ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - Chess legend Garry Kasparov didn't need any arm-twisting to be persuaded to return to competition next month in St. Louis. In fact, it was Kasparov's idea.
The man who dominated chess for two decades has been retired from competitive play since 2005. But Kasparov will compete against many of the world's best players at the inaugural St. Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament August 14-19.
“I think it's quite a compliment to the city of St. Louis that he would choose this venue to come back,” said billionaire Rex Sinquefield, who founded the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis in 2008. “It's really an exciting and happy day in the chess world.”
Kasparov, who is from Russia but became a Croatian citizen in 2014, has worked with the St. Louis club for the past eight years, helping the city earn a distinction as the U.S. chess capital. Several top tournaments are held at the club, including the U.S. Chess Championships, two of the five tournaments on the Grand Chess Tour, and several top-level junior tournaments.
“It's a thrill to officially be returning to the game, and certainly not something I would have anticipated more than a decade after my retirement,” Kasparov, 54, said in a statement. “Coming back to the board in St. Louis is truly an honor - I wouldn't want to commemorate this moment anywhere else.”
Both of the tour events in St. Louis are back-to-back next month. The Sinquefield Cup August 2-12 features 10 top players competing for $300,000 in prizes. The St. Louis Rapid and Blitz event offers $150,000 in prizes. It will feature six Grand Chess Tour competitors and four “wild cards” invited to participate.
Sinquefield said Kasparov was among several people discussing how to organize the new tournament when he shocked the room.
“We were sitting around at a meeting and he said, ‘I think I'll be the wild card,’” Sinquefield said. “I said, ‘It sounds good to me.’ I loved it, of course. We all loved it. The chess world is going nuts about it.”
Kasparov became world champion at age 22 in 1985 and held that position until 2000. Since he retired from competition he has been politically active in his native Russia. He has been arrested several times for activism against President Vladimir Putin and has written a book raising concerns about Putin.
Though the St. Louis event will mark his return to competitive chess, he has remained an advocate for the sport and has played in exhibition matches, including at the St. Louis club last year.
The club has become so central to the sport that some top players have moved to St. Louis, including top-10 players Fabiano Caruana and Ray Robson. The chess club has hosted the past nine U.S. Chess Championships, several top-level junior events, and is home to the World Chess Hall of Fame.
St. Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament matches will be streamed live daily on grandchesstour.org. Sinquefield expects a big audience to watch Kasparov's return.
“It will be fun to measure the online audience,” Sinquefield said. “My guess is it will be in the many millions.”