The Los Angeles Times in July carried an article calling St.
Louis the new chess capital of the United States. The city hosted
the men’s and women’s U.S. Chess Championships the last two years
and U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura moved here from Seattle this
year.

Late last month, the Gateway City also became the new chess
capital of the world for a day.

Garry Kasparov, who at 22 became the youngest world chess
champion ever in 1985, came to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center
in the Central West End on Nov. 29 for a meet and greet. That was
followed by a lecture and simultaneous chess match by Kasparov’s
opponent in the 1993 World Chess Championship, Nigel Short,
considered the strongest English grandmaster of the 20th
century.

Club members were astonished when Kasparov stuck around for
Short’s lecture, adding comments.

As a member of the chess club, I was one of a couple hundred to
meet Kasparov, shake his hand and have a book signed. More
importantly, I have a picture of me sitting next to the greatest
chess player who ever lived.

On top of that, I was one of the lucky 30 who got their names on
a list early enough to play Short in the simultaneous match. For
those who don’t play chess, that means the British grandmaster
played 30 of us — all at once. He lost one, drew a couple and won
the rest. No, I was not the one who won or drew (I am in Class D,
which means my rating is a bit below the average tournament
player).

“I wonder if people realize this is like hitting off Bob
Gibson?” said club member Josh Frank, of St. Louis, referring to
the Cardinals pitching legend.

Frank is an expert, which places him among the top 10 percent of
the players in the country.

Surrounded by long tables, Short walked from board to board,
pushing the king’s pawn as his first move on every board. To better
understand this task, one has to remember Short looked at one board
generally less than a minute before moving to the next. His
opponents had time to study the board as he went from board to
board. Even with that advantage (against grandmasters there really
isn’t an advantage when you are a class player like I am), Short
shot most of us down, even a couple of lower-rated masters.

My game went south in a hurry. I stuck around and played three
hours before resigning, but my game was effectively over within the
first 15 minutes by move 10 or so. I gave up a knight for a pawn in
what looked like a hopeless position. For those who don’t play,
losing a minor piece such as a knight for a pawn is usually enough
to lose a game, no matter your opponent’s rating.

“That’s pretty bold,” Short said as I gave up the knight for the
pawn.

“Actually pretty stupid,” I thought to myself.

But I played on. After all, the experience was worth it. It was
worth even more for Tim Nesham, of St. Peters, Mo. He was the only
one to notch a win over Short, and that game ended around midnight.
By that time, Short had been standing and playing for 4.5
hours.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Contact reporter Ken West at 618-344-0264, ext. 101, or
kwest@yourjournal.com