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Chess Pilgrimage to St. Louis

An Historic Moment in Chess, Captured Here in Words and Pictures
Video at the Bottom of the Page

Welcome to my chess adventure! On September 6, 2011, I embarked on the chess journey of a lifetime. Leaving my wife and young children at home to fend for themselves for a whole week, I loaded the car with my best chess sets and traveled over 1000 miles north, to the new epicenter of world chess. (By the way, the red letters in this text are links to related web pages...)

That's me, wholesome devotee of chess, with my tent pitched on the outskirts of town. There I established my base of operations for what was to be an extraordinarily chess-filled weekend. Nice peaceful accommodations — not to mention saving a bundle in what would have been hotel fees.

And here it is! Just waiting for the eager chess enthusiasts to sever the virginal yellow ribbon and venture into the history, the majesty of the eternal chess realm. A three-story remodeled old brick building dedicated to the history and drama of chess.

And who should we come upon just across the street bantering over classic endgame conundrums but resident Grandmaster Ben Finegold giving his daily instruction only to be joined by one of the world's most outstanding young chess geniuses — Hikaru Nakamura! Just another day of chess in St. Louis.

23-year-old American Grandmaster Nakamura recently relocated to St. Louis, the best place to be for high level tournaments and all things chess. Nakamura is now the 6th highest rated chess player in the world, having recently outshined the best of the best in the world at the Wijk Aan Zee tournament in Holland.

An amiable young gentleman, Nakamura brings a dynamism and adventurous spirit to the board rarely seen in high level tournaments. Having already established himself as the best one-minute "bullet" and Fischer random "chess 960" chess player in the world, he is now making his presence felt in every level of tournament play.

A future world champion? I wouldn't doubt it!

Here are Rex Sinquefield, whose vision and patronage are key to making this all happen, Grandmaster Andy Soltis, being honored that day as a great chess author, player and proponent of the game ... and even one little chessling just about ready for his first lesson.

Here is Susan Barrett, Director of Art and Culture and procreator of future chess lovers; Lauren Stewart, Special Events Manager, and then, becuase this is a special event, a string quartet through the evening. Now, let's have a sneak preview of the new museum ...

For a teaser, let's look at a few museum pieces in the modern section! Here we have a screaming chessboard, with accompanying text and video on the left, an anything-goes insane chess hodge-podge on the right ... and in the center — are you old enough to remember John Lennon's white suit in a white room, playing a white piano? Well, it's still happening. This is a white chessboard with white pieces on white table with white chairs... yes, it's a chess piece by Yoko Ono! But before we see the really good stuff, let's have dinner with some chess geniuses:

That gal with the lovely smile is Woman Grandmaster Martha Fierro, one of the players in the upcoming tournament. Looking down the table from her are Marty Grund, VP of, then three-time Women's U.S. Champion Irina Krush sitting next to International Master Mark Arnold. Then we have Martha next to 2002 Women's U.S. Champion Jennifer Shahade, just having a good laugh! That's right!... I just sat down and had dinner with some of the world's most brilliant chess stars and had a good old time!

Now let's get back to the museum to look at the Dean Collection. Do you remember Fabergé, jeweler and Russian Czars, fancy eggs and all that? Well, it so happens that the Fabergé studio is known to have made two — just two — chess sets ever, and George Dean now owns both of them! Here's the one I like. A stunning set made of quartz, jasper, jade, serpentine and silver. But what an elegant and straight-forward design! It would be a pleasure just to play a game of chess on it ... but we just looked this time

And here's something really a bit much. A HUGE chunk of chess, played on a board big enough to house a mid-size dog. And look at the craftsmanship we're talking about here! Ivory carved faces set into gold and silver, detailed with jewels — what more could you possibly ask for?

And there's Dr. Dean himself, going from case to case, telling the tales that go with each set ... where they came from, how they're made ... and how on earth he came to acquire them. Focus here is on a really rather fancy Chinese Ivory set. Notice the base of each piece, divided into 8 panels, with a tiny little perfect scene carved into each one!

The fellow at the left here with the outrageous glasses is none other than show curator Lary List. Chess collectors know him as curator and editor of the chess show and book The Imagery of Chess: Revisited. Besides being a brilliant curator, with great vision and precise methodology of handling items of astronomical value, Larry is Great Guy! He became my buddy for the weekend -- I can't wait to see what chess sets he gets his hands on next.

