The vibrancy of chess in the St. Louis area continues to grow. For example the U.S. Championships return to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis on May 8.
But one of the bright spots – the strength of the university programs here – recently received close scrutiny. While Lindenwood and others are building strong teams, Webster University brought in the chess world’s version of John Calipari or Coach K: Susan Polgar and her team of grandmasters left Texas Tech University for the St. Louis suburbs in 2012.
For six years, St. Louis has been steadily pumping its proverbial chess muscle.
There is, perhaps, no better way to gauge the strength of the city than to count the number of tough guys around here. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center opened in 2008 as a hopeful magnet to the game, and a year later GM Ben Finegold rode into town as the city’s very first Grandmaster. Today, backed by the murderer’s row of the Webster University collegiate team - including 2014 U.S. Championship-hopeful GM Ray Robson - St. Louis is home to 11 Grandmasters.
I admit this may be a paranoid reaction, and I won’t apologize for defending the well-being of such an important chess piece. But I couldn’t shake this preposterous idea of Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade - a two-time women’s national chess champion, the editor for Chess Life online, and an author of two chess books - referring to herself as a simple gamesplayer, instead of the pure chess celebrity she has become.
Twelve of the top chess players in the U.S. just got fantastic news: Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura will not be fighting for the title of 2014 U.S. Champion.
Nakamura, currently ranked No. 8 in the world, declined his invitation citing his decision to prepare for, and compete against, only the world’s elite.
This isn’t surprising, really. A number of the world’s best players forgo their national championship for similar reasons. The last time World No. 2 Levon Aronian won the Armenian National Championship was 2002. Viswanathan Anand hasn’t claimed India’s title since 1988.
What do Bill Nye the Science Guy, President Barack Obama and Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame have in common with the best chess player in the country?
They’ve all subjected themselves to the rigor of being grilled by the anonymous public via Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA).
A Reddit AMA provides a forum for celebrities, athletes, musicians, politicians and other notable public figures to respond online to questions submitted by other Reddit users for a pre-determined period of time.
Obviously the most recent developments at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center and the World Chess Hall of Fame have firmly planted St. Louis as a major player in the chess world, but countless organizers and enthusiasts have helped maintain the interest in St. Louis over the years.
The chess boom in St. Louis may appear as though it has materialized out of thin air, but the Gateway City has a vibrant chess history.
Chess adds to a rich and developing cultural renaissance in St. Louis. And as we celebrate our city’s 250th birthday, I think it’s appropriate to take a look at some of the important names, events and places that have helped shaped our ever-growing chess culture.
This column explores the early days of chess in St. Louis and some notable champions and championships that placed St. Louis at the center of the chess universe.