Rex Sinquefield, the American Chess Mogul (Full Segment) | Real Sports w/ Bryant Gumbel | HBO
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Rex Sinquefield, the American Chess Mogul (Full Segment) | Real Sports w/ Bryant Gumbel | HBO

At first glance, he may look
like just another aging retiree,passing the time by playing
his favorite game.
-How often do you play chess?
-Every day. How many times a day? Well, I have about 20 games
going on the internet, and then, I’ll do some studying
as well. Are you passionate
or are you an addict? Uh, I think both. O’BRIEN:
But Rex Sinquefield is not
some mild-mannered pensioner.
He is, at age 74,
a revolutionary.
Armed with incalculable wealth,
relentless drive, and a vision
to make his favorite game
into America’s too.
(CROWD CHEERS) How much money have you sunk
into this project, -would you guess?
-Several millions. (CHUCKLES) Several millions?
Is that ten? -You’re getting warm. (LAUGHS)
-Thirty? Should we just go up
to 50 million dollars? Yeah, let’s stop right
about there. O’BRIEN:Sinquefield launched
his revolution here,
in the heart of country,his hometown
of St. Louis, Missouri.
He’s turned a city
known for beer and baseball,
into the unlikely mecca
of chess.
-You didn’t castle correctly.
-MAN: He’ll learn, he’ll learn. O’BRIEN:First, he built
the largest chess club
in the world,
6,000 square feet in all.
Then, he built
the Chess Hall of Fame
and to fill it,
put together
one of the largest, private
collections of chess memorabilia
-on Earth.
-Queen is pawn. O’BRIEN:Thanks to Rex,
visitors to St. Louis
can now visit the world’s
tallest freestanding structure
of its kind.
No, not that one.
This one. The largest
chess piece in the world.
OFFICIAL: Everyone good luck. Please go ahead
and start white’s clock. O’BRIEN:They can also watch
the best chess players
in the world going head-to-head.That’s right. Rex lures them
to the middle of America
several times each year
by staging tournaments
with massive purses.The top players in the world
are always here, you can throw a rock
and hit a grandmaster wherever you turn,
it’s just astonishing to see the star power that comes here. O’BRIEN:Maurice Ashley
is one of those grandmasters.
We met him in Augustat Sinquefield’s latest
big money chess tournament
called, what else,
the Sinquefield Cup.
Ashley was not there
as a competitor
but rather a play-by-play
The move king to H-8 can be met
by a move like bishop to G-5. O’BRIEN:Yes, he’s part
of a television crew
hired by Sinquefield
to give his tournaments
network quality broadcasts,
no expense spared.
ANNOUNCER:The Sinquefield Cup
is finally underway
as ten of the best chess players
in the world
renew their rivalry
in St. Louis.
It looks like you’re watching
an NBA broadcast. And then, you get
into time pressure, the guy defends
like an animal–It’s not two guys sitting
in a pub somewhere,
drinking a beer, talking chess.
You have a real broadcast with a real broadcast team. -Production trailers, graphics.
-You’ve got production trailers, you’ve got instant replay,
you got instant replay for chess. I mean,
think about that for a second. -MAURICE ASHLEY:Slam dunk baby!
That’s world class!

-That’s a world champion.
There’s a satellite truck
behind the club that ensures
the chess revolution
happening here,
will be televised
around the world.
It’s going to
over 200 countries. O’BRIEN:
And you’ll have how many people
watching, would you guess? Hundreds of thousands
to over a million. O’BRIEN:And locals have started
tuning in too, watching chess
instead of other sports
you may have heard of.
During the college football
season, we were starting to get tweets
from people around the city, saying the bars in St. Louis
have turned off the football games
and turned on the chess games. Now, that’s a city of nerds,
let’s face it. O’BRIEN:St. Louis schools
have introduced chess
into their curricula.Local colleges have begun
to offer athletic scholarships
to play chess,
even the St. Louis Cardinals
have made it their favorite game
or second favorite, at least.
But as unlikely as the rise
of chess is here in St. Louis,
so too, is the story of the man
behind it.
Sinquefield, you see,
wasn’t born a king.
He grew up a few miles
from here,
at St. Vincent’s Home for Boys,
an orphanage.
Tell me about the day your mom
dropped you off here. It was about July 1st, 1952.
