62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship

by Alexey Root
10/18/2021 – The 62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship was held in Grapevine, Texas, from October 8–11, 2021. Charles D. "Chuck" Unruh and Charles M. Unruh won the Veterans Open Championship and the Armed Forces Open, respectively. Chuck, the father, scored 4½ of 5 rounds to top a 22-player field. Charles, the son, went 5-0 in a 51-player field. | Photo: Danny Fallon

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Free entries, free food

At the 62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship, players received boards, sets, awards, entries, raffle prizes, and a banquet (salad, soup, entrée, dessert). Jim Hollingsworth, United States Army Major (retired), emceed the banquet, whose speakers included Major General John M. Wood, the highest-ranking officer on site. Wood also presented some of the awards, such as signed chess boards to Chief Arbiter Louis A. Reed Jr. and Deputy Chief Arbiter Gary Gaiffe.

Jim Hollingsworth (left), and Chuck Unruh

Louis A. Reed Jr. (left), John M. Wood, and Gary Gaiffe

Another banquet speaker was Michael Lenox, retired United States Navy Machinist Mate Chief Petty Officer (Submarine/Diver). During the banquet and at the chess tournament, Lenox’s wife Lia was at the side of his wheelchair. Lenox is a 100% service-connected disabled veteran. He heads Chess Vets, a non-profit whose mission is to improve the opportunity for everyone (especially veterans) to learn, play, and enjoy the game of chess.

Michael and Lia Lenox

Two Sections

The 62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship had two sections: the Armed Forces Open (AFO) for Active Duty, Military Retirees, Cadets, Midshipmen, College ROTC, and Mobilized; and the Veterans Open Championship (VOC) for all other honorably discharged veterans. Each section was won by someone named Charles Unruh. For clarity, Charles D. Unruh will be called by his nickname “Chuck” in this article. Chuck won the VOC. His son, Charles M. Unruh, won the AFO.

Chuck Unruh

While 2021 will be memorable for 68-year-old Chuck Unruh as the year he won the VOC, it’s not his first time in the military chess spotlight. Chuck won the 16th Annual Armed Forces Championship in 1975. In Chess Life, International Master George Koltanowski wrote:

Sgt. Charles Unruh, USAFE, Ramstein AB, Germany, with a USCF rating of 2152 won the Individual Champion Title with a score of 10½ out of 12. Charles learned the game in 1968 in Lakengren, near Eton, Ohio, and advanced rapidly. In 1971, he won the championship of the Dayton Chess Club and soon after enlisted in the Air Force. Unruh is well versed in the openings and combination play and will be a great contender in national tournaments in the near future.

Chuck might have stayed in the Air Force longer, but his barracks provided him with only 81 square feet of personal space. He did not have room for his chess books! His commanding officer denied Chuck’s request to live off base because Chuck was single.

After leaving the Air Force, Chuck married, had a daughter and a son, and found a home large enough for his family and his chess books in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Chuck owns and operates energy companies and serves on the US Chess Executive Board. He was the Oklahoma State Chess Champion in 2005, 2007, and 2010. While his daughter took up martial arts, perhaps influenced by Chuck being a 5th Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, his son Charles took up chess.

Charles M. Unruh

As a child, Charles learned how to play chess from his father, Chuck. After graduating from college, Charles worked for Chuck in their family’s companies for seven years. Charles met his wife, Addie Jane, when both were teaching chess. They have two sons, ages 2 and 1, and a daughter due on October 18, 2021.

In 2013, Charles became the Oklahoma State Chess Champion on tiebreak and Chuck got the second-place trophy. Charles enlisted in the United States Air Force in February of 2021 and is an Airman First Class (A1C).

Chuck (left) and Charles Unruh

The Few. The Proud. The Marines.

While the Air Force, Army, and Navy had many players in the AFO and VOC, the Marines were “the few, the proud.” One Marine veteran, Anthony Saldivar, said, “It’s been 23 years since I put on my uniform, but I felt the brotherhood again here.” He earned the Top Unrated and Top Marine Veteran plaques in the VOC. Saldivar brought his wife and four children with him from El Paso, Texas, to the chess tournament site, Grapevine’s Great Wolf Lodge. They stayed an extra day to enjoy its indoor waterpark.

Anthony Saldivar

Anthony Saldivar with his family

Women and a Priest

Katrina Muller was the only woman in the VOC and Natalie Demary was the only woman in the AFO. Both got plaques for “top woman” in their respective sections. Muller was one of many donors to the 62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship.

Demary also won a plaque for “Top Class G” (US Chess rating 600–799) in the AFO. After playing chess as a child in her home state of Louisiana, Demary got back into chess after watching the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. She takes once-a-month lessons with International Master John Bartholomew. Demary lives in Austin, Texas, and is a Captain (Quartermaster officer) in the Army National Guard.

Natalie Demary

I volunteered to play a game with Dennis J. Mercieri, who had been assigned a last-round bye in the AFO. After our game, Mercieri shared:

I served in the United States Air Force from 1974 through 2003, the first 8+ years on Active Duty and the remaining 20 years in the Reserve. I am currently, since June 2009, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, the Air Force’s Auxiliary, in which I serve as a Roman Catholic chaplain. Total Air Force time: 40 years. I am also a hospital chaplain for the Diocese of Norwich and serve at two hospitals in eastern Connecticut. I have been ordained a priest since May 28, 2005. I live in Norwich, CT.

Dennis Mercieri

Author Alexey Root vs. Dennis Mercieri | Photo by Louis A. Reed Jr.

Because there has been increased demand for his services at hospitals since the pandemic began, attending the 62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship was Mercieri’s first vacation in almost two years.


Five games per round were broadcast via DGT boards. However, both Chuck Unruh and Charles M. Unruh are listed as “Charles Unruh” in that online broadcast. So, that’s confusing. An archive of every game played, constructed from scoresheets turned in at the 62nd Annual US Armed Forces Open Chess Championship, is planned.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


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BuzzardBait BuzzardBait 10/19/2021 05:59
As always, this is another wonderful article! I rarely get a chance to talk with the players so getting to know more about them is a real treat indeed.
BuzzardBait BuzzardBait 10/19/2021 05:46
The available DGT games from the two main events are available at bit.ly/2021AFOBoards. Boards 1-4 are boards 1-4 of the AFO event while board 5 is board 1 of the VOC event. The available games from the rapid event are available at bit.ly/2021AFORapid. Round 1 failed due to a technical problem, but rounds 2-4 are available. All five rounds of the main events are available.
michael bacon michael bacon 10/18/2021 06:03
A tremendous article! Interesting, informative, and well written. Kudos to Alexey, and to Chessbase for publishing. A game or three would have been nice, though... Maybe the article can be amended?