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Time For A Tiebreaker In Deadlocked World Chess Championship

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Sports fans in St. Louis missed a chance for the World Series this year when the Cardinals fell short in the playoffs - fell short of the playoffs. But St. Louis has a chance for a different world title. The World Chess Championship features an American from St. Louis. Fabiano Caruana is in a hard-fought series of games that is expected to end with tiebreakers today. He has a chance to be the first American to capture the title since Bobby Fischer almost half a century ago. St. Louis Public Radio's Wayne Pratt reports on his hometown crowd.

WAYNE PRATT, BYLINE: This is a big deal in St. Louis. If Caruana knocks off defending champion Magnus Carlsen from Norway, it could cement the city's growing reputation as a global chess center. That's right, a Midwest city playing a dominant role in a game - or sport, depending on who you talk to - that is tremendously popular outside the U.S. After playing since November 9, Caruana and Carlsen are tied after 12 games. Now, you might be thinking - what could be more boring? But for chess fans, it's anything but. From a studio in the basement of the Saint Louis Chess Club, three commentators have been streaming match analysis to the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2018 WORLD CHESS CHAMPIONSHIPS BROADCAST)

YASSER SEIRAWAN: Controversy has broken out during our...

JENNIFER SHAHADE: OK.

SEIRAWAN: ...break. Totally, Jennifer.

PRATT: You heard that correctly, controversy - during a break - in chess. One of those commentators is grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, who says Caruana's his quest for world chess dominance is riveting.

SEIRAWAN: A Fabiano win would have everybody doing backflips and somersaults and what have you.

PRATT: The Saint Louis Chess Club opened about a decade ago and has grown exponentially. It's hosted major events, including the Sinquefield Cup, an international tournament named after Rex Sinquefield who for years has worked to bring St. Louis to international chess prominence.

REX SINQUEFIELD: I think we're sitting in the nerve center of world chess. Garry Kasparov said it, too. If Kasparov said it, it's true.

PRATT: He's referring to Russian Garry Kasparov, considered by many to be the best chess player ever. Sinquefield, a retired investment banker, is the main person bankrolling organized chess in St. Louis. He lured the World Chess Hall of Fame to the city in 2011. St. Louis high schooler Jason Zhou is a member of the chess club here and is inspired by Caruana's play so far at the world event.

JASON ZHOU: I'm kind of watching for how Caruana's trying to outplay Carlsen's opening or trying to surprise him.

PRATT: The competitors, today, will play a rapid series of games called a tiebreak that could eventually lead to what is called chess Armageddon. A win by Caruana would be huge for St. Louis and possibly bring the city closer to the goal of hosting the world championship match.

For NPR News, I'm Wayne Pratt in St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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