Playing to win mentality contributes to Air Force honors

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Play to win ... three simple words that guide many as they enter competitive events.

Those same words led Lt. Col. Douglas Taffinder, a member of U.S. Strategic Command, to the title of 2010 Air Force Chess Champion during the service-wide tournament at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, May 9 - 15.

"I play in a tournament to win the event," the chief of USSTRATCOM's Air Missile Defense Advocacy Branch said, "And I'm never surprised by winning ... that's why I play. I don't see any point in just to advance to the next level ... I want to win it."

The colonel brought his winning attitude to the "Royal Game" about 40 years ago when his father taught him how the various pieces moved on the board.

His father stopped playing the then 8-year-old "after I kept beating him consistently," Colonel Taffinder said.

Although his father started him moving rooks, knights and bishops around a checkered board, Colonel Taffinder credits the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky world championship match in the early '70s with really alluring him into the challenges and strategies of the game. Billed as a Cold War battle, Mr. Fischer, considered by many as one of the greatest chess players of all time, took the world title from Mr. Spassky in 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland.

With the passion of chess deep within him, a 15-year-old Taffinder entered his first tournament - the South Carolina State Chess Championship - in November 1976 and placed fifth.

Since then, the colonel said he's been able to play a few tournaments each year, mostly connected with the armed forces. He's also played at the international level in the 2007 NATO championship tournament in Turkey and at several large international events stateside.

His win at the Air Force championship was a little surprising. Not the win itself, he explained, but rather how quickly it came.

"What surprised me was not so much that I was scoring well, but that the competition had fallen behind so quickly," he said. "It could have been that the rest of the field (of 13) were more focused on being in the top six (and qualifying for the next tournament) where I was focused on winning the tournament."

"(Colonel Taffinder) was the only player to win his first three rounds ... his second round win was against the 2009 winner," said David White, recreation center assistant and Air Force tournament coordinator at Wright-Patterson. "He won four of his first five rounds (with one draw) to take a commanding lead in points after those rounds."

Only the top rated players and base-level tournament winners Air Force wide receive an invitation to the Air Force tournament, Mr. White said.

The competition level was so close that in the first two days of the tournament several matches used the full amount of allotted time, Mr. White said, nearly five and a half hours.

"Taff, having locked himself in for one of the six spots to advance to the inter-service tournament, meant the remaining spots came down to the last round/match ... it even looked like there might be a playoff for the sixth and final spot," Mr. White said.

With his latest crown at the Air Force tournament, the colonel is now preparing for the 2010 Inter-service Championships set for Aug. 2 - 6 at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., with a stop at the Nebraska State Chess Championship June 18 - 20.

This won't be the colonel's first journey to either the inter-service or a state championship.

He won the inter-service tournament in 2007 when it was held at Marine Corps Air Station Mirimar, Calif., and has held the Alaska state title twice and the Utah state title once.

"(The 2007 inter-service tournament) was probably my biggest win outright," he said.

"I've done better than what my rating would expect," he added. "I've had some really good tournaments on the national circuit ... but would still get summarily pounded if I play with the real world-class players."

Whether against average players or International Chess Federation grand masters, Colonel Taffinder lets his "play to win" attitude lead him.

"Even if there's a grand master in the room," he said. "(By playing that way), they at least respect my spirit at the board because I'm not just crouching waiting for the ax to fall.

"Let's face it, I lose a chess game what's the impact?" the colonel asked. "It's not going to change my retirement date. I'm not going to get fined or imprisoned. If I lose a game to a world-class player, people are going to say, gee he held out for a long time ... the expected result is that I'm gonna lose so it kind of takes the pressure off."

Playing a match against a highly rated player also gives him the opportunity to employ different strategies, he said.

"(I think), lets test it on this guy who is definitely going to find whatever weakness there is and exploit it (after all) those guys make a living playing chess, I make a living advocating for missile defense," he said.

If Colonel Taffinder finishes in one of the top six positions at the inter-service championship in August, he'll move on to represent the U.S. military at the NATO championship in Denmark Oct. 17 - 23.

This is the colonel's last opportunity to compete in military tournaments, so he said he'll be changing his winning strategy slightly.

"Keep in mind, this is my last shot (since I retire later this year) so I'll be doing what I can at the inter-service and hopefully the NATO championship to help other players and help the team," he said. "If there's a weakness in the play of one of the Sailors, Soldiers or Marines, I'll help them work on things because then, it's team USA."