Chess may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing Missouri's fame, but St. Louis, Missouri, was declared by congress the "chess capital of the nation," and the reigning state champion is a Kansas City local.
Tony Rich, the executive director at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (CCSCSL) attributes the success of St. Louis as an epicenter for chess to the chess community that has developed there in the last 10 years.
In 2007, Rex Sinquefield, a St. Louis businessman and investor, opened the CCSCSL, a nonprofit chess club that partners with schools in the area to teach chess to students. Since then, the city has hosted major national and international championships, and the World Chess Hall of Fame was moved there in 2009.
Rich says that he can see the impact of the CCSCSL nationwide.
"I think chess is becoming more and more a part of the common culture in the United States, and I think that’s in large part due to the efforts we’re making in Saint Louis,” he told KCUR's Gina Kaufmann on Central Standard.
Despite the fame of St. Louis as a city, the state champion in chess actually calls Kansas City home. Abhishek Mallela is a UMKC master's student and the 2015 Missouri State Champion.
"I was elated to win," says Mallela about the championship. "I had a lot of support from friends and family who helped me achieve that goal, and I'm glad that temporarily I have a big name in Missouri."
Mallela will head to the Missouri Open Championship in Saint Louis to defend his title on Dec. 9.
Born in Singapore, Mallela began playing in youth chess tournaments when he moved to Dallas, Texas.
"I had this love and passion for the game. To a certain extent I had this patience and determination, to kind of keep battling it out and not give it up," says Mallela.
But, he says, Kansas City does not yet have the thriving chess culture that Saint Louis does.
"The state of chess in Kansas City is really representative of the state of how chess was in St Louis before the club opened, and kind of across the country," says Rich. "It’s a group of dedicated volunteers, it’s a grassroots effort. Kansas City has an amazing chess culture, and I think it’s continuing to grow, and we’ll see great things coming out of Kansas City, like Abhishek winning the championship.”
Both Rich and Mallela say chess can have a positive impact on young people as well as the greater community. Mallela says his experience helped prepare him for higher education by equipping him with perseverance and analytical skills.
Rich agrees, saying that through the game, people learn how to "take huge, complex problems and solve that problem by breaking it down into its smaller parts."
Mallela also wants to put an end to the idea that chess is an elite game.
“Chess is accessible for anyone, and it just takes that extra step to focus and go forward and get interested, it’s not for a specific set of people," he says.
Caitlin Troutman is an intern at KCUR 89.3.