AWAY from the prying eyes of the public, two global icons from the world of sports square off in a game few fans expect them to play.
But there they were, boxing hero Manny Pacquiao and pool legend Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes sitting across each other on a chess board, deep in thought.
It was a sight to behold.
Reyes, largely regarded as the best billiards player of all time, said it wasn't the first time he has played boxing's former pound-for-pound king in a game of chess.
“Lagi kaming naglalaban niyan, noong araw pa," said 'The Magician.
"Magandang kalaban eh. May premyo,” added Reyes, flashing his trademark toothless smile.
Whenever he is in Manila, the 36-year-old Pacquiao would often gather his friends led by former PBA big man Zaldy Realubit in his house in Forbes Park in Makati and host chess tournaments.
It wasn't a bad deal for the guests since Pacquiao normally gives away about P5,000 for a win. On this night, the 'Pacman,' his aides said, put up a P100,000 prize for the team champion and P30,000 for the individual winner.
In all, prize money goes up to as much as P500,000, Realubit added.
“Maliit pa nga yan, kasi pag sa GenSan siya nagpa-tournament, umaabot pa ng P3 million kada gabi, kasi nagpapapalaro pa siya. Napakabait ni boss. Hindi siya madamot,” said Realubit.
Aside from Reyes and Realubit, other noted Filipino athletes who have joined Pacquiao’s private chess tournament are billiards great Francisco ‘Djanggo’ Bustamante, former world 9-ball champion Ronnie Alcano, former Olympic boxing silver medallist Onyok Velasco, and yes, even chess masters such as GM Eugene Torre, Rolando Nolte, and Chito Garma.
Realubit bared Pacquiao has become a chess fanatic, his passion for the game as fervent as his love for boxing and basketball and, before that, billiards.
So much so that what started as friendly matches have turned into a full tournament.
“Una kami-kami lang 'yan. Tapos may nagdala na ng mga masters, tapos ayun nag team-team na ang laban. Hanggang sa dumami na. Kagabi nga, 28 kami,” said Realubit about the tournament where each participant plays at least a minimum of three games each.
Reyes joked that aside from billiards, chess is the only game he dares to play against the eight-division world boxing champion.
“Ito lang ang sport na kaya ko siya. Sa boxing di ko siya lalabanan,” Reyes said laughing.
Asked if Pacquiao wins his own tournaments, Realubit nodded.
“Oo, laging nananalo sa individual, pero bihira siya mag-champion. Sa team, malakas siya, kasi kakampi niya sila Eugene Torre at iba pang national masters. Kaya natatalo kami,” he said smiling.
“Chess ngayon ang pinaka-favorite ni boss, pero sa GenSan naglalaro rin siya ng chess saka billiards,” added the former pro. “Kilala naman si boss na matulungin talaga. Nilagyan lang nya ng kaunting challenge ngayon.”
“Maganda ito kasi hindi na siya nagsusugal. Pero nagpa-premyo na lang siya. Malaking tulong sa mga atleta natin na walang pondo, kasi nakakakuha sila. Wala kang talo, kahit di ka nanalo, may iuuwi kang P2,000 or P3,000.”