"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
-- MARK TWAIN
NEW YORK CITY -- The oldest Filipino to win a category title in the World Chess Open championship has surfaced after a long hiatus to belie reports he was dead.
"I came here to prove them wrong," Normando "Andy" Bragat Punzalan, 72, told this writer in an exclusive interview at the Elmhurst Park in Queens, August 15, referring to reports.
Rumors of Punzalan's death spread in Elmhurst Park July 2016, where he used to hone chess skills together with other fellow Filipino-American chess players.
He claimed credit in bringing super GM Wesley So in the park to play with local chess aficionados in exhibition matches.
Rated No. 2120 in the United States, Punzalan, who has lived here for more than 30 years since moving from Novaliches, Quezon City, blamed "envy" as the source of the false story.
Fellow Fil-Am chess player Melchor "Choy" Florescio alerted Punzalan about the rumors in a telephone call, but persuaded him from identifying the rumor mongers.
Chess aficionados in the park feared swindlers might once again use the opportunity to solicit donations for a "dead" compatriot.
"Ever since I won in Philadelphia (venue of the 7th Annual World Open Under1800), I have been hearing ugly rumors about me. Some people just can't accept that I could win a chess title in my senior years," narrated Punzalan, who was 70 when he ruled the category championship.
Punzalan claimed he also topped the tournament in the senior category in 2015.
When his victory became known in the community, Punzalan said envious characters also circulated a story that he was a TNT (Tago Ng Tago or illegal immigrant) in a bid to destroy him in the chess federation.
He chided those who cast doubts on his credentials to check the internet saying he did not want to argue with them.
"I had to show my ID to prove that I am an American citizen," sobbed Punzalan, who recently engaged an Indonesian known in the park as "Master Thomas" in a series of blitz games.
In an incident during a winter season years back, detractors ribbed Punzalan after a drunken elderly Fil-Am he accompanied home fell to the ground and suffered cuts on his head.
"My detractors claimed I intentionally pushed the elderly person. I was the one who offered to bring the person home, yet I ended up as the contrabida. My critics never stopped maligning me only because I won a chess title," he exclaimed.
Punzalan said several Filipino chessers also won in various categories in the past, "but none of them won the title at age 70."
"I'm not bragging about my achievements (in chess), but I will prove to my critics that I can still play even if I am now 72," Punzalan said. "I am still active and not yet retiring."
He plans to participate in the Millionaire Chess Open in Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 6-10, 2016.
Punzalan also reportedly had exposure in the following tournaments: 41st Annual World Open (Ratedgames) Arlington, USA 2013.06.29; 41st Annual World Open (Under1800) Arlington, USA 2013.06.29; 6th NY International (Under1800) New York, USA 2013.06.19; 7th Annual Philadelphia Open (Under1800) Philadelphia, USA 2013.03.27; National Chess Congress (Under1800) Philadelphia, USA 2012.11.23; Boardwalk Open (Under 1800) Asbury Park, USA 2012.10.19; Continental Class (Class B) Arlington, USA 2012.10.04; 40th Annual World Open (Under1800) Philadelphia, USA 2012.07.01; Philadelphia Open (Under1600) Philadelphia, USA 2012.04.04; Eastern Team Championship! (Teamu) Stamford, USA 2011.11.04; 39th Annual World Open (Under1600) Philadelphia, USA 2011.06.28; 38th Annual World Open (Under1600).