WEBSTER GROVES • It’s hard to imagine that the local competitive chess scene could get any more spirited.
St. Louis is home to the U.S. Chess Championships, the country’s No. 1 rated player and the World Chess Hall of Fame.
Soon you can add the nation’s No. 1 collegiate chess team to that list.
On Friday, Webster University announced that Hungarian-born Susan Polgar — winner of four world championships — is moving her Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence from Texas Tech University to Webster.
Polgar is bringing her 2011 collegiate championship team with her.
And that’s not the only recent chess addition.
Lindenwood University leaders say they will begin offering chess scholarships this fall to build a collegiate chess team.
Almost overnight, St. Louis has gone from having a few players meeting in coffee shops and bookstores to being among the premier chess cities in the country.
That’s thanks in large part to retired businessman and philanthropist Rex Sinquefield who built the multimillion-dollar Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis in the heart of the Central West End a few years ago. Some chess experts have called Sinquefield the most significant benefactor of chess in America, and they credit him with putting St. Louis on the map.
The club prompted Hikaru Nakamura — the top-rated player in the country and No. 6 in the world — to move to St. Louis.
Mike Wilmering, a chess club spokesman, said the club wasn’t involved in discussions to bring Polgar to St. Louis but was thrilled with the development.
“We are really excited,” Wilmering said. “For us, it means a lot of top players are coming to St. Louis.”
Next year’s Webster team will include eight grandmasters — something no other collegiate team has ever had, Polgar said. The team is expected to rank No. 1 in the nation this fall, according to a university press release.
The school has committed to giving the students scholarships, but a spokeswoman wasn’t sure how many, or for how much.
Webster had discussed building a collegiate chess club for about a year, said Provost and Senior Vice President Julian Schuster, adding that Polgar had reached out to university officials through some mutual friends.
“It was a no-brainer,” Schuster said.
Polgar is a five-time Olympic champion. In 1986, she was the first woman to qualify for the Men’s World Championship Cycle. She holds world records for most simultaneous chess games played — 326 — and for most consecutive games played — 1,131.
Polgar said she was grateful for her team’s stint at Texas Tech, where it grow from “literally nothing” in 2007 to its status today. But in the end, she felt that St. Louis was a better home.
“We felt we had better opportunities to grow in St. Louis,” Polgar said, adding that the chess club “was definitely a big plus.”
This is pretty amazing.
Welcome to St.Louis!