FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, May 29, 2008) - First Lt. Arthur Macaspac honed his game by playing tournaments at New York's renowned Marshall Chess Club and won his second crown in the All-Army Chess Championships May 11-16 at Fort Myer Community Center.

Macaspac, 34, a New Jersey Army National Guardsman, won 10 matches and settled for a draw in his final game to win the six-day tournament with 10.5 points.

Sgt. Chris Drake was the runner-up with nine points, followed by Capt. Chris Pitts with 8.5.

Spc. Jhonel Baniel, Sgt. Darryl West, and Pfc. Christopher King, rounded out the top six players, who are all scheduled to represent the Army in the 2008 Armed Forces Chess Championships June 9-13 at the Desert Lightning Community Center on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

Macaspac also won the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command-sponsored tournament in 2006 and finished runner-up to seven-time All-Army champion Staff Sgt. Rudy Tia Jr. in 2007.

Having already played in more than 20 tournaments this year as a member of the Marshall Chess Club in New York City, Macaspac, a New Jersey Army National Guardsman, said he was sharper than ever before for the All-Army Championships.

"Practice was the key to winning here," Macaspac said. "Since I left active duty, I moved to Union, New Jersey - very close to New York, which is the center of chess in the United States - so I've been able to play once or twice a week in good tournaments against a lot of strong players."

Macaspac, who is scheduled to deploy to Iraq in August, also finished runner-up to Drake in the speed-chess competition.

"This is a nice TDY," Macaspac said. "Kris D'Alessandro, the tournament coordinator, really helped me. Without him, I don't think I could play here because the National Guard is not aware of this tournament."

Drake, a member of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Chess Club, finished fourth in the All-Army Championships in 2006 but missed the tournament last year while deployed in Iraq, where he managed to play only about five games.

"Arthur is a very solid player," said Drake, who's only loss in the 2008 All-Army Championships came at the hands of Macaspac. "If you make a small mistake, he's going to take advantage of it and punish you for it."

Macaspac thought Drake played right into his game plan.

"He played passively," Macaspac said. "He could have defended a pawn, but I think he overlooked it, and then I managed to grab a pawn. Normally, if I have a pawn advantage, I'm able to convert it to a winning game. It was just a small mistake on his part, but it was critical for me to win the game."

Drake agreed.

"That's what happened in our game," he said. "I made a slight error. I put my rook on the wrong square, and he punished me for it. But I'm really happy that I get a chance to continue on to the inter-service championships and play chess for the Army. That's awesome."

Macaspac was the only player in last year's tournament who defeated Tia, but a setback at the hands of Pitts knocked him into second place.

"I had a chance to avenge myself this year," said Macaspac, who defeated Pitts in the sixth round. "I think he miscalculated and lost the center pawn. After that pawn disappeared in the middle, I had a strong center. From then on, it was easy development for me and eventually his position just fell."

Pitts, a nine-time participant in the All-Army Chess Championships, improved upon his fourth-place finishes of 1997 and 2007 despite losing to Macaspac and Drake.

"I'm always close," said Pitts, who noted the absences of All-Army regulars Lt. Col. David Hater, Maj. Michael Cerezo and Tia, who might return next year. "This year, I focused a lot more and the competition was not as stiff as it has been in the past. I made sure of all my moves and took my time. I was patient."

Pitts, however, may have let a golden opportunity escape.

"I'm upset because I thought I could have done better," he said. "I have won and drawn against Arthur before, but against him and Chris, I went for wins - and I lost both matches. Against Drake, it was pretty much a dead-even game but I miscalculated a combination. Had I won those two games, I would've been sitting here as the champ instead of the chump. But I went for it. I tried to win them all."

Regardless of his final place in the tournament, Pitts, who has deployed to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, felt fortunate to be back in the tournament.

"It's good to get away from the job," he said. "It's good that you get to compete to test yourself against the Army's best and just see how good you are. If you're a competitor, you love this type of thing. I love to compete.

"Being in the combat zone, you're away from family, you're away from friends, and you're in hostile environments. When you come back home, you appreciate what you're over there fighting for better because you know that those people back home are reaping the benefits of your frustrations and your courage and your time being taken away from your family - so you're sacrificing for a greater good. You're only one person but you're one person taking care of multiple families."

Pitts then tipped his hat to Army MWR.

"The accommodations are great," he said of the weeklong tournament. "Kris and (tournament director) Ron (Braud) run a tremendous tournament. They take care of us and make it soothing. It's really a great environment. The years (of the tournament) that I did miss, I do regret. I missed them only because I chose not to come, but in the long run it paid off because I was going to school and concentrating on different things and I ended up getting commissioned. So I sacrificed for the greater good in that case, too. I'm always sacrificing, one way or the other."

"I love MWR because I'm a golfer. I'm a chess player. I like to shoot pool. When I was deployed, every day I went to the MWR to watch TV or something because it always was there. It's the best program for relaxation for the Soldiers that the Army can provide. It's essential to the morale of Soldiers - essential," Pitts said.

The two-time champion seconded that sentiment.

"Thanks again to MWR for letting me play here," Macaspac said. "This is probably my last tournament.

"Well, it depends," he continued with a grin. "We keep saying 'last year,' but because we love the game, we keep coming back. I've seen many people like Colonel Hater and Major Cerezo say they were going to retire, but they came back again the next year because they love the game. Some people reenlist just to come back to this tournament."

(Tim Hipps works for Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs)