Chess City St. Louis

by Sabrina Chevannes
9/24/2014 – St. Louis is a good place to be. Much more so if you are a chess player. And definitely if you are a serious chess player. Thanks to the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre, founded by Rex and Jeanie Sinquefield, and the World Chess Hall of Fame St. Louis developed into a veritable chess mecca. Sabrina Chevannes visited the city and caught impressions.

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St. Louis - The Chess Capital of the World

When you think about the best places to play high quality chess, many will automatically say somewhere in Europe and probably name a city within Russia, where many top players are from and where you frequently see strong events being held. America has never really been the country you go to for top of the range FIDE events or to see the current World Chess Champion regularly battle it out against his rivals - until now.

St. Louis has been making a name for itself within the last few years due to the extraordinary Chess Club and Scholastic centre in the Central West End. Founded by Rex and Jeanie Sinquefield, this chess club has gone on to impress hundreds of players and fans all over the world. If you didn't love chess before entering this place, you will once you leave! The club oozes class and style and has the best playing conditions of any club I have ever seen. There are several playing areas as well as a luxurious boardroom for important meetings and featured events. They always have a master "in residence" at the club who is available for private lessons and group classes, regular chess tournaments which are available for all, a selection of the latest books on hand and they even have chess cushions!

The sign has got it right: "Please play chess!"

Take a seat and make your move

The success of the club has inspired the residents of St. Louis to really get involved in chess and so even the atmosphere outside the chess club is phenomenal. There are tables just outside where everyone plays both fun and competitive chess and stare in awe at the hundreds of thousands of Elo points that walk in and out of the club.

The Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St. Louis is not the only chess wonder of the city, as right across the street from it is the World Chess Hall of Fame. Most people who aren't aware of what this place is exactly, will just know that it is the building with the giant chess piece outside. Whilst this is an attraction itself, as it is the world's largest chess piece, the WCHOF is so much more.

One of the impressive things about the WCHOF is that it is extremely professionally run; all the staff have qualifications and/or several years experience working in a museum or with arts of some kind. In fact, none of them have a chess background and this is what stands them apart - the WCHOF is essentially a gorgeous museum depicting fascinating chess history.

Artistic chess set

The exhibitions rotate every few months and I was lucky enough to time my visit for the Bobby Fischer exhibit. With artefacts that have never been seen before and personal notes from Bobby's chess studies, this exhibition was bound to impress any chess fan.

Manuscript with notes by Fischer

The actual furniture from Bobby's living room where he sat and learned chess were displayed just like they originally were. Usually, this area is cornered off, but on the last day of the Sinquefield Cup, Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura battled it out on these very chairs in a six game 960 match.

Furniture on which Fischer used to play

Picture of Bobby playing on that furniture

Searching for Bobby Fischer: Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian playing Chess960

The next exhibition will be for the collaboration of hip-hop and chess. I really hope to come back in time to view that one!

However, despite this area of St. Louis rapidly becoming known as a "Chess Campus", that is not all there is to do there. The club and the WCHOF are situated in what seems like the trendiest area of St. Louis, with several bars and restaurants lining the streets.  I have spent about three weeks in total in St. Louis over the last couple of years and eaten somewhere different every day, but there are still plenty of choices left. The range is endless too; from fine bistros and Asian cuisines to cute Mexican places with all sorts of exotic tacos available. Plus there is an amazing FroYo place next door - convenient for a naughty treat.

The range of options for breakfast is great too - my personal favourite is a Crêpe restaurant, which doesn't just stop at crêpes, but serves a range of breakfast foods and light lunches. However, the crêpes themselves are just incredible.

If you like to drink too, the Central West End is definitely the place to be for that. With great cocktail bars, pubs, whiskey houses and various nightclubs, the fun is endless. Many of us frequented Bar Viva, which is a salsa club - it is certainly very entertaining watching chess players trying to salsa.

However, if the nightlife is not the thing for you, there are still plenty of great things to see and do nearby the Chess Campus. Obviously the stunning Arch is worth a visit and other great attractions such as the zoo or the Six Flags theme park is very nearby. Or perhaps you could catch a Cardinals game if you are a sports fan. Whatever your poison, you will not be bored in St. Louis. I managed to catch my favourite band, the Arctic Monkeys, in action at Loufest in Forest Park. Again, this was just 5 minutes walk from the chess club - it was the perfect way to end a legendary tournament!

I even found a great place to get your hair and nails done on the cheap, just 1 minute walk from the chess club! The Paul Mitchell Hair School - the students are the ones doing the work, so the rates are extremely low, but their supervisors are with them the entire time, ensuring nothing major goes wrong! In the spirit of the Sinquefield Cup, I had a chess-themed manicure done and I was pretty impressed with the result!

Guess my passion?

All in all, the Chess Campus is a great place to be - with so many quality tournaments being ran there and as well as the fantastic events held at the WCHOF. It's no wonder that so many chess fans flock there - it seems like the perfect place for chess and fun. St. Louis is already home to at least three 2700 players - perhaps we will soon see more moving there.

Hikaru Nakamura and Maria de Rosa


Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, Sabrina now lives in London where she is managing director of the London Academy of Chess and Education. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK. Sabrina is a Women International Master and an active chess player.


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