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THE Philippines blanked Oman in the men’s division and Guam in the women’s side on Friday to open its 44th World Chess Olympiad campaign with a bang in Chennai, India.

Grandmasters (GMs) Mark Paragua, John Paul Gomez and Darwin Laylo and International Master (IM) Paulo Bersamina delivered the victories in the men’s side while Woman IMs Jan Jodilyn Fronda, Marie Antoinette San Diego and Kylen Joy Mordid and Woman FIDE Master Shania Mendoza provided the triumphs in the women’s contest.

The impressive wins launched the country’s bid to improve on its 37th-place in the men’s class and 67th in the women’s category in the last over-the-board edition of the biennial event in Batumi, Georgia, four years ago.

While the GM Jayson Gonzales-coached women’s squad had it easy, there were some anxious moments in the GM Eugene Torre-mentored men’s team particularly Paragua, who fought his way back from an inferior position against upset-conscious Fide Master Amer Al Maashani.

Paragua’s escape sealed the 52nd-seeded Filipinos’ place in a 92-country tie at first. Seventy-six countries scored first-round sweeps.

The Filipinos play sixth pick Azerbiajan, an all-GM team that is expected to field world No. 10 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov after resting him in its 4-0 blanking of Algeria.

The second round was played on Saturday with GM Banjo Barcenilla, who didn’t play in the first round, taking Laylo’s place.

The Filipinas, ranked 39th, shared the lead with 78 others nations. They battle No. 78 Nicaragua, which smashed Somalia, 4-0.