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Friday, August 5, 2011

Checkmate: St. Louis Named "Chess City of the Year"

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 1:20 PM

A new (and old) title will soon join the ranks of the awards earned by the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. - TODD OWYOUNG
  • Todd Owyoung
  • A new (and old) title will soon join the ranks of the awards earned by the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

If you read our recent feature story on the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center and the country's number one player, you likely won't be surprised to hear the latest accolade the club has earned for its home city. In the years since its 2008 opening, the Central West End chess hangout has been named "Chess Club of the Year," its executive director, Tony Rich, has been named "Organizer of the Year," and its star player, Hikaru Nakamura, has fallen comfortably into a role as the top player in the country.

Tomorrow, however, St. Louis will be honored by the United States Chess Federation as the Chess City of the Year. We think this might mean checkmate.

To support the club and the city, Mayor Francis Slay has traveled to Orlando, where he will accept the award at the US Open Championship tomorrow. This is not St. Louis' first time to grab the title: The city was also named Chess Club of the Year in 2009, only one year after its opening.

"Being named Chess City of the Year is a great thing for St. Louis," Slay tells Daily RFT. "St. Louis is attracting and producing current and future chess champs, and I hope to soon celebrate a St. Louisian winning the World Chess Championships."

  • Todd Owyoung

The city's ownership of the title owes in part to the club's firm focus on scholastic chess through programs that introduce and encourage the strategy game in local private and public schools. The club has worked with more than 1,000 local school children during the tenure of its academic efforts.

"The Chess Club and Scholastic center is a great organization," says Slay. (The mayor himself knows how to play, but admits that he rarely finds the time to do so.) "First, it teaches that anyone -- people of any age, race, or ethnicity -- is able to play chess. It nurtures beginners and challenges pros. It's doing the difficult job of making chess hip -- and it is succeeding."

With the city's award comes a more specific title for the club's founder and financial sponsor, Rex Sinquefield, a passionate player commended on a plaque immediately inside the club's entrance. For the third year in a row, Sinquefield will receive the Gold Koltanowski award, a symbolic honor granted to the individual who has done the most to further the game in that calendar year. Sinquefield will also be in attendance at the award ceremony in Orlando to claim his third consecutive title.   Since its inception, the chess club has earned considerable attention for its fast-growing dominance of the national chess community. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center currently hosts the country's most important tournaments, the US Chess Championship and the US Women's Chess Championship, and is the national mecca for the game.

"Chess is a game that requires thought and skill, and we have a lot of skilled and thoughtful people in St. Louis," says Slay. "Being so closely linked to a thinking person's game is a good thing for our city."

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