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On Chess: World traveler finds home in St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I hail from Seattle, Wash., and in 1972 I got caught up in the Bobby Fischer versus Boris Spassky hoopla. From losses too numerous to mention, chess won my heart. Slowly I worked my way up the rankings from Class D player to Expert and finally Master. It hardly seemed possible to reach my distant dream of becoming an International Grandmaster, but I managed to secure that and more by becoming a four-time U.S. Champion, twice Candidate for the World Championship title as well as holding a world’s top ten ranking.

My chess passion became a profession that allowed me to compete in hundreds of tournaments and matches spanning more than 60 countries. In many ways, a professional chess grandmaster shares a similar lifestyle to that of a professional tennis or golf player. The season seems to span the entire year with events all over the world. Oftentimes we live out of a suitcase months at a time.

After entering my fifth decade in chess, I thought I had seen it all, but about one year ago I became a rotating Grandmaster-in-Residence at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. I quickly realized that what is happening in St. Louis is absolutely unique in the chess world. Never has one chess initiative or organization accomplished so much so quickly. It’s been just five years since the CCSCSL opened its doors, and St. Louis has already been recognized by our federal government as the “Chess Capital of the United States.” Such recognition is only achieved by being exceptional.

The Chess Center is first and foremost an educational institution that conducts scholastic outreach to numerous elementary schools in the St. Louis area. Chess coaches are sent to schools to teach children chess and what we call the “Five Rs”: writing, reading, arithmetic, reasoning and responsibility. Thousands of children are positively impacted throughout the year. In addition, the Chess Center hosts tournaments, lectures, coaching and private instruction. That’s where I come in.

I’ve presented dozens of lectures; trained the University of Lindenwood chess team; given private lessons; met with teachers; coaches; parents and in general folks from all walks of life. Only when you are really here do you realize how truly democratic the game/art/sport of chess is as it appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds. It has been a remarkable opportunity for me to share my stories, knowledge and skills with those just beginning as well as with the veterans that help me feel young.

With three recently completed summer chess camps behind us and one to begin this week, you’d think that the Chess Club is ready to pause and enjoy the summer. Not at all. In September the CCSCSL will host the Sinquefield Cup, the strongest tournament ever held in the U.S. The world’s No. 1 and 2, Magnus Carlsen from Norway and Levon Aronian from Armenia, will join America’s No. 1 and 2, Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky, in a quadrangular extravaganza that already has the chess world buzzing.

With so many events, initiatives and challenges, I’m happy I’m a rotating Grandmaster-in-Residence. I need to recuperate my chess batteries, too.

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