Sergeant uses chess skills to level playing field

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 78th ABW/PA
One Robins active duty military member has shown his mettle in commanding forces in battle. This sergeant's ability to fortify battlefield positions while attacking opponent's defenses is a necessity for survival and success. Fortunately, strategic blunders don't cost lives, as his armies are knights and bishops and his battles take place on the chess board.

Master Sgt. Larry Pagtama, a special projects supply liaison with the 576th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron, is the top chess player in Air Force Materiel Command. He will represent AFMC at the Air Force chess tournament, May 7-11, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

The sergeant was selected to participate in the tournament after winning the Robins chess tournament in March. In the event, sponsored by Services and the community center, Sergeant Pagtama went unbeaten with three wins and a draw.

"It was a good tournament for me. I opened with a draw which forced me to focus harder and I won my next three games to win the tournament," he said.

Sergeant Pagtama has been playing chess his entire life. His father taught him when he was just seven years old. By the time he was 10, he was winning youth tournaments. Other interests and hobbies kept him from devoting more time to chess, but he has been playing on and off ever since.

"In the past five years, I have really started to play chess more consistently," he said. "I play in rated tournaments in Atlanta, where the competition is really tough. It gives me a chance to see exactly where I stand and helps me learn my weaknesses so I can know where I need to improve."

Sergeant Pagtama, who has a United States Chess Federation rating of 1809, is just a few hundred points shy of expert level. He hopes his high rating and recent experience will help him excel at the Air Force tournament, where he will be playing against the top chess players from all commands.

"This is my third year participating in the Air Force chess tournament, and I'm hoping the third time is a charm," he said, adding that his main goal is to qualify for the Air Force team.

The top six players at the Air Force tournament will be selected to the Air Force chess team, which competes against the Army, Navy and Marines in an inner-service tournament. The top players among all services will then be selected to compete internationally in a NATO tournament.

Lynne Brackett, director of the Robins Community Center, said she hopes Sergeant Pagtama does well at the Air Force tournament. She added that interest in chess is increasing at the base and plans on sponsoring regular tournaments, beginning in June.

"We are going to start having chess tournaments on a quarterly basis at the community center," Ms. Brackett said. "Customers have shown a greater interest in participating in chess and would like to play more, and we are more than happy to support that."

Sergeant Pagtama hopes interest increases for all ages and skill levels, particularly among the youth. Several years ago he taught kids the game and saw how it can help develop beneficial skills, like critical thinking and advanced planning.

"There are a lot of choices out there for young kids and chess can help them make the right choices in life," the sergeant said. "Chess is all about analyzing your options and making your best move. Just like in life. I think chess actually helps kids make good decisions."

Sergeant Pagtama said the challenge with kids is the amount of attention the game requires.

"A majority of kids don't think chess is a fun game because it demands attention and requires thinking. And it is a somewhat serious game. But there are a lot of kids who play chess and many of them are really strong players. They have a clear mind and can absorb tactics and strategies," he said.

The sergeant said with a little support and publicity, chess at Robins could have a big following, primarily because of the game's similarity to the military.

"It's like you are a general, commanding forces on a mini-battlefield. You look at the plans, strategize your next move and then send out the troops," Sergeant Pagtama said. "If you want something that challenges you, a battle of the minds, chess is a great choice."