Five-time chess champ has all the right moves
Stars and Stripes June 30, 2003
FORT MYER, Va. — It seems nobody in the U.S. Army can figure the strategy of chess champion Rudy Tia Jr.
Sgt. Tia, 38, of Fort Hood, Texas, became the first five-time winner of the All-Army Chess Championships with his fourth consecutive triumph here June 21-26.
Staff Sgt. Vidal Carvajal Jr., of Camp Stanton, South Korea, was humbled by finishing 12th in the six-day tournament.
“I thought I was good until I got here,” said Carvajal, 44, a native of Fort Sill, Okla. “I’ve lost more games in this tournament than I have in the last two years. I play a lot, but I don’t have the chance to play this caliber of chess players.”
Carvajal’s final game was against Tia.
“He plays really, really hard,” Carvajal said. “Everything I did, he countered — every single thing. Every time I weaseled my way in somewhere, he had a trap waiting for me. Then he just picked me apart, one part at a time.”
Sgt. Ken Davidson came all the way from Karsi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan — just north of Afghanistan — to get a rematch with Tia, the ultimate commander of an Army of 16 chessmen.
“I was trying to get him this year,” said Davidson, who lost to Tia in the first round. “I thought I had him beat last year, but I just missed my winning move. This year, I was trying to get my revenge, but he’s tough.
“He has a strong, solid game and he doesn’t beat himself,” continued Davidson, 36, of Fort Myers, Fla. “The small things you overlook, he never seems to overlook. He can pretty much run the table on anybody.”
Although everyone wants to know Tia’s secrets to chess success, he won’t offer any clues.
“I don’t know what it is,” Tia said with a smile while rubbing his head. “I think it’s about being aggressive. I don’t care about the opening. What I care about is the middle game and the endgame, and being aggressive.”
Veterans of this tournament say Tia always opens the same way and then finishes them off like an unfazed champion. He credits playing against a laptop computer for immensely improving his game —- along with a shelf overflowing with more than 60 chess books.
“I just play my own style,” Tia said. “I don’t know why these guys cannot beat me. I would be happy just to become a master.”
Tia entered the tourney with a United States Chess Federation rating of 2,109. A master’s rating ranges from 2,200 to 2,399.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey McAleer, who finished fourth, won the All-Army Chess Championship in 1993 and boasts two victories over Tia.
“I’m the only one to beat him, and I beat him twice, but neither one of those efforts was good enough to take first place [in the tourney]," said McAleer, stationed at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. “He’s like a notch above the rest of us; he’s more consistent. Even though I’m able to beat him every now and then, over the long run, his consistency pays off for him.”
The top six finishers in this tournament will represent the Army in the Interservice Chess Championships Aug. 4-8, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. Top finishers there will comprise the U.S. Military Chess Team in matches against 13 NATO countries at the 14th International Military Chess Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sept. 8-12.