A significant part of a St. Louis block is devoted to the world of chess. There is the Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Chess Club, and also a chess-themed restaurant, Kingside Diner, with a King on the men’s room door and a Queen on the women’s room. The facilities are world class and very welcoming for the visitor; I am honored to have been given a personal tour (and to have eaten fish and chips there).
If you see a Slavic-looking face walking down this street, you simply assume it is a chess player. In general, I am very interested in the idea of creating extreme mini-universes, a’la Robert Nozick’s concept of utopia. This is what the chess utopia looks like, and it is in St. Louis. In this world, rating matters more than race or gender or age.
Many of America’s best chess players now live in or near St. Louis, and the two best college teams — Webster and SLU — are both in or near St. Louis.
One lesson is the power of philanthropy in an otherwise under-supported domain. I am instead used to seeing donations in “crowded” areas, such as economics or politics. Rex Sinquefield, a former finance economist, and the developer of index investing, has been the major force behind the rise of St. Louis in chess. The game is now played in more than one hundred of the local schools.
The strangest moment for me was reading through the plaques in the Hall. I had known many of those individuals during the ages 13-16, but for the most part have not had contact with them since, or heard word of them. All at once, I learned when each had died, and which of the few remained alive.