Junior championships waged in stressful silence at Chess Club in Central West End | Metro

The world’s tallest chess piece — a 14-foot, 6-inch king — makes the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis hard to miss.

But if it weren’t for two red, white and blue banners, a passer-by would have no idea that inside the club, tucked between Starbucks and the Kingside Diner on Maryland Avenue, 10 players battled in silence for a national championship.

From July 8 through Monday, the club hosted the boys’ U.S. Junior Championships for the eighth year in a row and the girls’ championships for the first time. A pair of 14-year-olds earned first places and spots in next year’s U.S. Championship, the national championship for all ages.

St. Louis will host that tournament as well. The chess club will also host two of the five events on the international Grand Chess Tour this year: the Sinquefield Cup and the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament.

The club, which celebrated its ninth anniversary Monday, has become the unlikely epicenter of chess in the U.S. The other three cities hosting events on the tour? London, Paris and Brussels.

Rex Sinquefield founded the club with the intent of teaching chess and creating a space for players to gather. Sinquefield didn’t plan on hosting tournaments at the club, but when he heard that the host site for the 2009 national championship was up for grabs, Sinquefield put in a bid.

Now, executive director Tony Rich said the club hosts five major tournaments a year in addition to roughly 700 less-formal events, including summer camps and weekend tournaments.

The tournaments themselves — and the club that hosts them — might surprise someone used to watching rowdy sporting events. If someone wandering the Central West End happened to be intrigued by the banners Monday, he or she would enter the club to find a room appearing to be half gift shop, half…

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