You will feel differently about chess after a visit to the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis. Director Susan Barrett guarantees it.
You will learn that chess is played by people of all ages, races, occupations, social groups and income levels, not just the upper crust.
You will see how chess has affected American pop culture, appearing in TV shows, movies, commercials and magazine ads.
You will discover that St. Louis is home to about a dozen chess grandmasters, as well as the largest chess club in the United States.
"St. Louis is the chess capital of the world," Susan said. "Families actually move here because of chess."
The trend started five years ago, when retired financial executive Rex Sinquefield opened the Chess Club and Scholastic Center.
Membership grew to more than 700 people, and activities expanded with lessons, tournaments and school programs. In 2011, the Hall of Fame moved from Miami to St. Louis.
Enter Susan, a painter and sculptor who had been working for Sinquefield as an art buyer. She helped turn the Hall of Fame into a museum.
Three floors of exhibits are housed in a 1915 brick building in the Central West End, surrounded by restaurants, shops, offices and apartments. The Chess Club is across the street.
"We really want chess to be for everyone," Susan said. "We want it to be mainstream, and that's why we chose this neighborhood."
Outside, people can pose for photos next to the world's largest chess piece, a king that's 14 feet, 6 inches tall and 6 feet wide at its base.
Inside, an exhibit called "Everybody's Game: Chess in Popular Culture" occupies the second-floor gallery.
Glass cases hold chess sets with characters from books such as "Winnie the Pooh," TV shows such as "The Simpsons," movies such as "Star Wars," cities such as New York and companies such as Coca-Cola.
"There's hardly a theme that somebody hasn't made a chess set about," said gallery attendant Philip Natta. "Everybody has jumped on the chess bandwagon at some point."
Walls are lined with chess-themed posters from Dave Matthews Band concerts and magazine ads for liquor, men's shirts, even tires.
The third floor contains Hall of Fame plaques, although most visitors would recognize only two names: Robert "Bobby" Fischer and Benjamin Franklin.
Fischer was an American chess prodigy who became the 11th world champion in 1972. Franklin was an avid chess player whose opponents included several U.S. presidents.
Franklin's essay,"The Morals of Chess," was reprinted in an 1824 book that's part of an exhibit called "Power in Check: Chess and the American Presidency." The most notable item is a chess set owned by George Washingon.
"It's made of ivory," Philip said. "It's very delicate. It's been in Martha Washington's family all this time."
The Hall of Fame's first floor is being converted into a new exhibit by O'Fallon artist Bill Smith, who was commissioned to create multimedia sculptures influenced by chess. It will open March 7.
Beyond exhibits, the Hall of Fame hosts Family Days on the first Saturday of each month. Children ages 5-12 learn about chess and work on art projects.
A gift shop sells chess sets and other souvenirs. That's where publicist Amanda Cook bought her 7-year-old son, Michael, a game called "No Stress Chess." He also participates in Family Days.
Amanda gives chess credit for helping to curb Michael's sometimes rambunctious behavior.
"We started playing chess in the morning before school, and I haven't had one problem with him since," she said. "It focuses him. It calms him. It gets him in the right mindset to learn."
The World Chess Hall of Fame is free and open to the public (donations welcome). It occasionally hosts evening events that include lectures, music, spoken word or wine.
Two weeklong camps for kids ages 10-13 will be offered this summer: "Elements of Hip-Hop" and "Shakespeare and Chess."
The Hall of Fame also is a place for telling stories, recalling memories and connecting with others who enjoy chess.
"I'm 62, and I've been playing chess for 55 years," Philip said. "My dad put a box in front of me. He knew I liked medieval history, and he said, 'This is a box of kings and queens, knights and bishops. Let me show you how to play the game.'"
Advertising slogans paired with chess images
"Known by the company it keeps," Seagram's V.O., Collier's, 1950
"In business, every move is important," Consolidated Engineers, Fortune, 1955
"At Van Heusen, we make shirts for your head," Van Heusen, Playboy, 1970
"The world's most civilized spirit," Cognac Hennessy, The New Yorker, 1987
"Great style means making all your own moves," Neiman Marcus, Town & Country, 2012
At a glance
What: World Chess Hall of Fame
Where: 4652 Maryland Ave. in the Central West End of St. Louis (next to Starbucks)
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays
Family Days: First Saturday of each month
Admission: Free (donations welcome)