First US Congressional Chess Tournament

by Zachary Young
6/20/2014 – Stemming from a US Senate resolution to recognize St. Louis as the US Capital of Chess, chess patron Rex Sinquefield met with members of congress to promote chess education, supported by Garry Kasparov. This led to the 1st Congressional Chess Tournament with US congressmen facing off over the chess board, teamed up with rising US chess prodigies. Zachary Young has the report.

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The Rayburn house office building where the event took place

The entrance to the House Judiciary Committee Hearing Room

US congressman Chaka Fattah

Thirteen year-old International Master Sam Sevian was trying to be patient with congressman Chaka Fattah.

“We need to protect h2,” advised a frustrated Sevian. That was an understatement. Fattah’s opponent, Missouri Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer, with help from another young IM, Jeffrey Xiong, had assembled a menacing battery of queen and bishop on the long diagonal, bearing straight down on Fattah’s king. Mate in one was the threat.

The end is near — Chaka Fattah (D-Pennsylvania) vs Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Missouri)

Congressman Fattah and his teammate and chess consultant, 13-year-old IM Samuel Sevian“I think we have two choices,” said Sevian with admirable restraint. His chiding eventually led Fattah to find the right defensive move.

That was the scene in the house judiciary committee meeting room on capitol hill on Wednesday, as a tag team of Democrats and Republicans squared off over the chessboard. The first ever “Congressional Chess Tournament”, held to highlight the game’s educational benefits, also hosted a few guests more familiar to the chess world, chief among them grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

left to right: Jason Smith (R-Missouri), Rex Sinquefield, Garry Kasparov, congressman William Clay (D-Missouri)

Garry Kasparov in deep discussion with congressman William Clay (D-Missouri)

Kayden Troff meets the press Kasparov was there to show his support for U.S. chess, in particular the efforts of the St Louis Chess Club and its president, Rex Sinquefield, in obtaining congressional approval of a resolution naming the city the “chess capital of America”. “It’s quite a unique case, on the hill these days, unanimous support,” said the former world champion, referring the U.S. senate’s recent adoption of the St. Louis resolution. “And the fact is that the game can bring together Democrats and Republicans, as it brings together in Europe representatives of different political parties… I think it demonstrates that chess has a great ability of healing political wounds.”

Senate Chaplin Barry Black with Samuel Sevian facing representative Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jeffrey Xiong

Congressman Smith and Kayden Troff (black pieces) versus representative Clay and Ashritha Eswaran

The author, Zachary Young, faces Kayden Troff Despite his appeals to nonpartisanship, Kasparov couldn’t help taking a jab at his own political opponent, long-reigning FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov — whom the ex-champion hopes to unseat in August — even as he praised Sinquefield. “If we’re talking about verifiable numbers, not the dreams of Mr. Ilyumzhinov, but verifiable numbers, I think Rex Sinquefield is the greatest contributor to the game of chess during my lifetime,” he said. The philanthropist and St. Louis native is a strong supporter of the ex-champion, and has even joined his presidential ticket. “Someone who has been giving millions of dollars for US chess, supporting every major event here… he has been supporting the young star chess program that the Kasparov chess foundation has launched several years ago to look for the rising stars, and you can see some of them here. I’m very proud that he’s running with me on my ticket.”

Garry Kasparov and Rex Sinquefield play some opening moves to launch the event The young stars Kasparov alluded to were Sam Sevian, Ashritha Eswaran, and Jeffrey Xiong, all thirteen years old, and Kayden Troff, 16, who recently earned his third and final GM norm. After Kasparov and Sinquefield played a few ceremonial moves against one another, they turned the board over to a revolving cast of congressmen. Each party had a pair of the young masters consulting for them. The game ended with representative Chaka Fattah (D - Missouri) tipping his king. This time, at least, the Republicans came out on top.

Posing for a picture: Jeffery Xiong, Kayden Troff, Garry Kasparov, Samuel Sevian, Ashritha Eswaran

Kasparov looks on over Xiong and Luetkemeyer

Chaka Fattah (right) reaches out to tip his king Meanwhile, Kasparov expressed his hope that renewed public support for chess and chess education might restore the game to the levels of public enthusiasm it enjoyed during the reign of America’s most famous player. “After Fischer it never recovered,” he said. “There was this drop in popularity. It’s slowly making it back to the mainstream, so this event definitely paves the way for the game of chess to be mentioned again in the main news.” 

While he exuded confidence, Kasparov appeared to hint that a loss against Ilyumzhinov in August would not be the end of his campaign against what he sees as corruption and complacency in FIDE. “I think those who are still contemplating, they should remember that August 11 is not the end of chess history, it’s the beginning. And if they want to see chess returning to its old glory, they know what’s the right choice.”

Garry Kasparov with the author, Zachary Young

Zach Young is a radio producer living in Washington, D.C. His favorite opening is the Smith-Morra gambit.


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