The exact origin of the game is unknown, but chess likely started in India over a thousand years ago. Through the centuries, it traveled and evolved, taking contributions from dozens of cultures and generations until it was distilled down to the game we play today.
And while that game is beloved worldwide, events in the last century made chess an integral piece of the St. Louis identity.
The relationship between St. Louis and chess entered the history books in 1886 when the city hosted a segment of the first World Chess Championship. We presented the Seventh Annual Chess Championship in 1904, and through the 1960s and ‘70s, St. Louis district champion Robert Steinmeyer drew globetrotting Grandmasters to challenge him.
2008 marked a turning point with the opening of the St. Louis Chess Club (SLCC), which created a chess renaissance in the Midwest. Located across the street from the World Chess Hall of Fame, this community center features a world-class tournament hall, practice areas, a classroom, and a library. The campus also draws high-profile, domestic, and international tournaments to St. Louis.
In 2014, Congress designated St. Louis as the Chess Capital of the United States, and the community owns that honor. The Club has made St. Louis a national representative and a global hub for the quintessential battle of wits.
The chess club sits in the heart of the Central West End neighborhood, alongside a wide spectrum of bars, restaurants, and retail businesses. The location integrates chess into local culture: On a nice day, anyone can stroll by and pick up a game right there on the sidewalk. You can bring a buddy or challenge a stranger. But be warned, while it is likely that this stranger is just another chess hobbyist (with a cigar and an old fashioned from Brennan’s around the corner), they might be a Grandmaster—the club hosts them frequently. Either way, the club welcomes friendly competition, encouraging the sharpening of the mind for players of any caliber.
The institution emphasizes chess’s development of critical thinking, strategy, logic, and sportsmanship in players. The SLCC strives to, in their own words, “build champions in the classroom and the community.” With over 500 regular members, the SLCC currently hosts programs in over 100 schools across the St. Louis area and has even helped make chess a pastime in the Cardinals’ locker room. Moves like these immerse chess even more into the St. Louis lifestyle.
The SLCC represents the community’s embracing of chess as a human phenomenon, and the physical presence of chess in the city is showcased all around us: the world’s largest chess piece, the Kingside Diner — and, of course, the Saint Louis Bank logo depicts a knight piece. The chessboard is a level playing field that fosters comradery by intellectual communion; through chess, St. Louisans transcend human barriers to connect with our country, our world, and each other.
We can take pride in leading the charge for chess in the United States, and in challenging ourselves to rise to greater standards of strategy and sportsmanship. At its core, the game is about successfully navigating life. The choices we face as individuals and as a city may not always be as black and white as the spaces on the chessboard. The decision to play, however, is an easy one.