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Central West End Hosts U.S. Chess Championships

The nation's top 24 chess players will gather at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to compete for the titles of U.S. Champion and U.S. Women's Champion.

Russian chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, retired from competition since 2005, is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. Young players challenge Kasparov during a special youth program in conjunction with the 2015 U.S. Chess Championships held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Kasparov will be a guest at this year's championships. photo by by Lennart Ootes (click for larger version)

April 06, 2016
Some of the biggest names in the country from one of the world's most ancient games will be descending on the Central West End this month. The U.S. Chess Championship and U.S. Women's Chess Championship get underway at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis April 13-30.

"The U.S. Championship is one of the few national championships that attract some of the top players in the world and is actually followed around the world," said Tony Rich, executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. "When I looked at our viewership statistics for last year's championship, we had spectators from 190 countries, roughly half a million unique visitors."

The 2016 U.S. Chess Championships will be held simultaneously at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis from April 13-29. photo by by Lennart Ootes (click for larger version)
This time three of the world's top players — Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So — will be on hand for the 12-round tournament. Rich said so much talent at a national-level meeting is unusual.

"Most national championships in other countries, the top players typically don't play in them for a number of reasons – one because of the strength of the field. Strong players like to play other strong players. They risk less in doing so," said Rich. "The other reason would be that typically there aren't the kinds of sponsors there to make the national championships an attractive event for the world's best players."

Those big names also have ties to the Gateway City. Nakamura, last year's champion, moved here in 2010. Caruana is a resident of the Central West End and So is a onetime product of Webster University's chess team.

Webster University also claims contender Ray Robson and women's competitor Katerina Nemcova.

"They have a powerhouse chess team over there," said Rich.

While the women's competition is solely for females, the U.S. National event is open to both genders. No women have entered the latter however. Twelve players will compete in each.

"The U.S. Championship is open to men, women and kids – anyone who is a strong enough chess player to qualify to play," said Rich. "We hold the U.S. Women's Championship as a separate event primarily to promote the top female players, allow them the chance to earn some real prize money, and hopefully to encourage more young girls to stick with the game and become professional chess players."

He said unfortunately, chess has been a male-dominated arena for so long that it has been difficult for females to break into the top ranks.

"We're working hard to change that," Rich said. "The Women's Championship is one avenue by which we hope to do so."

The 2016 U.S. Championships will be streamed live daily on www.uschesschamps.com. photo by by Lennart Ootes (click for larger version)
The U.S. Championship has been around since the 1930s, but only came to St. Louis seven years ago. Since then, Rich said the game's culture has become more robust both locally and at the national level.

"The chess scene in America prior to about 2010 had a couple of very strong players at the top, but then there was a big drop off between them and the next best players," he said. "What we're seeing through a combination of the efforts of the Chess Club and the hard work at the World Chess Hall of Fame across the street and also the U.S. Chess Federation, is more and more players rising to the top."

For the Chess Club, those efforts include classes, and lectures and tournaments for members as well as a scholastic chess program for the younger set, which sends instructors out to about 100 schools in the St. Louis area.

"They run after-school chess programs and if we develop grandmasters out of these young kids, that would be great. But really we use this as a teaching tool, a chance to teach these kids higher-order thinking skills like planning ahead, complex problem solving, cause and effect," Rich said. "That's a really important part of our mission at the club."

He also hopes to paint a road map to success in the sport by providing role models for young devotees.

"In addition to putting St. Louis on the map for chess, it also serves to spotlight the top American players or the top international players. It really creates role models out of them," Rich said. "The reason so many students say 'I want to be a sports star when I grow up' or 'I want to be a musician' is because that's who they see every day."

Competing in the U.S. Chess Championships will be Hikaru Nakamura, the 2015 U.S. Open Champion, and seven-time U.S. Women's Champion Irina Krush. photo by by Lennart Ootes (click for larger version)

Opening ceremonies for the championships will be held at the Jewel Box in Forest Park the evening of April 13. Closing ceremonies are on April 26.

Commentary will be available to both the live and Internet audiences during the games. Single round tickets are $10 for viewers and $25 for the opening and closing ceremonies. Attendance is complementary for paid annual members.

The international Sinquefield Cup will be handed out at the next major event at the Chess Club in August.

For more information, visit saintlouischessclub.org.

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