Hill and Watters Win U.S. Armed Forces Open Championship

Navy top service team; West Point top U.S. military academy

Armed Forces Champion Leroy Hill and US Chess Federation President Mike Hoffpauir

Fifty miles north of Manhattan, overlooking the strategic “S” curve in the Hudson River, West Point Military Academy honors its earliest history as guardians against British incursions with a row of captured canons that give the promontory the name Trophy Point. On Columbus Day weekend, a few hundred yards away in Cullum Hall, 44 representatives from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force vied for top individual and team honors, angling to capture trophies of their own.

After five rounds and three days of play, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant and a young Navy Lieutenant tied at the 4 ½ – ½.  Leroy Hill, Jr., of New Jersey, who had won the Inter-Service Championship back in 2003 while on active service with the Air Force, took home the first-place plaque. Navy Lieutenant Chase Watters of Maryland, who earned his Ph.D. in microbiology from Texas Tech University, where he was a stalwart in its championship chess program before enlisting, came up one tie-break point short of Hill’s total and settled for the second-place plaque and the title of co-champion. The two drew their game together in round three.

In the final round Monday, Hill won with a slashing attack as Black on Board 2 against fellow Expert and Air Force Captain Gordon Randall of Virginia, a previous US AF Open champ.

Then Hill had to wait for the results of the game on Board 1 between five-time champ Larry Larkins of Virginia (U.S. Navy, retired) and Watters. That contest was a marathon of back-and-forth stress, boiling down to a cat-and-mouse endgame that at moments made it impossible to tell the feline from the prey.

Watters in his final game vs. Larkins

Watters had to win to have a shot at first. If Larkins won, he would secure sole first and go into the record books with six titles. Meanwhile, Hill’s first U.S. AF Open title depended on a Watters victory. In the end, it was the clock, not the pieces, that made the call, as Larkins overstepped. “I’ve tied many times but always lost on tie-breaks,” Hill said afterward, grinning with relief as he clutched the top plaque.

The U.S. Navy earned Top Service Team. Air Force was second, and Army was third. Hosts West Point U.S. Military Academy won honor as Top Service Academy Team. U.S. Naval Academy Annapolis was second.

Another five-time champ, Robert Keough (U.S. Air Force, retired) of Arizona tied with Larkins at 4-1. Army Cadet David Yue was the U.S. Military Academy Champion and Top Cadet. Randall was Top Active Air Force. Lieutenant Commander Chip Kraft was the Top Active Navy representative. Cesar A Estrada was Top Active Marine. and Major Benjamin S. Griffin was top active Army. Captain Patrick Dowd was Top Reservist.

The annual tournament is open to active duty, reservists, and retired military. Eligible participants also include the Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, U.S. Public Health Service, ROTC college students, and U.S. Academy students for the above services. A Military Veterans tournament, in which all honorably discharged vets are welcome, is offered in conjunction with the AF Open Championship.

Randall and Keough won Saturday night’s bughouse event with a perfect score. Kraft won the Sunday night blitz tournament with 7 ½ out of 8, two points ahead of his nearest competition.

Current US Chess Federation President Mike Hoffpauir, a former U.S. Army brigade commander organized and personally sponsored the event. Rudolph Abate served as chief TD and Ernest Schlich as assistant TD. All three were volunteers.

Complete results are available at:


About the Author

Al Lawrence is a frequent contributor to US Chess News.

He is a two-time winner of the Chess Journalist of the Year award (2000 and 2016) and a former Executive Director of the US Chess Federation. He currently serves as the Managing Director of the U.S. Chess Trust.


    • Hi, John–

      You’re right and I should know this. There is another Chase “Waters” on the USCF rating list. I should have looked more closely. Thank you.
      –Al Lawrence

  1. Very nice informative article. I would have liked to see a photo of the first and the SECOND place winners.

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press