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60-year-old Navy veteran wins inaugural Veterans Chess Tournament

SALISBURY — Fourteen veterans from across the central Piedmont gathered Dec. 1 to battle on the boards of one of the oldest strategy games.

A quiet shuffle of pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, queens and kings ensued at the Salisbury VA Medical Center’s learning resource center. At the end of the chess tournament, one player remained undefeated: 60-year-old Navy veteran William “Bill” Flores.

Flores, who served as an electronics technician for the Navy from 1980 to 1983 in Seattle, won four of four games in the Swiss-style tournament.

“I was very surprised at how excellent all the players were,” said Flores, who has been playing chess since the age of 9. “It was great.”

Along with bragging rights, Flores took home a travel chess board with pieces, a pocket planner, a pen and two gift cards.

Three veterans tied for second with three wins and a single loss each: Ryan Schofield, a veteran of both the Army and Navy and an Iraq War veteran; Justin Herbert, an Army and Iraq War veteran; and Bart Major, an Army and Afghanistan War veteran.

Robert Belle, a peer support specialist for the Salisbury VA who organizes the Salisbury VA Chess Club, was the tournament director. He said he was ecstatic about the turnout for the inaugural tournament.

“The chess club started in the summer of 2017 when several veterans wanted to play or learn to play. I found that chess was an interest of veterans from across the hospital,” Belle said. “A tournament to encourage additional veterans to come out and engage in a competitive but friendly game seemed like the logical next step.”

The tournament was open to all veterans, regardless of enrollment in VA health care. Belle extended an invitation to any veteran who wants to attend the chess club, which meets the second Thursday of every month from 6 to 8 p.m. in Building 6 on the Salisbury campus.

“I encourage everyone to try it if they’ve ever had an interest. You never know until you try it,” he said.

Belle, who also plays and helps teach newcomers to the game, says chess has benefits for everyone.

“There are a lot of evidence-based studies that show chess helps with cognition and mental health,” said Belle, “and socialization is a great aspect of chess as well.”

The chess tournament and chess club are supported by the Voluntary Services Department, which donated chess sets for club meetings and drinks and snacks for the tournament.

For more information about VA services, visit www.explore.va.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/VASalisbury.

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