Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Supporting Local Chess: New Chess Club for St. Louis, MO

This place sounds fantastic! Story from South Side Journal Chess kings and queens get new castle By Dominic Immer Wednesday, July 9, 2008 12:06 PM CDT Local chess fans will soon be making a move. Fans who now play chess in coffeehouses, bars and restaurants will soon be checking opponents at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center, located at 4657 Maryland Avenue in the Central West End. The club is set to open July 17th. “Lots of cities have chess clubs. St. Louis is due for one,” said Tony Rich, executive director of the club. The three level, 6,000-square-foot building possesses an array of features including eight DGT chess boards, 8 hand-made wooden chess tables, 10 plasma screen televisions, video installation art and an adjustable lighting system. The primary colors of the club are black and white — the colors of a traditional chess board. The DGT chess boards can transmit games in progress to the plasma TVs for viewing by spectators. The TVs will also display other club information. Diana Thater, a video installation artist, created art for the chess club on six 46-inch LCD screens. Video installation art is art based on moving pictures. The art in this case recreates famous chess games, including the game of the century between Bobby Fischer and Donald Byrne. Nate Cohen of Cohen Architectural Woodworking in St. James, Mo., crafted the eight hand-made wooden chess tables for the chess center.Most of the money to begin the chess club came from Rex Sinquefield, the president and chairman of the chess club board. Sinquefield is a retired St. Louis investment banker and a political activist. He founded Dimensional Fund Advisors, investment company with his associate, David Booth. A main objective of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center is to promote the game of chess in area schools as a part of the curriculum. The First Move national program has already incorporated chess in five St. Louis public schools. “They learned about thinking critically and making decisions,” said Brian Zimerman, principal of Mann Elementary School in Tower Grove South. The chess club hopes to expand what First Move has done to include more grade levels and ultimately more schools. “There have been lots of research studies done, none of them scientifically rigorous, that have shown a nice relationship between cognitive abilities and improvement in their attendance records and a decrease in behavioral issues,” Rich said. The chess club wants to repeat those studies in a more scientific manner to prove the benefit of teaching chess in schools. Frank Van Bree is president and chief executive officer of UrbanFUTURE, which works with impoverished children in some city schools. His program is working with the club to expand the influence of chess in schools. Van Bree said that chess can continue to be useful in later grades, because as children’s thinking becomes more complex, so does chess. Chess can improve children’s self esteem and keep them out of trouble, Van Bree said, and the chess club would be a great place for children to spend time. Chess can have specific benefits for children in poverty, including helping them maintain some control over their world and helping them learn that considering the future is important, Van Bree said. “Poverty is a very reactive lifestyle,” he said. “If you can introduce chess, that’s all about planning two or three moves ahead.” While the chess club wants to attract new players, it also aims to provide a steady place to play for those already immersed in the game, Rich said. Members will receive several privileges including open play six days a week, discounted entry fees for club tournaments, and free use of the chess books and DVDs in the club library. The club also provides sets and clocks for matches. “We will have all the equipment that you need to play chess at the club,” Rich said. “All you have to do is bring your brain.” Rich wants the chess center to be an active and important part of the culture of St. Louis. “The Chess Club and Scholastic Center is going to be on par with places like the zoo and the history museum and the art museum,” he said. Rich looks forward to the club opening on July 17th. The club already has more than 60 members and Rich sees a lot of room for growth within St. Louis. He said about 750 people in the St. Louis area played in tournaments in the past year. His sales pitch to chess players is simple.“You have to see the club,” he said.

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