Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 20, 2014

Chess Masters Four Moves Ahead of Capitol Hill

Trying to move policy in this town can feel a lot like watching a blindfolded scrum of well-dressed people play chess.

Appropriate, then, that a group of six master chess players will be in Room 2325 of the Rayburn House Office Building from 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday to play members, staffers and chess aficionados blindfolded.

Yasser Seirawan, the current grand master in residence at the St. Louis Chess Club and one of the leaders of the Capitol Hill event, explained how the chess games will unfold.

“Well the idea is, if you’re blindfolded, you have this image of the board in your mind, and what you have is a helper who says, ‘Your opponent makes this move.’ So, then you imagine that position in your mind,” he says. ”Then you tell your helper, ‘Well, tell my opponent I’m going to take his bishop,’ and so on and so forth. That takes real mental agility,” he says. “That’s intense.”

Seirawan will be one of six masters on the Hill on Thursday, ahead of a resolution that would declare St. Louis the chess capital of the United States.

Among the chess masters getting in on Thursday’s action will be 12-year-old Sam Sevian from California. Sevian became the youngest American master when he was just 9 years, 11 months and 9 days old. Sarah Chiang, a 15-year-old world master from Texas, and Kayden Troff, a 14-year-old international master from Utah, will also be ready to wipe the floor with challengers.

HOH wondered if Seirawan has ever played these young chess masters. “No,” he says. “Are you kidding? I’m running in the other direction. I have a reputation to protect.”

Missouri Reps. William Lacy Clay, a Democrat, and Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Republican, and Missouri Sens. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Republican, have been a driving force behind the resolution.

“The entire project actually happens to be serendipitous,” Seirawan tells us. “We’re doing this resolutution at a time when we’re just a few weeks away from U.S. Mens’ and U.S. Womens’ Championships … in St. Louis. There was no grand design. It was just how things fell into place. Like almost purposely. We chess players like to take credit when things go well, so this is all four moves ahead.”

St. Louis and the city’s chess club have hosted the U.S. championships for the past five years, he tells us. This time around the games will even be livestreamed by FOX Sports Midwest.

“That’s a big breakthrough for chess,” he says. “Because essentially you don’t see chess on TV.”

Except when you do:

Sometimes you also see “Chess” the musical on Broadway, and sometimes you find a clip of Josh Groban and Idina Menzel singing a song from it on YouTube:

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