388th Fighter Wing Airman puts 'checkmate' on competition

  • Published
  • By Beth Young
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Hill Air Force Base Airman Elena Dulger has been playing chess for as long as she can remember.

"I could set up the board when I was two," she said.

The 388th Fighter Wing Maintenance Support Airman recently put her lifelong skills to the test and became the first female to qualify to play in the Air Force tournament.

After winning at Hill Air Force Base, Airman 1st Elena Dulger placed second at the Air Force Material Command level. From there, the two players from each of the Air Force major commands traveled to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., for the week long Air Force chess tournament held in May. The top six players from this tournament went on to inter-service tournament held in June.

"It was really fun," Airman Dulger said. "I met a bunch of people. It was like a little secret chess society. It's a whole different world. You think you know someone and then you meet them at a chess tournament, and it's a whole different person."

The tournament was a seven-round Swiss style tournament. A Blitz, or speed tournament, was held after the official rated tournament, with Airman Dulger taking first place. Overall Airman Dulger placed seventh and was the alternate for the Air Force team.

"It was a wonderful experience," Airman Dulger said.

Although she didn't get the opportunity to compete at the inter-service tournament, Tucson is Airman Dulger's hometown and she got to spend some time with her parents.

"They were just happy to see me. They didn't care (that I came in seventh place)," she said.

Airman Dulger's parents had a big part to play in her involvement with chess. They are the ones who taught her, and her two brothers, to play chess.

"I guess they just got lucky with chess," she said. "One of my brothers is actually a professional chess player."
Airman Dulger and her family are originally from Russia, where, she says that chess is a lot more popular than in the United States.

"I actually wanted to become a professional chess player (growing up)," she said. "My first tournament was at six. I had a coach and played in tournaments."

Airman Dulger quit playing competitively at 14, and this was the first time she played in the Air Force Tournament, but she hopes to try again next year. For now, she would like to see more activity at the Hill AFB Chess Club.

"While you are playing it, you get so into it, it's like meditation," Airman Dulger said. "It gets stressful, but when you're actually thinking about the game, you get so in to it, it's like the world stops -- you just have the chess and the clock."

When asked about her secret chess strategy, Airman Dulger won't reveal anything for her future competitors.

"If I reveal them, they won't be secrets anymore," she said.

Only active duty players who are rated members of the United States Chess Federation are eligible for selection and participation in the tournament. Tournaments are held at base level to encourage young people, retirees, and civilians, as well as active duty personnel to become involved in the chess program. The Hill AFB Chess Club meets every Sunday, 6-8 p.m., at the Carl's Jr. located at 925 W. Antelope Dr.