Chess in Saint Louis

Chess in Saint Louis
Chess in Saint Louis

World Chess Hall of Fame Grand Opening, 2011
Photo © Diane Anderson

The success of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis and the World Chess Hall of Fame has received attention from the international chess community, making Saint Louis the premiere chess destination worldwide.

In fact, the U.S. Chess Federation named Saint Louis “Chess City of the Year” in 2009 and 2011. The city of Saint Louis, however, is not without a lengthy chess heritage.

In 1886, Saint Louis hosted a segment of the first World Chess Championship, which culminated with Wilhelm Steinitz defeating Johannes Zukertort to become the first World Chess Champion. Benjamin Foster, a Saint Louis resident and the editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat chess column, published Chancellor Chess: or the New Game of Chess three years later in 1889. His book introduced a chess piece called a “chancellor” and an additional pawn to an enlarged board. Although his proposal was ultimately rebuffed, it nonetheless received considerable attention from the chess community. 

The 1904 World’s Fair drew national and international visitors to Saint Louis. It also served as an occasion to hold the Seventh Annual Chess Congress in the city. Frank J. Marshall, founder of the Marshall Chess Club in New York City, was named tournament champion. Saint Louis resident and founder of the St. Louis Chess Club Max Judd was awarded second prize. 

Another Saint Louis chess notable was Mrs. Eveline Allen Burgess, named Woman’s Champion of the United States in 1907. Samuel Burgess, husband of Eveline, was also actively involved in the local chess community. He served as the vice president and later president of the St. Louis Chess Club, of which Eveline was an honorary member. Eveline was also an active member of the West End Chess Club while Samuel served as its president.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, Robert Steinmeyer was Missouri’s premiere chess talent, consistently winning the St. Louis District Championship. During that time, Saint Louis repeatedly drew grandmasters to the city for simultaneous exhibitions. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Reuben Fine, Larry Evans, Viktor Korchnoi, and Tigran Petrosian were among those who visited Saint Louis to challenge Steinmeyer and other local chess players.