LINDSBORG, Kan., Dec. 21 – Fifteen chess grandmasters, including present or former national champions from five European countries, are spending the last days of December in a windswept Kansas town that has suddenly become a world chess center.
“I never thought it would go this far or get this big,” said Mikhail Korenman, a Russian émigré who has brought his passion for chess to a most unlikely place.
Like countless other small towns across the Midwest, Lindsborg, which has a population of 3,500, is struggling to survive as rural life becomes more difficult and people move to cities or suburbs. Until a few years ago, it relied on its niche as Little Sweden, a place where tourists could buy Swedish crafts and eat pancakes with lingonberry sauce.
Swedish flags are still visible around town, but now the banners along Main Street say, “Welcome Anatoly Karpov School of Chess.”
The school, which Mr. Korenman runs, opened last year, paid for with donations from local business people and a $216,000 economic development grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing. It has already staged several important competitions. This year, both the United States junior championship and the Final Four collegiate championship were held here.
Mr. Korenman has brought Mr. Karpov, a former world champion from Russia who is considered one of the best players of the last century, to Lindsborg three times. Mr. Karpov has given the school his official sanction, something he has previously done only for schools in big cities like Damascus and Istanbul.
In September, Mr. Karpov played an exhibition match here against Susan Polgar, the first ever between former male and female world champions. For that event, which he billed as “Clash of the Titans,” Mr. Korenman staged a parade through the center of town, complete with floats and a marching band. Both players spent hours signing autographs and posing for pictures, he proudly recalled.
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– GM Susan Polgar