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On Chess: The world will be watching St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In less than two weeks, St. Louis will be the center of the world’s attention.

Granted, only the chess world will be watching, but how often does our city draw the spotlight of any worldwide audience? Plus, St. Louis gets to be named in sensational headlines that feature global conflict and war – in a positive light. Let’s see you pull that off, Washington.

The pressure is certainly on the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis for its banner-flying Sinquefield Cup, which will bring four global juggernauts to the U.S. Capital of Chess on Sept. 9. After the FIDE World Cup wraps up next Wednesday in Tromso, Norway, the international audience will shift its focus to the Central West End to follow world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen, the 21-year-old Norwegian grandmaster who plays one last time publicly before challenging for the World Champion title in November.

With him comes Armenia’s Levon Aronian, the only other human besides Carlsen currently rated above 2800 (The FIDE rating threshold of the world’s super-elite is considered 2700), as well as the top-two players in the U.S.: Hikaru Nakamura, ranked 7th in the world with a 2774 rating, and Gata Kamsky, ranked 19th at 2733. The quartet will battle over a week for $170,000 in prize money in the Sinquefield Cup’s double round-robin format.

It will be measured as the highest-rated tournament ever on American soil, but that just sounds a lot more glamorous than it is: The U.S. hasn’t hosted the world’s super-elite since the Piatigorksy Cups brought in then-World Champion Tigran Petrosian in the 1960s.

But what will not be undersold is how this re-emergence to the world scene will be celebrated. The Club has won awards for its handling of the nation’s elite tournaments – the U.S Championship, U.S. Women’s Championship and U.S. Junior Closed Championship – as the first venue in history to host the events for five consecutive years. (They’ll be held here again in 2014.) And anyone, player and spectator alike, who has witnessed the Club’s execution on the national level should have high expectations for its performance on the international stage.

For those casual viewers, as well as those diehard fans merely separated by oceans, the Club will have its standard streaming broadcast of the event. I’m twisting “standard” into a pun because the now-regular feature of the U.S. Championships was already in a class of its own, with live views of the tournament hall and commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade. The trio combines their collective brain power and breaks down the thought processes of the competing GMs, in a casually inclusive way that makes sense to us mouth-breathers.

That broadcast, as I said, was the norm at the national level. The Sinquefield Cup, however, is stacking that commentating brain power with three teams of grandmaster pundits, which will cater to the local audience. GMs Ben Finegold, Varuzhan Akobian, Ronen Har-zvi and internationally renowned Australian GM and journalist Ian Rogers, will split into two additional teams to offer their own insights, each team with its own live audience.

And the Central West End will be crowded: Two weeks ago I tipped off a college student, who had stopped in to check out the Club on his way back to Indiana, that Magnus was coming to town and his eyes lit up. I watched the wheels of tactics begin turning in his mind; and by the time he left, he had a detailed plan to knock his school up for a bus and bring in the whole chess club. Considering that this is Carlsen’s first competition ever in the U.S., as well as the lengths people come for the national events the bus theme should prove a common one.

The entire chess campus of the Central West End will be united, bringing a festival-like feel to a neighborhood that will fully wield its capital status. Across the street from the Club, the World Chess Hall of Fame will preview a new exhibit on Jacqueline Piatigorsky, of the aforementioned Piatigorsky Cup, and keep its own crowd catered to the action with one of the GM-commentating teams.

Lester’s Restaurant, next door to the Club, will host the third commentating team, as well as a meet-and-greet autograph and photo opportunity with the players on Sunday, Sept. 8 – free and open to the public.

The ultimate beneficiary, per usual, is St. Louis – locals of which can enjoy some international fanfare in just a short drive. The event is fully catered; and the entertainment comes with variety, which limits the reasons you would need to leave the Central West End. Plus your vicinity opens up a weekday option – rather than being pigeonholed into the zoo that will become the tournament’s weekend finale. Visit the www.saintlouischessclub.org for tickets and information.

I want to include a joke about parking, but it wouldn’t be funny.

Brian Jerauld is a chess instructor to area students, including his own children, and a student of the game himself through the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. He is also a Mizzou journalist with a decade of experience writing about boats, sports and other odds and ends. This column is a weekly look around St. Louis, the U.S. Capital of Chess. On chess is provided the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.