BEST-KEPT SECRET Miami 2003 - World Chess Hall of Fame & Sidney Samole Chess Museum
Just north of the SW 152nd Street exit from the Florida Turnpike, a pink-and-white checkered building with a 50-foot-tall rook's tower provides an odd counterpoint to the endless suburban sprawl of strip malls and cookie-cutter housing developments. The building houses the corporate headquarters of Excalibur Electronics (makers of electronic novelties) and the World Chess Hall of Fame & Sidney Samole Chess Museum. The museum, official hall of fame for the United States Chess Federation and the World Chess Federation, was founded in Miami by Shane Samole, whose father Sid in the Seventies created the first electronic chess game after watching Spock play chess against a computer during a Star Trek episode. The building's medieval theme continues outside, where a giant sword embedded in a boulder stands sentry at the front door, and inside, where suits of armor and stone façades set the aesthetic parameters. There are no audio recordings of Bobby Fischer ranting about the U.N. (although you can see Fischer's old competition table) but there are plenty of other tidbits to chew on. According to a chess timeline (weirdly set in a very dim hallway with pinpoint lights set like stars in the ceiling and ethereal music coming from unseen speakers), the word "checkmate" comes from the Persian "Shah mat," meaning "the king is at a loss," and the bishops seen in modern chess sets were elephants in the original version, which first appeared around 600 A.D. (medieval Europeans, most of whom had never seen an elephant, changed the piece to something they were a little more familiar with). You won't run into large crowds at the museum unless they're hosting a tournament, although Milena Migliorelli, in charge of PR, says they have a following among diehard chessheads: "People are always surprised we're here, although we do advertise in Chess Life."