By GM Bryan Smith
It has been nearly five years since I was last in Saint Louis. In 2014, shortly after I became a Grandmaster, I was invited to be the Grandmaster-In-Residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club – a position I had not even known existed.
That summer, I took a long trip with many stops – beginning in Philadelphia, where I live, then on to Louisville, KY, where I won the Kentucky Open along the way. Then, I stopped in Saint Louis where I stayed for about a month. After my time in Saint Louis, I went on to teach a chess camp in Michigan, and finally won a small tournament in Ohio on the way home.
This trip was very memorable, and especially memorable was the Saint Louis Chess Club, where I spent many days in the summer, listening to birds chirping in the overhanging trees, and smelling the nice smell of cigars from the cigar bar next door. Naturally, when I heard that I could do the same job this spring, I was very happy.
The Chess Club is practically the same as it was then, but with a variety of technological advancements. I saw that there is a new, chess-connected diner next door, called Kingside Diner. At the diner, one could watch tournaments taking place on the tv-screen while having a meal or a drink.
I didn’t know when I accepted the job that the U.S.Championships would be going on during my stay. When I found out, I had some mixed feelings. On one hand, it would be interesting to be around top-level chess (which is what the U.S. Championship has become over the last ten years, mostly due to the work of the Saint Louis Chess Club). Watching the games live, analyzing them, and discussing them is something I had never really done. The one time I played in the U.S. Championship was 2007, before the tournament became what it now is. I have never really gone to a tournament just to watch. On the other hand, I didn’t know what to expect. Who would be there (besides those playing in the tournament)? What kind of social interactions could I expect? Would my presence be awkward? In tournaments, the rules are clearly set out: you play to win. If you are just hanging around the club when a tournament is taking place, what then?
As it turned out, most of the time I did not feel out of place. It was a very full week. I taught lessons and gave simuls to school groups; by being present during the U.S. Championships, I felt like I was a part of history while it was being written. It was enjoyable to watch the tournament, especially the final day, when Hikaru Nakamura won in dramatic fashion to take first in the tournament.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here and I hope that my presence in Saint Louis was valuable to everyone. Chess is beautiful, because everybody is treated equally by the game. You succeed or fail solely based on your own merits, regardless of who you are.