There's the Father of Chess Collecting again, Dr. Dean, telling us once again how our illustrious and self-congratulating society of chess collectors came into being — now also telling us a little about his huge and dazzlilng illustrated coffeetable book, Chess Masterpieces, which showcases many of the sets on display over the weekend. I've always said that if I can't own and handle the chess sets I've always wanted, the next best thing is to have great pictures of them — and Dr. Dean's book delivers.
Next up is Jon Crumiller. Now, Jon also has a world class best-imaginable chess collection and he just happens to be a computer data base genius. The result? An extensive searchable data base covering just about any collectable chess set you could ever come across. Chess collectors need wonder no more! Your chess set is known and findable. Also a picture of him showing one of his many, many spectacular sets.

But the chess fun is just beginning. Saturday afternoon found us out in the street again, flanked by the Chess Museum on one side and the St. Louis Chess Club on the other. The event here is a human chess game, performed by the Boy Scouts to celebrate a "chess turning point" in their organization. Now, for the first time every, thanks to that group of dedicated Scout Masters (above on the right), boys can earn a highly esteemed Merit Badge based on their chess knowledge and prowess.
Of course, the Boys played out a game which was begun a few weeks ago between Planet Earth and an orbiting astronaut, and the astronaut himself was here to give a talk about space, chess and Scouting. Another great leap for Boy Scouts as they take small steps into the 21st century.

Yes, we have a high level chess tournament! Here, awaiting the first move in the Kings vs. Queens "Battle of the Sexes" tournament, stands an electronic sensing board, which instantly relays the moves of its players to the analysis room, two flights down. Evenly matched world class players were selected to create a men's team and women's team for a true chess gender clash. Round 1 (of 5) began Saturday afternoon.
The brash, young player on the right? Just happens to be a Boris Spassky in his younger days, among many chess icons gracing the Chess Club walls. What hair!

A Chess Collectors meeting wouldn't be complete without an awards dinner, would it? Here we have Rick of self-photod in the luxurious hotel men's room; then we have our fearless leader, Floyd Sarisohn, honoring the undisputed top patrons of chess in North America, Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield — being photographed here by 1996-99 Woman World Chess Champion Susan Polgar. We get a wave from CCI organizer Bill Fordney ... and over there tucked into the corner is Duncan Pohl. Duncan thrilled the group with his research on American chess sets and we and he and his his wife are two of the nicest chess collectors anyone needs to know about!

And finally, My Show! The Chess Collectors International meeting ends with a Chess Fair — and I didn't hold back. Carefully packed in my little Toyota Corolla were 55 of the greatest cross-cultural chess sets you're every likely to come across. Hurriedly set up, They're laid out here on 3 long tables. For sale of course, and viewable at .

From my Dad, something a little different: Chess Through the Looking Glass. A novel invention that allows you to play out a chess game, and see it from the opposite perspective in the mirror view. Notice the demonstration above where White has played P-K4 (e4) and Black is replying P-QB3 (e6) — but in the Mirror world Black has begun with P-K4 (e5) and White is responding P-QB3 (e3). The pieces and even the squares of the chessboard change color in the mirror view. A real mind-bender and perspective enhancer, teaching the player to see both sides at once as never before.

...And more of those unique and cross-culutral sets. I had so much to show! (You can get a good look at some of these sets in my online listings.)

Finally, as the brief Chess Fair drew to a close, with much packing, I took it all back into my car (except a few sold items) ... and so ended the great 2011 meeting of Chess Collectors.

But the tournament rages on! Here, in the lower level of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, the Stellar and soft-spoken chess super-genius, author and innovator GM Yasser Seirawan confers with 2002 & 04 U.S. Woman Champion and author WGM Jennifer Shahade. The issue at hand are the moves made and dramas sparked on 5 chessboards, now entering the 2nd round of the Kings vs. Queens challenge. I had followed Jennifer and Grandmaster Maurice Ashley on their internet broadcast of the U.S. Championship 2011. What a treat to sit in the studio audience and watch it live! You can see full videos of this match at the Kings vs. Queens web page.

And as all unbelievable chess adventures must come to and end, Sunday evening marked the completion of my great odyssey. Sad to leave, but feeling the call of my Life with Children 1000 miles away, I headed out of the spectacular arched city of St. Louis. Passing through many great American cities, including Nashville, with no time to stop and catch a Taylor Swift concert ... I pushed on, alternately driving and resting for 2 days. Final picture: my kids greeting me through the glass door.


Click below to see the video clips of my trip.
It's about 25 minutes of random, raw, unedited video,
so feel free to skip through to get to the good parts. Happy viewing!

Use the >| button (above) to skip ahead to the next clip. You don't have to watch it all!

Click here to send comments, questions and further ruminations


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