IM Ruben Rodriguez stories

Chess Piece
Bobby Ang

Posted on July 30, 2015

Recently while researching for an article on the late GM Walter Shawn Browne I had to go through past issues of Chess Life & Review and California Chess Reporter. It was a really nice trip down memory lane. GM Browne lived his life to the fullest and would play chess, poker, tennis, backgammon nonstop, oftentimes going without sleep during chess tournaments because he was trying to squeeze the last drop of adventure from the trip.

His Bohemian existence strongly reminded me of a dearly departed Filipino chess player, IM Ruben Rodriguez (1946-1995). As our friend Ignacio Dee puts it: “He would guzzle beer, smoke and play chess among friends and players at the Luneta Chess Plaza. He would sleep nearly anywhere, clutching a big traveling bag containing chess books, novels, thick notebooks and canned food.”

It really makes me sad that many of the young players around have never heard of him, as there was a time when he was the no. 2 player in the country behind Eugene Torre.

Ruben Rodriguez was co-champion with Eugene Torre twice in the Asian Zone 10 (Philippines, China, Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia being the main competitors) in 1979 and 1982.

Ruben participated in one of the biggest stagings of the US Open in Chicago 1973, tying for first with Norman Weinstein, Walter Browne, Duncan Suttles, and Greg DeFotis. What many people do not know is that he won solo first in the blitz championship held alongside that event. Ruben was a complete unknown at the start of the tournament but got the moniker “The Filipino Terror” because of his performance there and in subsequent events.

IM Rodriguez represented the Philippines in nine Olympiads: Lugano 1968, Siegen 1970, Skopje 1972, Haifa 1976, Buenos Aires 1978, Malta 1980, 1986 Dubai, Thessaloniki 1988 and Manila 1992. Overall he played exactly 100 games with 36 wins, 32 draws and 32 losses.

For a long time he was considered the Philippines’ best blitz player. Make no mistake about it Ruben was a chess hustler -- he would bang the chess clock to distract the opponent, put his pieces in-between squares to gain time on the clock, secretly advance the clock of his foe when no one is looking, etc. etc. However, nobody can survive a blitz session with him when it came to the end game -- he played it efficiently, knowing everything, seeing everything, and played it instantly.

He was also something of a nemesis for GM Walter Shawn Browne. When Browne was winning tournament after tournament both in the States and Europe he lost three straight times to Rodriguez in US competitions. Let me show you the first sensational upset victory. This is from the 1st California People’s Chess Festival (Feb. 26-28, 1974) at Chabot College in Hayward, which Ruben Rodriguez won.

Open Section

Final Top Standings (ratings are USCF, not FIDE)

1. Ruben Rodriguez 2432, 5.0/6

2-3. Walter Browne 2592, Larry Gilden 2396, 4.5/6

4. John Grefe 2524, 4.0/6

Total of 20 participants

* * *
Rodriguez, Ruben (2430) -- Browne, Walter Shawn (2530) [B99]
Hayward (5), 1974

For those readers who have seen My 60 Memorable Games, The game Keres vs. Fischer from the 1959 Candidates (game 14 in that book) will look familiar. They follow that game until GM Browne tries an improvement but winds up being outplayed by the “Filipino Terror”.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0 -- 0 -- 0 Nbd7 10.Be2

There are over 1,600 tournament games with 10.g4 and 25 with 10.Be2. I believe we can say this is purely a sideline.

10...b5 11.Bxf6 Nxf6

Best. If 11...Bxf6? 12.Bxb5!; and 11...gxf6 12.Qh5 Nb6 13.a3 with the idea of f4 -- f5.


[12.a3 Rb8! followed by a pawn push to b4]

12...Bb7 <D>

Position after 12...Bb7


Now we see the point behind 10.Be2. This was Keres’ big preparation against Fischer in their encounter during the 1959 Candidates’ Tournament. Unfortunately Fischer with his great feeling for the position played all the right moves.

13...Bxf3 14.Bxf3 Bxf6

Some recent examples:

14...Rc8 15.Bc6+ Kf8 16.fxe7+ Qxe7 (16...Kxe7? 17.Rhe1 Kf8 18.Rxe6! and 1 -- 0 shortly Fuentes-Byambaa, Carroll Capps Memorial 2012) 17.Rhe1 both sides have chances;

14...gxf6? 15.Bxa8 d5 16.Bxd5 0 -- 0? (16...b4) 17.Bxe6! Qxf4+ 18.Kb1 Bc5 19.Nd5 Qe5 20.Rhe1 Qg5 21.h4 Qxh4 22.Re4 Qh6 23.Nf5 Qh2 24.Nxf6+ Kh8 25.Rh4 Qxh4 26.Nxh4 fxe6 27.Ne4 1 -- 0 Fuentes,R (2217)-Jones,J (2042) San Francisco 2012.

