Pawn broker

Romanian grandmaster Cristian Chirila is coaching Mizzou’s first chess team.

Mizzou’s founding chess coach Cristian Chirila plans his move. Photo by Michael Cali.

Story by Tony Rehagen

Romanian grandmaster Cristian Chirila is ready to announce “check” on the college chess powers in Missouri and throughout the U.S. In Fall 2019, Chirila will begin his tenure as coach of Mizzou’s brand new chess team with full knowledge that the state, particularly St. Louis, is already a hotbed of world-class chess talent. Although the “King’s Game” has yet to conquer America as it has Europe and Asia, Chirila hopes to recruit grandmasters from all over the world to come to Columbia and represent the black and gold.

Chirila is targeting four team members from a pool of about 60 to 70 grandmasters, who might otherwise go professional in Europe, where the chess scene is more robust. To capture these valuable pieces for Mizzou, Chirila will be working with a grant for scholarships of nearly $800,000 from the Saint Louis Chess Club. “A university degree is always a good backup for a pro chess player to have,” says Chirila. “And university degrees from U.S. schools are more valuable than degrees from places like Romania.”

Mizzou is the only NCAA Division I-size school in the U.S. to offer scholarships for chess, hopefully providing an added appeal for would-be Tigers. “Missouri as a state is very competitive in terms of collegiate chess,” Chirila says. “Webster University has been seven-time world champions; Saint Louis University is a powerhouse as well. It only makes sense that we’re adding more competitiveness to the state’s largest university.”

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