Joseph Leahy / St. Louis Public Radio

Grand Master chess players from across the country have assembled in St. Louis’ Central West End for the 2014 U.S. Chess Championship.

Round 1 of the two-week tournament kicked off Thursday afternoon at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

A local favorite to follow this year is Grand Master Ray Robson, 19, who is a member of Webster University's chess team that won the 2013 national collegiate chess championship, said CCSCSL Executive Director Tony Rich.  

file photo | St. Louis Beacon

The link between the creation of history and the preservation of heritage is about as streamlined as it gets these days: Just send it across the street.

Gata Kamsky seeks to defend his title at the 2014 U.S. Championship.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

In chess, conquering the center is a strategy nearly as old as the game itself.

It is a building block, a foundation, with centuries of theory backing the blueprint. American legend Bobby Fischer opened all but one of his myriad games by instantly striking into the center with 1. e4, famously referring to the first move as “best, by test.”

Wesley So and Susan Polgar
Provided by Susan Polgar

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.

Varuzhan Akobian playing chess
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

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.

Maurice Ashley (left) interviews Gata Kamsky at the 2013 US Championship.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Maurice Ashley is sleeping just fine these days.

The International Grandmaster is about to put a million dollars down in Las Vegas -- and he might have the best odds in the house.

Ashritha Eswaran
Provided by her family

Apparently, the U.S. “Women’s” Chess Championship is a description that gets more liberal by the year.

Susan Polgar and Wesley So
Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Update April 8: The Webster University Chess Team has repeated as winners of the President's Cup.

Got just another one of a billion busted brackets? Here’s a tip for next year: Put more confidence in the coach.

File photo | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Poker is making a play on one of our queens.

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.

On Chess: Nakamura Declines U.S. Championship Invite

Mar 19, 2014
Gata Kamsky is seeking his fifth U.S. Championship title this year.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

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.

On Chess: Nakamura Scores In Ask Me Anything

Mar 5, 2014
Hikaru Nakamura is currently ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 7 in the world.
Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

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.

Jim Davies (right) is the first-ever inductee into the Missouri Chess Hall of Fame.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

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.

World's Fair and Wolbrecht

On Chess: St. Louis History Is Chess-Rich

Feb 12, 2014

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.

Hikaru Nakamura last battled Magnus Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. Levon Aronian observes.
Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

He came close this time. The great white whale was in his sights. His elbow was cocked, and in his hand the harpoon was ready to deliver the fatal blow. And then it all disappeared.

Georg Meier
Provided by Susan Polgar

Webster University’s Georg Meier etched his name in the St. Louis record books over the weekend by winning the 6th annual Club Championship, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (CCSCSL).

Meier, 26, is a world-class grandmaster who ranks No. 2 in Germany and No. 141 in the world.

Wesley So and Susan Polgar
Provided by Susan Polgar

The prestigious Tata Steel chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, started last week, and for once, super-GM Hikaru Nakamura is not the only St. Louis representative competing against the world’s best.

Nakamura, the U.S. No. 1, is no stranger to top-level tourneys. But for GM Wesley So, a Webster University sophomore, Tata Steel is his first-ever super-elite event.

On Chess: Championships Return To St. Louis

Jan 16, 2014
photo of Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush
Courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic of St. Louis

It’s going to be another year of checkmates and championships in St. Louis.

On Wednesday, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis announced that the United States Chess Federation had accepted its bid to host the 2014 U.S. Championship, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Championship and the 2014 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, the three top invitational chess tournaments in the nation.

That’s right. The Trifecta. The Triple Crown. The Royal Three.

U.S. Chess School Brings Royalty To St. Louis

Jan 8, 2014
Awonder Liang, 10, earned his second gold medal at the World Youth Chess Championships in the United Arab Emirates.
Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Members of the chess royal family have been holding court in St. Louis with increasing regularity.

Xin Luo, Eric Rosen, Michael Auger, and Akshay Indusekar
Provided by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Everybody loves a good Cinderella story. There’s something about seeing the underdog prevail that gives people hope a fairy tale ending is actually possible.

When the top four collegiate chess teams come together in New York City in April, a champion looks to repeat while an unlikely contender hopes simply to keep the magic going.

It’s no surprise that Webster University dominated the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship, held Dec. 27-30 at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Daniel Naroditsky at World Youth Chess Championships
Provided by Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

Santa Claus is, almost certainly, a chess player. I can’t make that statement with absolute certainty as I’ve never actually witnessed the big guy over the board, but all the telltale signs are there.

Who but a chess player could lay out such a carefully detailed plan of attack and, as far as I can tell, execute flawlessly year in and year out with nary a blunder. In fact, a 1908 column by Russel Ramsey in the Philadelphia Sunday Item claims to be privy to a game played by the jolly old fellow himself.