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L.A to Saint Louis: Kostya on Chess at Lindenwood Print E-mail
By Kostya Kavutskiy   
February 4, 2014
A small percentage of fortunate people discover their passion early on and become brilliant artists, athletes, and scientists. A larger group figures it out (or blindly throws a dart) during their high school/college years, picks a general subject of study and jumps headfirst into their professional pursuits. And a small but growing chunk of people meander through life aimlessly and either literally hit the jackpot, figuratively hit the jackpot, or settle down and make the most of their situation.

And then there are chess players.

Back in October 2012 I was more or less at a clichéd crossroads in my life. I had graduated the year before and spent fifteen months playing, coaching, and writing about chess.

I traveled to Saint Louis to play in the 2012 Spice Cup Open. In the middle of the event my good friend and coach Var Akobian introduced me to Matt Barrett, the Scholastic Coordinator for the Saint Louis Chess Club. Matt was in charge of recruitment for the Lindenwood University chess team, and asked if I would be interested in enrolling in the university and joining the team.

  I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do next, and was now presented with an interesting choice to come to Lindenwood. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Saint Louis in January of 2013 and had officially moved away from Los Angeles for the first time in my life.

Lindenwood University is one of the newest schools to launch an actual chess program – the thought of joining a school with a more established program (UT-Dallas, UT-Brownsville, Texas Tech, UMBC, Webster University) didn't even cross my mind. But there were a number of reasons why Lindenwood's program was appealing to me. For one, their MBA program is short (only one year), so it wasn't a huge time commitment.

Moreover, being in Saint Louis meant I could visit the gorgeous Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, where I had the chance to play frequently over the course of 2013. Lindenwood also received regular coaching from the rotating GM in Residence at the CCSCSL, so over the course of my stay I was able to work with GMs Yasser Seirawan & Ronen Har-Zvi, as well as Akobian. We didn't get an extraordinary amount of time with them, but each coach offered deep insights and made a lasting impression on us.

The actual chess team is a bright group of warm individuals:

IM Priyadarshan Kannapan – “Priya” is only 19 but has already accomplished quite a bit in the world of chess. He has also traveled the farthest from home, moving all the way from Madurai, India. He is currently studying marketing, and perhaps some USCL fans will recognize his name; in 2012 he absolutely destroyed the league and ran away with the MVP award.

IM David Recuero Guerra – David is the newest addition to Lindenwood's team, hailing from Asturias, Spain. He is 22 years old and just started the MBA program.

WGM Anna Sharevich
– Anna (originally from Belarus) graduated this past December with a Master's Degree in Public Administration, but represented Lindenwood at the 2012 and 2013 Pan American Intercollegiate tournament, scoring well both times. Anna has definitely taken advantage of Lindenwood's program being able to continue playing chess while achieving a master's degree.

nolan hendrickson.jpgNM Nolan Hendrickson – Nolan is a 20-year-old psychology major from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is quick to point out that Lindenwood is basically the place for non-professional chess players. By offering scholarships to just about anyone, they give an opportunity for non-titled players go to school at a discounted rate and be part of a competitive chess team.

Zach Stuart – Zach is 22, majoring in math, and originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He had some very positive words to say about his experience at Lindenwood:

“The fact that they give modest scholarships to players of all skill levels gives us such a unique team chemistry. Since we all practice together, the stronger players help the lower rated players improve. I have probably been one of the biggest beneficiaries of this over the past year.

Before I came to Lindenwood I had stagnated at expert level. This was because back home in New Mexico there are few masters and no titled players to play and analyze with. I had no idea how masters approached positions and how they analyzed them for the most part. Then I came to Lindenwood.
Zach-Stuart.jpgAfter a year of tournaments, practices, game analysis, and even late night bughouse matches with the masters on our team I finally started to get in sync with a lot of their tendencies. Weekly practices with Grandmasters didn't hurt either. Yasser Sierawan, Var Akobian, and Ronen Har-Zvi are three of the friendliest and helpful people you could ever work with. Most importantly, they trained me to be critical of my own games (silly me, before I came here I thought I was averaging one or two mistakes a game). I came to this school with a USCF of 1980 and one year later I am sitting at 2150-ish. My main goal is to become a National Master. Thanks to my teammates, I am close to reaching that goal.”

Micah Losee – Micah is a 20-year-old math major with a refreshing enthusiasm not only for chess, but life itself. Originally from Stanwood, Washington, his favorite part about moving to Saint Louis is that he has been able to meet more top level players from events at the STL chess club. Incidentally, Micah has potential to become one of the best players in the world, since, in every game he's always totally winning (before blundering and then losing).

George Krasnopolskiy
– An education major from Chicago, IL, George combines his skills in chess, education, and business by running a successful after school chess program called CheckMatesUSA. George also made serious headlines at the 2013 Sinquefield Cup by masterminding the following photo:


Joshua Cardenas
– Josh is 21 and also from Chicago, he learned chess as a freshman and has been studying ever since. Josh is by no means a full time chess player, but enjoys the team dynamic and loves to partake in tournaments, bughouse sessions, and everything else a chess team does. He is also an absolute beast at the Rubik's cube.

Brent-Butler.jpgBrent Butler – Brent is 21, studying engineering, and originally from Saint Louis. When asked about the team, he had this to say: “Being new to the world of competitive chess, Lindenwood provides me with the chance to study and practice with experienced players. Because of this I am progressing at a rate I couldn't have possibly done on my own.”

Jason O'Dell – Jason is an Assistant Director at the LU Athletics Department and took over the role of managing the team last semester. He's worked with several sports teams before and has an infectiously positive attitude that really helps during down time at tournaments. He's been instrumental in planning trips, scheduling trainings, and as liaison between the team and upper management at Lindenwood. He also... likes taking selfies.

I think my overall experience in Saint Louis has been highly positive – I've been able to create close bonds with several wonderful people and was able to explore a new city. And here are my absolute favorite questions that I'll never ever get tired of answering:

1. So why would you ever leave Los Angeles for this place?
    I grew up in Los Angeles, and by the time I reached 20 I felt it was too limiting, in many aspects, to stay. Also, Saint Louis is a fairly vibrant city, so it's strange when people act as if I pulled a Thoreau.

2. So what are you going to do with your MBA?
    Play chess.

3. Can you really make money doing chess though?
    My grandma (who loves to tell me to consider becoming a banker) once told me that all professional chess players had a second profession to earn their living. I immediately guessed she was referring to Botvinnik (a scientist) and Taimanov (musician), but went ahead and asked her to name some names. She said, “Botvinnik! He was an engineer.” “Ok, anyone else?” “Taimanov! A musician!”. So yes, you can make money doing chess, as long as you have a second job that pays well.

4. Do you miss the weather?
    ...as I write this, the entire Midwest is being held hostage by a “polar vortex” of freezing cold.

5. What have you learned so far?
    One new thing I did pick up in the past year is an affinity for cooking. Here's a picture of a dish I cooked not too long ago (with help of course):


Fish tacos, basmati rice, mango salsa, peach margaritas, and a bit of Kasparov vs. Karpov.

I graduate with an MBA from Lindenwood this coming March, after which I'll be something like a free agent. My current plan is to move back to Los Angeles, continue working on chess, and spring somewhere new before too long.

Kostya Kavutskiy is a regular contributor to CLO. His 2012 piece on the US Chess School earned Best of CLO honors.