We came here in the afternoon. We were taken
into the boys’ room downstairs. -Did she sob as she said goodbye
to you?
-No, she didn’t. Did you cry as you said goodbye
to your mom? I don’t remember. I might well
have teared up. Quite possible. But you just had to sort of,
tough it up, you know. ‘Cause you were here
for the duration, so to speak. O’BRIEN:To make matters worse,Sinquefield had been born
with a cleft lip and palate,
which required more than
a dozen surgeries to fix.
That sounds like
a terrible start to a life. Well, there are better starts,
you know. I didn’t get that part right,
you know? But you’re right. And you cope,
you do what you have to do. O’BRIEN:Here, at St. Vincent’s,
Sinquefield was raised
by tough German nuns,
who required him
to scrub the floors
with steel wool.
But, on special nights,
he’d get to watch movies,
and that’s when the lonely boy
first fell in love.
I would see chess in the movies
sometimes.And I was just fascinated
by the imagery of it,
and from very young,
six, seven, eight years old, I always wanted to learn
how to play it. But nobody knew how to play it. O’BRIEN: Not for years,
until he was finally released
from the orphanage
as a teenager,
did Sinquefield finally get
the chance to play chess
for the first time.
He was hooked.
There’s just something
amazingly beautiful about it. The combinations
that you produce, the checkmates, um… the whole logic of everything is so compelling, it makes
the whole thing very addictive. What did chess teach you
about life? That I was very determined,
I didn’t like to lose, and I worked hard to win. O’BRIEN:
Sinquefield grew up and went
into the world of finance,
and there, he won big time.
It was the 1970s
and most investors binged
and purged,
trying to ride
the latest hot stock,
but Rex invented a new form
of investing,
based on the calm, cold-blooded
logic of chess.
The invention, the index fund,
is now a staple of the industry,
and soon, Rex was managing
more money than he knew
what to do with.Six hundred billion dollars.
Billion with a “B.” -You showed ’em.
-That’s a lot. We did,
it was an incredible story. O’BRIEN:In time,
Sinquefield became so rich,
he just retired, bored, he says,
of making money.
So, he returned
to his first love,
eager to see if he could defy
the experts again,
by restoring chess to glory
in the United States,
for the first time
in half a century.
The world of chess has a new
international champion today. America’s Bobby Fischer
was formally named world champ,the first American ever
to hold the world title.
O’BRIEN: It’s hard to imagine
that there was a timewhen chess was front page news
in the United States.
I know, it was a wonderful time.
Halcyon days of chess.
Just because
it was Bobby Fischer? Yes, because it was
Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky and the United States
against the Soviet Unionagainst the backdrop
of the Cold War,
and the Soviet Union heavily
subsidized their players.
Spassky had
an immense army of advisers,
and Fischer had no one.He literally did this
by himself. SOLEDAD: Sinquefield vowed
that he’d support America’s
best players till they brought
the world title back home.
He invited them to come
to St. Louis and train together
on his dime.A quarter of all grandmasters
in the U.S. now live here,
more than any other city by far.So 25 or so grandmasters
just here in St. Louis? And that’s incredible. You wouldn’t even find
one grandmaster ten years ago. And now, you find so many
that realize that this is the place to be. It just felt like this is
the mecca of chess in a way, so I wanted to be a part of it. O’BRIEN:Fabiano Caruana
is Rex Sinquefield’s
most prized recruit to date.Once a child prodigy,he became a grandmaster
at the age of 14
and was soon anointed
the best American player
of his generation.There was just one problem.For years, the American-born
Caruana was playing,
not for the U.S., but for Italy,
his mother’s home country.
Enter Rex Sinquefield.There were reports that in 2014, you were offered chunks of money
to come back here. Uh, yeah, I can’t– I can’t really talk about
the financial aspect of it, but I was offered support
to be back in the U.S. -And you took it?
-Yeah, I did take it. Fabiano coming back
to the United States was transformative for the U.S.,
for the U.S. team, for the young kids, who look up to the top players
and to know that they have such a great champion
leading the party. O’BRIEN: Today, thanks
to Rex Sinquefield, the U.S.
is now ruling the world
of chess.
At the 2016 Chess Olympiad,the biggest team chess event
in the world,
they won the gold medal.That’s the gold medal
for the team. O’BRIEN:And next month,their new star, Fabiano Caruana,
could make even more history.
