Mini-Flood 13: World Chess Hall of Fame

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

The World Chess Hall of Fame began in 1986 in New York, and moved to St. Louis in 2011. The institution’s function is to preserve and exhibit objects originating from the history of the game, and to educate the public about chess’ continuing cultural impact. Together with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, the WCHOF operates a nexus connecting people from around the world to the city and to the game.

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Scott Jackson

Rising to popularity out of the embers of the Persian Empire, chess is a two-person board game, centering on strategy, that has enjoyed massive appeal stretching over several centuries. In St. Louis, chess’ cultural footprint stretches back to at least the first World Chess Championship, wherein the city hosted a segment of the competition. Shortly thereafter, the very active St. Louis Chess Club was formed by Max Judd. These two events cemented the city’s place in the international community, and the current “Chess Campus” in the Central West End neighborhood is an extension of this focus.

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photograph by Scott Jackson

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Scott Jackson

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photograph by Scott Jackson

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photograph by Jason Gray

Opened in 2008, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center promotes the game through programatic events, an extensive library, and play opportunities. The beautifully designed, 6000-square-foot facility is an important outpost for U.S. Championship Chess, and bills itself as “the world’s premier chess center” (based upon what we saw on our visit, we would by remiss to disagree). Membership to the Club is available at different levels including individual, family, and student, and participation ranges from professional tournament challenges to mentorship and educational opportunities. An LCD monitor in the main lobby keeps track of member performances within an internal competition called the Club Ladder, which is United States Chess Federation rated. The Chess Club and Scholastic Center is also home to the prestigious Sinquefield Cup, named for the Center’s founders, Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield. Adorning the walls of the facility are portraits of many chess notables, including an image of the United States’ current best bet to bring home a World Chess Championship Title (the first since Bobby Fischer!), Grand Master Hikaru Nakamura. Given the Club’s international presence, it is no surprise then that Nakamura is a St. Louis resident.

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

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photograph by Jeni Kulka

Directly across the street, the World’s Largest Chess Piece rises over 14 feet to great visitors to the stately, World Chess Hall of Fame. Begun in New Windsor, New York, in 1986 by the USCF, the Hall of Fame originally included only players from the United States. In subsequent decades, the Hall of Fame grew to recognize players from around the world, and amassed a permanent collection of depth and breadth accounting for the entire history of the game. The organization moved several times, including to Washington D.C. and Miami, before settling into its current location in 2011. The reputation of the Chess Club and the cultural vibrancy of St. Louis are cited as the major deciding factors of the move to STL. The Sinquefields were a primary influence also.

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photograph by Jeni Kulka

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photograph by Dan Henrichs Photography, St. Louis

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Amanda Miller

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photograph by Scott Jackson

Today, the 15,000-square-foot Museum houses several floors of rotating exhibition space, including innovative special exhibitions from outside the Museum’s permanent collection. All of the material on display is presented with extreme care and wonderful curation, which combine to make the viewing experience enthralling even for non-chess players. In addition, the organization encloses the U.S. and World Chess Halls of Fame (some famous inclusions are Robert “Bobby” Fischer, Wilhelm Steinitz, Garry Kasparov, and Benjamin Franklin), and the Q Boutique (winner of the Riverfront Times‘ “Best Gift Shop of 2012”). The building itself is a converted residence, whose redesign, featuring effective space planning and decorative flourishes, was handled expertly. The Museum offers plenty of educational programming and engagement opportunities in conjunction with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center, thus fulfilling its promise of “Mind-Art-Experience”.

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photograph by Jason Gray

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photograph by Scott Jackson

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photograph by Jason Gray

The city of St. Louis is home to a wide variety of cultural institutions, but we are truly lucky to harbor such esteemed organizations, like the World Chess Hall of Fame and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center, within our diverse milieu. Chess is a wonderful pleasure, containing art, science, the intellect, and community within its orbit, and our city is an international leader in its pursuit, thanks largely to the two agencies listed above. Definitely, there is no pressure to visit, but with so many opportunities now locally available, and the world looking in, why not at least drop by to see what the fuss is about? Checkmate.

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photograph by Jason Gray

Map:
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1 Comment
  1. […] largest collection of mosaic inlays), Chase Park Plaza (an opulent, jazz era hotel), and the World Chess Hall of Fame (featuring the world’s largest chess piece) all call this photogenic neighborhood home. […]

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