15.Bxa8 d5 16.Bxd5 Bxd4

Let’s analyze some more:

16...Qxf4+ 17.Kb1 Bxd4 unfortunately loses to 18.Bc6+! Ke7 19.Ne2;

16...exd5? 17.Nxd5 Qc8 (17...Qd8?? 18.Nc6 Qd6 19.Nxf6+ Qxf6 20.Rhe1+ Kf8 21.Rd8+ wins) 18.Rhe1+ Kf8 19.Nxb5! and now if 19...axb5 then 20.Nb6 wins.

17.Rxd4 exd5 18.Re1+ Kf8 19.Nxd5 Qc5 20.c3 g6

This move is a suggestion of Pirc. In the stem game Fischer played 20...h5 with the i9ea of activating his rook via h6 and won. Later analysis showed that if Keres had found 21.Re5! (threatening Nf6!) (21.f5 Rh6! 22.f6? gxf6 23.Nf4 h4 24.Rd8+? Kg7 25.Ree8 Qg1+ 26.Kd2 Qf2+ 27.Ne2 Rg6 Black already has the upper hand. Keres,P-Fischer,R Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade 1959 Candidates 0 -- 1 53.) 21...g6 (21...Qc8 22.Ne7 Qa8 23.Nc6 f6 24.Re6 Kf7 25.f5 with a big advantage) 22.f5! he would be at least equal.

21.Re5 Kg7 22.g4 Qc8 23.f5 Re8

[23...gxf5 24.gxf5 followed by Rg4+ and Nf6 is very dangerous]

24.f6+ Kh8

Going to h6 is bad. After 24...Kh6? 25.Ne7 the threat of R4d5 followed by Rh5+ ends the game.

25.Re7 Kg8

[25...Rxe7 26.fxe7 Qe8 27.Re4 followed by Nf6 or Nc7]

26.Nc7! Rf8 27.Rdd7 g5

He is preventing g4 -- g5 followed by Ne6, but it turns out White can play Ne6 anyway.

28.Ne6! Qxd7 29.Rxd7 fxe6 30.Rg7+ Kh8 31.Rxg5 Rxf6

This ending is won for White. There are a lot of technical difficulties though but Ruben handles them well.

32.h4 Rf4 33.h5 b4 34.Kc2 bxc3 35.Kxc3 h6 36.Rg6 Kh7 37.Rxe6 Rxg4 38.Rxa6 Rg5 39.Rg6!

The final trick.


Forced. 39...Rxg6 40.hxg6+ Kxg6 41.a4 when this pawn queens on a8 it will prevent its counterpart from doing so on h1. The Black king is too far away from the queenside to catch the a-pawn.


Take note that because of Ruben’s 39th move, Black’s king is cut off from the rest of the board.


[40...Rg5? 41.Rxg5 hxg5 42.a4 g4 43.Kd3 Kg6 44.a5 g3 45.Ke3 it is hopeless for Black]

41.Kb4 Rc2 42.Kb3 Rc1 43.a4 h5 44.Kb4

White will advance his passed pawns as far as he can followed by giving up his rook for Black’s h-pawn.

44...Kh6 45.Kb5 h4 46.Rg8 Rc7 47.b4 Rg7 48.Rc8 h3 49.Rc3 Rg5+ 50.Ka6 h2 51.Rh3+ Rh5 52.Rxh2 Rxh2 53.b5

The pawns cannot be stopped.

53...Kg5 54.b6 Rh6 55.a5 Kf5 56.Ka7 Ke6 57.b7 Rh7 58.Ka8 Rh5 59.a6 1 -- 0

IM Ruben Rodriguez died over the chessboard. He was playing in one of Mila Emperado’s chess tournaments, a 9-round event. In the 8th round he was among the leaders in the tournament but suffered a diabetic attack against Ponciano Badilles. Ponce was trying to hold an inferior position but suddenly noticed that Rodriguez was very pale and sleeping across the board. When Ruben would not wake up Ponce stood up, asked for help and told Mila he was resigning the game (no truth to the rumor that Ponce waited for Ruben’s clock to fall before calling for medical help). Ruben never woke up. The next day the tournament was cancelled and all prize money went to his funeral.

Perhaps Ruben had already felt the end was near, for in his notebook was a recent note saying that he had no regrets.

Bobby Ang is a founding member of the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and its first Executive Director. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), he taught accounting in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for 25 years and is currently Chief Audit Executive of the Equicom Group of Companies.