For Cuban chess player, coming to St. Louis was the right move
St. Louis is widely known as a baseball town, but competitive chess players see it as their sport’s capital of America. The infrastructure built around professional chess in St. Louis attracts players from around the world, including 19-year-old Thalia Cervantes Landeiro.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Landeiro was always surrounded by the game of chess. “It’s a big part of our culture,” she said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. She noted the importance in Cuban culture of Jose Raúl Capablanca, a chess legend and world champion who influenced generations of players.
In Cuba, Landeiro said: “I always saw people playing chess on the streets. I was very intrigued by it.”
Though chess was being played on street corners and parks, Landeiro was not bitten by the chess bug until second grade, when she practically fell into the game.
“As a very little girl I tried ballet, and it didn’t work well for me. I think I twisted my ankle. Then I tried painting, and it also didn’t work out. I played my first-ever chess game at school, and I actually defeated my friends somehow just after learning the rules.”
Landeiro was hooked. She went home and told her mother about her win. “She was like ‘Wow, you won something? OK, let’s keep going.’ So I joined a chess institute in Havana soon after, and I fell in love with the game.”
From there, Landeiro went on to become one of the top girls chess players in Cuba for her age range and older. At 11 she was invited to the Susan Polgar Foundation Girls Invitational in St. Louis in 2014.
“My mother got the invitation via email, and she started setting up all the plans for us to move here, play that tournament and see where it takes us.”
Today, Landeiro is a student at St. Louis University and a member of the St. Louis Chess Club. Along with being on the chess team at school, she streams her online chess gameplay on her Twitch channel. This week she competes in the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship, which is one of three competitions at the 2022 U.S. National Championships. This will be her last appearance at the junior level in her career.
So, what’s next for Landeiro? She’s keeping an open mind.
“I don’t like to have a solid plan because there are always things coming along the way, but I’m going to try and have fun as much as I can," she said. "I plan to participate in the U.S. Women’s Championship if I can, and the Continental Women’s Championship, and other international events where I can get some titles or some invitations for even bigger tournaments. It’s probably the chess mind, right? Like, always trying to look one step ahead.”
You can cheer on Thalia Cervantes Landeiro and all the athletes this month, July 6-16, when the championships will stream online on St. Louis Chess Club’s Youtube and Twitch channels.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.