The World Chess Hall of Fame dates from 1986. It moved from Miami to St. Louis 8 years ago, bringing what it had collected for years–chess sets, trophies, memorabilia–to a new venue. St. Louis has a growing reputation as the chess capital. In fact, the U. S. Chess Federation named it chess city of the year twice, in 2009 and 2011. St. Louis hosted the United States’ Open Chess Championship 4 times in the 20th century.
The World Chess Hall of Fame, however, didn’t open in St. Louis’ West End until 2011. It’s across the street from the Chess Club and Scholastic Center where fans go to actually play. The curators who set up the Hall of Fame had 3 floors to fill and made a wise decision. The 3rd level basically became a place to honor chess greats and exhibit its permanent collection. The other 2 floors are devoted to temporary shows that focus on WCHOF’s mission to exhibit artistically beautiful and culturally influential chess sets.
I haven’t played chess for many years, but I did desire to see the exotic sets that were out. My favorite was the set of the month that had a Halloween theme. I went on to really enjoy the Hall of Fame and two of the main temporary exhibits–Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (AVM) & Designing Chessmen. AVM showcases for the 2nd time some of the stunning chess sets collected by George and Vivian Dean including the Kuropatkin, one of only 2 created by Fabergé. The 25th exhibition that St. Louis’ World Chess Hall of Fame has mounted, AVM will be on display until March 12, 2017. Designing Chessmen will also be there until that date. My favorite in this great collection of chess sets was André Breton’s “Wine Glass Set and Board”, a mirror, glass and wood re-creation of a lost circa 1944 original.
The Hall of Fame was fascinating too. To me, the most surprising person honored was Benjamin Franklin. It included the greatest players from around the world with familiar names like Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. The U.S. Champs were lesser known to me, so my focus became Maurice Ashley, the first African-American player to achieve grandmaster status and a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee. I asked the young woman who was there to answer questions who impressed her among the international winners. She proudly pointed out how many women had been honored, so I got to know Nona Gaprindashvili. Known for her aggressive play, Nona has won the Soviet Women’s Championship 5 times and many medals. She was the 1st woman to be awarded a Grandmaster title.
The Sinquefield Cup was established in 2013 and inaugurated a grandmaster annual tournament that has become highly regarded. The 2016 event featured 10 of the world’s strongest chess players who competed for $300,000 in prize money and more.
The World Chess Hall of Hame is not hard to spot. It’s that anonymous looking urban building on Maryland Avenue with the world’s largest chess piece to the right of its entrance.