St. Louisan Charles Lawton is up to the challenge of facing the best players in U.S. Chess Champions

St. Louisan Charles Lawton is up to the challenge of facing the best players in U.S. Chess Champions

Apr 29, 2009, 6:51 AM |

When the 2009 U.S. Chess Championship is held in St. Louis in May, some of the nation’s best and best-known players will be in the field of 24 competing for more than $200,000 in prize money.  Included on that list will be St. Louisan Charles Lawton, the only African-American contestant but also a man who relishes the opportunity to compete on a grand stage.

The tournament will take place May 7 through 17 at the new Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization that opened in July 2008.  Founded by retired investment fund manager Rex Sinquefield, it already has more than 500 members, surpassing its original goal of 300 for its first year of operation by 67 percent.  Steve Goldberg of United States Chess Federation (USCF) Online has called the club “certainly one of the most impressive chess centers” in the country.  For more information, visit or call 314-361-CHESS.

Lawton pays the bills by working as an electrical engineer at BioMerieux Inc., where he’s been employed for more than 30 years.  The responsibilities of his job minimize the number of tournaments in which he’s able to compete, but he’s kept his skills sharp for such occasions through the years.
“I’ve been going to one major tournament per decade in the last 30 years,” says Lawton.  “In 1990, for example, I drew Gata Kamsky (one of the “Big Three” of American chess) at the national open in Las Vegas.  I played again in the tournament in 2000 and now am competing again this year.”

Lawton, who was born in 1953 and graduated from Saint Louis University High School and Washington University in St. Louis, became interested in chess while in high school.  “As a sophomore,” he says, “I saw two guys playing a game at recess.  It looked like checkers to me.  They showed me some moves and kicked my butt, but I was determined that I’d beat them.”

Lawton says that began a three-way competition between him, Jim McLaughlin and Doug McClintock.  “It ended up as a three-way rivalry, and all of us became chess masters,” he recalls with a laugh.

He played a considerable amount of competitive chess in California, in Chicago and on the East Coast while he was in the military.  “I served in the Navy as a nuclear power reactor operator,” he recalled.  “I was stationed in Groton, Connecticut aboard the U.S.S. Nautilus submarine.”

After returning to St. Louis and beginning his career at BioMerieux, he won the St. Louis District chess championship in 1982 and 1983 as well as two Missouri state championships.

Lawton has made several visits to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.  “I love the chess club,” he says.  “I think they did a great job with monitors, etc., making it one of the best clubs in the country.  I’ve been to clubs in Toronto and San Francisco, which also are top-notch.  They did a good job here in St. Louis making the club presentable, with separate sections for training.  Visual aids all make it easier to play as well as study and teach chess.”

While he doesn’t participate in many tournaments these days, Lawton is revved up about the U.S. Chess Championship being held in his home town.  “I’m looking forward to the tournament, although with trepidation,” he says with a laugh.  “This year it’s a zonal (competition), which means you get all the best players.  It helps get you into the world championship cycle, to get up to a point where you can play for the world championship.”

The United States Chess Federation is the official, not-for-profit U.S. membership organization for chess players and chess supporters of all ages and strengths, from beginners to grand masters.  Founded in 1939 with the merger of the American Chess Federation and the National Chess Federation, USCF has grown to more than 80,000 members and nearly 1,200 affiliated chess clubs and organizations.  USCF sanctions 25 national championship award titles to both amateurs and professionals, ranging from elementary school students to senior citizens.  For more information,

 For more information contact:

Mark Bretz, Slay & Associates
314-838-9371 or