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For those who do not want to attend another fair, go to the lake or hike through the forest when the heat index is approaching triple digits - but still want to take a day trip - the World Chess Hall of Fame is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

And the best part is…getting there will take less than a tank of gas.

Nestled in the heart of the Central West End of St. Louis at 4652 Maryland Ave., the World Chess Hall of Fame is one of the best kept secrets in the metropolitan area. Designed to educate and celebrate the game of chess, it is a welcoming venue for the beginner to the most accomplished player.

A first-time visitor will be surprised at what they find as soon as they arrive. The first notable object is the world’s largest chess piece which stands 14-feet, 7-inches tall and weighs 2,280 pounds.

Adjacent to the towering chess piece is a patio-sized chess board with movable pieces that are around 3-feet tall. On a nice day, visitors can become an interactive part of the game as they walk with their piece from square to square.

Once inside, a visitor will realize this hall of fame is not like any other. Although the pictures of all the legends who have been inducted do hang on the wall, it is much more. It is art, film and exhibits blended together to create an atmosphere that celebrates one of the oldest games ever played.

“Our exhibitions are designed with a wide range of audience in mind,” said Shannon Bailey, chief curator for the World Chess Hall of Fame. “Our goal is to create an environment that appeals to an avid chess player, an art connoisseur and families and children looking expand their horizon and experience something new.”

Marcel Dzama’s first floor exhibit might surprise some visitors when they first walk into the art gallery. Not expecting to see painting and sculptures at a chess hall of fame, a visitor must take a closer look at the artist’s work to realize he has blended his love of the game into many of his works of art.

Once guests move to the second floor, they are treated to “Encore! Ivory Chess Treasures from the Jon Crumiller Collection.” Visitors will view ivory chess pieces, boards and furnishings that span from the 16th to the 20th century. With pieces ranging from the simple to the ornate, the exhibit showcases the game of chess from various time frames and cultures.

"The chess sets in the 'Encore!' show tell stories of cultures influencing one another as trade routes are established, territories are colonized, and governments clash,” Bailey said. “It is a history and an art lesson in one beautiful presentation.”

The third floor exhibit, “Battle on the Board, Chess during World War II,” demonstrates how the age-old game was more than a game to many of the soldiers who went off to war. Chess was used as a way to pass the hours before entering yet another battle, pass the hours for POWs, and to help in the recuperation of injured soldiers.

The hall of fame is much more than art exhibits and pictures of chess masters who have been inducted into the hall of fame. And although those two things are an intricate part of the experience, the hall of fame tries to offer much more, including an emphasis on a family friendly environment with such things as Toddler Tuesday and 2015 Summer Family Days.

Toddler Tuesday, which takes place all summer long from 9 to 10:30 a.m., is designed for children from birth to 3-years-old and their caregivers. Each weekly session begins with light refreshments and socializing followed by activities focusing on creative and cognitive development.

Summer Family Days offer an afternoon for families with children from 5 to 12 years old an opportunity to explore the exhibits and take part in activities designed to spur an interest in the game of chess.

As a result of the family environment, chess is no longer a game played by retired grandfathers who have little else to do. It is instead a game now being learned and played by a whole new generation of chess enthusiasts.

"We have seen a major surge in interest among a younger demographic,” said Tony Rich, Executive Director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. “When the Chess Club opened in 2008, the majority of our members were individuals. Today, the majority are families. It is not uncommon that we have over 300 children come through our doors on a Sunday for classes and other programs."

The hall of fame also has the parents interest in mind by offering the Monthly Music Series. On the fourth Wednesday, the hall of fame offers a free concert from various musical genres.

The next performer to play is soul singer Brian Owens, who will bring his American soul sound to the hall of fame from 7 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 26.

The World Chess Hall of Fame is more than just one building, it is more of campus. Directly across the street is Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, which partners with the hall of fame to bring chess to the local, national and international chess community.

While at the center, one will see tournaments being played by the novice to an international chess master. With many of the tournaments live streamed, a chess enthusiast can even watch many matches remotely.

To round out the campus, a chess themed restaurant sits next door to the scholastic center. Kingside Diner can offer a chess fan everything from a hot cup of coffee to drink while playing a friendly game at an outdoor table to a late night snack after a stimulating tournament.

“People are so passionate about chess that they are excited before they get here,” said Allison Rieke, an administrative assistant at the hall of fame. “As such the culture around chess is fascinating. The hall of fame has such a variety of artists and exhibits it really does have something for everyone.”

The hall of fame is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and Saturdays; 10 a.m to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

For more information and directions, contact the hall of fame at 314-367-9243 or online at worldchesshof.org.

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Craig Vaughn is a reporter for the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3629 or at cvaughn@farmingtonpressonline.com

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