Now ranked number two
in the world,
Caruana will go head-to-head
against the world number one,
Magnus Carlsen,
for the title of world champion.
We have the best players
in the world playing for the U.S. team,
we’ve won a gold medal, we now have a challenger
who could replicate Bobby Fischer’s
historic achievement, and all the chess fans, all the grandmasters
are thinking, “This could be the time
for chess in the United States.” O’BRIEN:
Last month we visited Caruana
in his apartment in St. Louis,where he’s now training
ten hours a day,
trying to come up with new moves
to throw off the reigning champ.
How can there be a new move
when people have been playing chess for literally,
hundreds and hundreds of years? Yeah, millions of chess games
have been played. The number of possible moves
is just astronomical. It’s more than any of us
can possibly imagine. O’BRIEN:He’s not kidding.There are actually more possible
moves in a single chess match
than there are atoms
in the entire solar system.
Which is why Caruana’s strategy
to plan out
the first ten or 15
opening moves of a game
means he actually
has to memorize
all the possible counter moves
Before the game, I’ve decided
what I want to play against… everything that he could
potentially do. Um… And so, it’s millions of moves
that I have to commit to memory. So you’ve memorized
millions of moves? Uh, yeah, I would say so, yeah. O’BRIEN:It’s that kind
of intellectual rigor
and discipline Rex Sinquefield
loves about chess.
And it’s why his revolution
is about more than
winning big matches
under the national flag.
He thinks the game could help
young people
learn to make good choices
and strive for excellence
in a city that’s been beset
by violent crimes,
and tension between citizens
and the police.
We located the chess club
where we did, so we could be close
to the inner-city schools. And we have a lot of programs
with them, we’re in Ferguson,teaching the police officers
how to teach chess,
they go into the worst
inner-city schools,
and that’s a wonderful way
for kids to see police officers.
There’s a lot of good in that. O’BRIEN:After all,
chess is what Rex used
to escape
his impoverished upbringing.
And he’s not the only one
to have used the game
to help him get out.So did Maurice Ashley,
who grew up in Brooklyn.
Brownsville, Brooklyn,
Mike Tyson’s Brownsville. Brownsville was so rough,
Mike had to get out. Fortunately for me, I fell in
love with chess pretty early on. So, as a kid,
you were playing the hustlers? I was a teenager, 16 years old, and they wanted to know
if you have 50 cents, take your lunch money. Absolutely, I wanted to play
the best I could find. O’BRIEN: Ashley says
the game taught him
vital lessons as a boy.Think before you make
your next move. Be aware of what
your surroundings are, be aware of what other people
are thinking. And then learning how to lose,
gracefully, and bouncing back
from difficult circumstances. O’BRIEN:Now, because of Rex,the schoolchildren of St. Louis
are learning those same lessons.
How long have you
been playing chess for? Uh, two years. (CHUCKLES) So, I guess
I’m kind of a rookie, compared to some
of the other guys. And what do you like about it? Um, I like that it teaches you
critical thinking skills– -What does that mean?
-For me specifically, it teaches me how to think
ahead, it teaches me that you always
can’t just… jump off of your first reaction
and– ‘Cause everything
does have consequences. What does chess teach you? For me? I have a lot
of anger problems, and it just helps me calm down,
it helps me to… It helps me to focus more. And… really help me to become
a better person. O’BRIEN:And Rex Sinquefield
thinks kids around the country
could be drawn to the game
and learn its lessons too,
if his revolution can take
its final step next month,
if his prized pupil can capture
the imagination of a country,
by being the first American
since Bobby Fischer to capture
the world title.At that time, they wrote
about chess on the front page of American papers. It’s kind of hard to imagine. Yeah, but I hope that we can
go back to that. I mean, I think, in November,
I have a chance of helping bring chess back
to that level of popularity, and… and maybe making
front page news again. O’BRIEN: Do you think it would
affect how Americans as a whole, look at chess,
and how they play chess? SINQUEFIELD:
It would definitely help, and when you get somebody
like Fabiano Caruana, he can do it,
he can really pull it off. If it’s an American who does it,
that’s gonna change everything. Thanks for watching. Remember, you can catch the rest
of the latest edition of Real Sports all month long
on HBO.


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