Thirty six players, including 12 female wood pushers who emerged on top of their side while competing against their male counterparts, set out for the Shell National Youth Active Chess Championships grand finals – all ready to outwit each other for top honours, prizes and bragging rights.

The elite field, which survived the gruelling six-leg nationwide eliminations, including two in talent-rich Mindanao, includes the country’s leading players and rising stars in the 20-and-under and 14-and-under age groups who are all raring to give their respective title bids one final push in the two-day finale set October 11-12 at SM Megamall.

While the fight for the boys’ crowns is expected to be fierce, focus will also be on the 12 female players, who were given the rare chance to pit their skills and talents against their counterparts, including Vic Glysen Derotas of University of San Carlos, who did not only emerge as the top female player in the Visayas leg but also topped the kiddies section.

FEU’s Gladys Hazelle Romero, FEU’s Venice Vicente and UE’s Virgenie Ruaya, on the other hand, are tipped to dispute the crown in the juniors section of the country’s longest running chess tournament put up by Shell for the 22nd time.

Like in the eliminations, the girls will be playing alongside the boys in both the kiddies and juniors categories with the top finishers from their side clinching the title. The move is in line with Shell’s effort to recognise the girls’ hard work in playing against their counterparts and at the same time raise the level of their respective games.

NCR leg topnotcher Melwyn Kenneth Baltazar and runner-up Carlo Caranyagan of Arellano University head the juniors roster with Southern Luzon leg winner Jerich Cajeras of St. Benilde and second placer Jan Nigel Galan of La Salle, Visayas top finishers Rhenzi Kyle Sevillano and Vincent Baleña of USC, Northern Mindanao topnotchers Jethro Esplanada of University San Jose-Recoletos and Felix Shaun Balbona, Southern Mindanao leg champion Allan Pason of Pajo National High School and runner-up John Gerard Acedo of Bukidnon State University, and Northern Luzon winner Aglipay Oberio of La Salle and second placer Kevin Arquero of City University of Pasay.

Leading the cast in the kiddies division of the annual event, which coincides with the centennial anniversary of the energy and gas technology leader in the Philippines, are NCR leg winner Dale Bernardo of Holy Angel University and runner-up Julius Gonzales of La Salle Greenhills, Southern Luzon leg titlist Stephen Rome Pangilinan of Adamson and No. 2 Noel Geronimo of UE, Visayas leg champion Derotas and runner-up Valerio Mangubat of West Negros University.

Northern Mindanao stage winner Romeo Canino of MOGCHS, and runner-up Carl Zirex Sato of A. O. Floirendo High School, Southern Mindanao leg titlist Earl Rhey Mantilla of Davao Wisdom Academy, and second placer Kriztian Rocer Magdugo; and Northern Luzon eliminations champion Istraelito Rilloraza of FEU and runner-up Jose David Tapia of Adamson U.

Other female finalists are University of St. La Salle’s Adelaide Joie Lim (Visayas), MOGCHS’ Julie Anne Opema (Northern Mindanao), Mary Jonah Lequin (Southern Mindanao) in the juniors side, and Francois Marie Magpily (NCR), Jesca Docena of Wesleyan College (Southern Luzon), Bhea Buen Ecal of MOGCHS (Northern Mindanao), Honey Grace Buenafe (Southern Mindanao) and Mhage Gerriahlou Sebastian of Binsang Elementary School (Northern Luzon).

Adrian de Luna salvaged a spot in the kiddies finals following Derotas’ win in the Visayas leg of the event backed by Shell FuelSave, Shell Fuel Oil Plus, Shell Advance, Unilever and SM Supermalls and sanctioned by the National Chess Federation of the Philippines.