The World Chess Hall of Fame is a gem of a museum hidden – albeit unabashedly – in the city of St. Louis, as given away by this Guiness World Record holder for the World’s Largest Chess Piece (at 14.5′ tall):

the World's Largest Chess Piece is a Cardinals fan

the World’s Largest Chess Piece is a Cardinals fan

(there’s a quick timelapse video of the construction of the piece on YouTube)

The facility spans three floors and manages to cram a lot into a little space – thanks in part to most of the pieces indoors being of the nimble, finger-sized variety. (In fact I don’t recall seeing a freight elevator, so they very well may cart everything by hand, or have a smaller elevator hidden off the floors for carting furniture up and down.)

When I was there last I stumbled into an exhibition of chess art by contemporary artist Marcel Dzama – including some video works not shown below. I was mostly fond of the mask and puppet-influenced works, as they’re so rare in the world of chess, and so well done by Dzama. The blue box of course is lovely, not only for its Duchampian references but it’s also really well done. I did like the robot chess monitor but it also seemed a bit contrived; it wasn’t dynamic or AI as far as I could tell.

Heading up or down the stairwell you’ll encounter some simple silhouetted wall pieces and really choice color and design carpet:

chess hallway

On the second floor was an exhibition of World War II era artifacts including lightweight pocketable chess books, Nazi Germany chess-variant game boards, and some really interesting postal mailers – something totally not possible with so many other games, but possible with the notion of the ‘chess move’ to be contemplated over time, between moves, while cards between players ship back and forth. Check it out:

Lastly on the third floor where what I presumed to be part of their permanent – or stored – collection, including many many display cabinets of sets from all over the world, spanning a few hundred years, from Napoleonic France to British India and Inuit walrus ivory to tortoiseshell tables – WOW!

But you know when a place is real classy when even its bathroom decor matches its demeanor:

even the bathroom has style!

even the bathroom has style!

Like I say a gem of a museum. It originally opened in 1984 in a basement in New York state before making its way to Washington DC (typical, getting gobbled up by The Establishment) and then further down I-95 to Miami, before hopefully settling permanently – I’d like to visit whenever I’m visiting – in St. Louis in 2011. So if you’re ever there, and you like the game of chess like me and RZA do, then please, stop by, say “checkmate.” You won’t regret it!