Sinquefield should stick to chess
The Kansas City Star
Before Rex Sinquefield became a multimillionaire and a political kingmaker, he was a chess player.
And whatever you think of Sinquefield’s libertarian views and shameless flaunting of his fortune to influence Missouri government, know this: He is revered as a chess patriarch.
The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, a sparkling chess palace that Sinquefield renovated out of a 1897 building, has 700 active members and is host to the nation’s top tournaments. It has a grandmaster in residence and it helped persuade the nation’s top-rated player, Hikaru Nakamura, to move to St. Louis.
Sinquefield, a retired investment fund manager, engineered the move of the World Chess Hall of Fame from Miami to St. Louis. He and his wife, Jeanne, purchased the chess library of the brilliant recluse, Bobby Fischer, which includes notebooks Fischer used to prepare for his legendary match against Russian Boris Spassky.
Because of Sinquefield, dozens of schoolchildren in the St. Louis area play chess. And now the nation’s top-rated chess team has announced it is moving from Texas Tech University in Lubbock to Webster University in St. Louis.
This is the chess equivalent of the entire championship University of Alabama football team and coaching staff up and transferring to Creighton University in Omaha.
Hungarian-born chess champ Susan Polgar, who coaches at Texas Tech, says she is bringing five grandmasters and two international chess masters with her, and an additional three grandmasters are expected to join the team next year as freshmen.
I e-mailed a news clipping about this to my son, who plays on a chess team at a university that happens to be where Sinquefield did his graduate work.
“Wow,” he e-mailed back. “That is huge news.”
It’s rare that I am able to tell my son something he doesn’t know, much less get a “wow” out of him. So I thank Sinquefield for that.
Polgar told me Sinquefield wasn’t instrumental in arranging the move, but he was a factor. “We felt it was a nice coincidence,” she said. “We will be in the Mecca of chess in America that grew out of nowhere thanks to the generosity of Mr. Rex Sinquefield.”
Julian Schuster, the provost at Webster, a private, non-profit university, said the school aspired to become a “truly international university,” and chess, being an international sport, fits with that mission.
The school will at first provide scholarship aid for chess players out of its merit scholarship pool, Schuster said.
“We will also approach donors and other interested organizations and foundations,” he added.
Aha. I suspect this is where Sinquefield enters the picture, although his chess club is already helping Lindenwood University, a private college in St. Charles, recruit elite players and organize a team.
The Lindenwood connection leads us to the uproar that Sinquefield set off while speaking to students there last week.
Sinquefield thinks poorly of public schools. He would love for Missouri to hand out vouchers to any student who wishes to attend a private or parochial school.
So the subject of public schools came up and Sinquefield placed himself in check.
“I hope I don’t offend anyone…” he began.
But that is like moving your queen into dangerous territory without contemplating the next move. If you think you’re about to offend people, it’s best to have a plan for handling the flack. Either that or stuff the offending remark.
Sinquefield barged ahead, claiming to paraphrase a columnist for a rural Missouri newspaper who wrote something like, “…decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.”
Everyone attacked. Commentators, teachers’ union reps, state legislators, and the columnist, Ralph Voss, who said Sinquefield completely misconstrued his remarks.
Out of moves, Sinquefield settled for a limp apology, calling his remarks “ill-timed and inappropriate.”
He will live to play another match, of course. When you have as much money, and spend it as willingly, as Sinquefield, you will always be in the game.
I only wish his chess empire was the biggest imprint he aspires to make on Missouri.
To reach Barb Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at bshelly.