Chess Federation, whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time a few days ago in Baguio City. We met through mutual friend Ed de Jesus, president of the University of the Cordilleras, who had invited me to lead a workshop with his faculty on the ABCs of survey research (which I will write on next time).

Despite his age, the maestro is well-recovered from a recent bad car accident, and his mind is as sharp as ever. Campo (as he likes being addressed) asked me if there is any survey on how many Filipinos play chess, and at what age do they begin. He believes that national excellence in chess comes from mass participation in it, if possible starting at the age of five.

Campo’s question can be answered, partially, from the national Survey of Leisure Time and Sports (LTS), done on March 30-April 2, 2008 for the International Social Survey Program, of which Social Weather Stations is a member. Such surveys only cover adults, which in the Philippines means people aged 18 and up.

The LTS survey has separate items on sports which are also physical activities (of which the most popular among Filipinos is, naturally, basketball) and those which are non-physical, called “games” instead. It asks: “Thinking about games rather than sports or physical activities, what type of game do you play most frequently?”

Chess is the No. 1 game. It turns out that chess is the Filipinos’ most popular game, meaning non-physical sport. Those citing it as the game they play most frequently are 15.6 percent in the country. This projects to 8.5 million adult chess players nationwide, based on a population of 54.1 million Filipino adults when the survey was done.

Chess is relatively more popular in Metro Manila, where it is cited by 20 percent, than in the rest of Luzon (18 percent), in Visayas, and in Mindanao (the last two both 12 percent).

Chess is much more a man’s game (26 percent) than a woman’s game (5 percent).

Chess gets less popular as people get older—with percentages of 21 in the 18-24 age group, 20 in the 25-34 group, 17 in the 35-44 group, 13 in the 45-54 group, and 5 among those of 55 and up.

The popularity of chess grows with education and socio-economic class. It is the favorite game of only 1 percent of those who didn’t finish elementary school, 10 percent of those with some high schooling, 20 percent of those with some college, and 26 percent of college graduates. Only 11 percent of class E adults, compared to 24 percent of class ABC adults, call chess their favorite game.

I certainly agree with Campo that children should play chess. I learned it at age seven (and am a low-grade player) and recall that almost all my relatives and friends of the same age could also play chess. But another survey is needed to get numbers on chess-playing among children of age 5 to 17.

Incidentally, another item of the LTS survey finds that 90 percent of Filipino adults agree, and only 5 percent disagree, that “Taking part in sports develops children’s character.”

Other popular games: The second most popular is card games (of all types). This was cited by 9.5 percent, which amounts to 5.1 million players.

Third are video games, a category including computer games, playstation, pinball etc., which was cited by 5.1 percent (2.7 million players).

Tied for fourth, at 4.0 percent (2.2 million players) each, are gambling games (lotto, jueteng, casino games, etc.) and board games (scrabble, monopoly, etc.) At sixth, with 2.2 percent (1.2 million players), is word/number games (crosswords, sudoku). Seventh is dominoes: 1.4 percent or 0.8 million. Eighth is mahjong: 1.2 percent or 0.7 million. Fifty-five percent said they do not play any game.

Sports and national pride. To the LTS question, “How proud are you when the Philippines does well in international sports or games competition,” 74 percent said very proud (talagang ipinagmamalaki) and 19 percent said somewhat proud (medyo ipinagmamalaki). Only 7 percent were either not very proud or not proud at all.

National pride in sports tends to rise with education—from 63 percent among elementary dropouts to 78 percent among college graduates.

On the statement “The Philippine government should spend more money on sports,” it turns out that opinions are divided—47 percent agreeing and 36 percent disagreeing. It seems to me that the Philippines has achieved so much in four international sports—billiards, bowling, boxing and chess—even without much help from the government.

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Support agrarian reform. The other evening, I attended a screening of Ditsy Carolino’s “Lupang Hinarang,” a very moving documentary film of the struggles of the Sumilao farmers, who walked 1,700 kilometers from Bukidnon to MalacaƱang, and of Task Force Mapalad (of Negros), who went on a 29-day hunger strike in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

By the standards of the early centuries of Christianity, the farmer-marchers and the hunger-strikers can be called saints, for having kept faith in the pursuit of justice through peaceful means. The farmers shot dead by goons of landlords are true martyrs. Rural unrest will simply not end without genuine agrarian reform—even if delayed by a hundred years, as in Mexico. The fruits of the farmers’ sufferings, as painfully recorded by Ditsy, will come sooner if Congress passes legislation for meaningful agrarian reform.

To host a “Lupang Hinarang” screening, write

To lobby Congress on agrarian reform, look up More information is at and

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