Tucked away in the heart of St. Louis on Maryland Avenue lies the chess capital of America – The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
On Aug. 16, this mecca of calculated risk hosted a satellite qualifier for the Millionaire Open. Sixty players competed for entry into the Millionaire Open, Oct. 8-12 in Las Vegas. That tournament has a total prize fund of $1 million, the largest amount in any open play chess tournament. Its overall winner will take home a grand prize of $100,000. With this in mind, International (Chess) Master Priyadharshan Kannappan, a junior at Lindenwood University, entered the satellite tournament with an eye on coming in first. The final match came down to a tie-breaker between Ashwin Jayaram and Kannappan. The players had an Armageddon blitz playoff, where they had less than 10 minutes to complete their match.
Kannappan was able to clinch the tournament’s $500 first prize and secure a spot in the Millionaire Open. He said winning the qualifier was important to him because last year, he lost in the final round in the same tournament, again against Jayaram.
“Winning this tournament was really special for me,” Kannappan said. “It is like a reward for all the training I did and the amount of effort I put into the board.”
Kannappan is using the prize money to pay for part of his airfare to and hotel expenses associated with the Millionaire Open.
“The competition in Vegas is going to be really, really tough as current world No. 4, 5 and 8 chess players have already registered and more grandmasters from all over the world will register,” Kannappan said before leaving St. Charles.
This isn’t the first time Kannappan has traveled for the sake of his sport.
He grew up in Madurai, India, and has been playing chess since he was 7 years old. When the time came to choose a university, Kannappan chose Lindenwood because of its proximity to St. Louis and the opportunity to compete in tournaments such as the satellite qualifier for the Millionaire Open. He found the school on a chess blog and was the second recruit ever for Lindenwood. He turned in his application and was immediately accepted into the chess program.
“I miss my family, who I am only able to see twice a year. But by sacrificing time with my loved ones I’ve been able to improve on my game since moving to the states,” Kannappan said.
At this point in his career he has played in chess tournaments all over the world, including 12 different countries ranging from Turkey and China to Iran and the Philippines.
According to chess team manager Timothy Nesham, Lindenwood’s chess program was founded in 2012 when Kannappan was a freshman and has been gradually growing ever since. Currently, Lindenwood has 13 chess players on its roster, but Nesham said chess plays a secondary role to education.
“Unlike larger universities, Lindenwood does not give out scholarships (for chess) but instead pays for the students’ room and board during tournaments. The school also pays for chess membership at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.
“The Chess Club is widely recognized as the premier chess facility in the nation and one of the best in the world,” said Nicole Halpin, the club’s communications coordinator.
In 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution naming St. Louis as the country’s Chess Capital due to the club’s work in raising awareness of chess and its benefits. St. Louis has become home to three of the most prestigious invitational chess tournaments in the United States.
“The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis have hosted the U.S. Championship and the U.S. Women’s Championship, as well as the U.S. Junior Closed Championship in addition to the Sinquefield Cup,” Halpin said.
The club is a member-based community center where players of all skill levels and abilities, from beginner to expert, attend free classes, participate in tournaments, attend lectures and can even take private lessons from professionals.
Kannappan said he often watched his brother play chess and became fascinated with the game at a young age. Since then, he has used the game as an outlet to forget about his worries and take a moment to focus on just one thing – chess.
“I hope one day that I can earn the title of Grandmaster,” Kannappan said.
He said being recognized by the World Chess Federation would be an immense honor and one of his greatest life achievements. By competing in the Millionaire Open, he is one move closer to making that dream a reality.