ST. LOUIS — St. Louis might be known as a baseball town, but the Gateway City is quickly becoming a major player in another sport: Chess.
St. Louis is currently hosting the two-week tournament that will decide the U.S. chess championship.
The city's increasing importance in the chess world is largely due to development of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, founded three years ago by retired businessman and philanthropist Rex Sinquefield.
"It's one of the greatest clubs in the world," said Al Lawrence, former executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that some chess experts call Sinquefield the most significant benefactor of chess in the U.S.
The city has become such a chess hub that the reigning national champion, Hikaru Nakamura, 22, is relocating to St. Louis from Seattle. Sinquefield agreed to bring him here to serve as a spokesman, but declined to say how much he will earn.
"I am right now probably the biggest draw in American chess," he told the newspaper. "So with me being here, it's definitely been noticed."
The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis has 500 members. The two-story building features a lobby, hardwood floors, mahogany chairs and banks of flat-screen TVs. Across the street, Sinquefield is developing a site for the World Chess Hall of Fame, which will move to St. Louis from Miami.
Sinquefield didn't begin with such lofty intentions — he just wanted to create a chess club close to city schools to get students excited about the game. But the club quickly attracted national interest.
After opening the club in 2008, Sinquefield mentioned to a friend that his dream was to bring the chess championship to St. Louis. He soon learned the chess federation was looking for a sponsor for the tournament in 2009.
"I certainly didn't envision how fast we would become a respected center of chess," he said.