SLU chess coach, a local grandmaster, is accused of sexual assault and harassment

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

February 17, 2023

By Nassim Benchaabane

St. Louis University chess coach and grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez is under investigation by U.S. Chess officials for sexual assault and harassment of at least one person: a U.S. women’s chess champion who went public with the allegations on Wednesday.

Jennifer Shahade, a two-time women’s champion and a program director for U.S. Chess, said in a Twitter post she was sexually assaulted by Ramirez on two occasions a decade ago, and in recent years has heard from multiple women with similar accusations.

“When it was just me I didn’t feel like I had an obligation to report it,” Shahade said in an interview Thursday night. “When it turned out that it affects younger people … I felt ethically compelled to bring my experiences to light to help bring credibility to their stories.”

The allegations threaten to be the second national chess scandal centered in St. Louis in less than six months, after World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen set the community ablaze with accusations that his 19-year-old opponent had cheated during a September tournament match that snapped Carlsen’s 53-match unbeaten streak.

Ramirez, 34, won his first grandmaster title at age 15 and has coached at SLU since it founded its chess team in 2016. He declined to comment on the investigation and referred questions to an attorney.

His attorney, Al Watkins, said Ramirez “categorically denies the allegations” and is on administrative leave from SLU. Ramirez is fully cooperating with the investigation and “welcomes” it, Watkins said.

U.S. Chess officials confirmed an investigation was underway but would not comment further.

“As an organization we are committed to due process and for dealing with sensitive matters in a respectful and confidential manner,” the statement read. “At the conclusion of any process related to a formal complaint, both complainants and respondents are notified about the disposition of the matter, along with any sanctions that are imposed.”

The St. Louis Chess Club said in a statement that it was reviewing the allegations but declined further comment.

“The St. Louis Chess Club is aware of Ms. Shahade’s social media post regarding Mr. Ramirez. The Club cannot comment further at this time as this concerns Club personnel, other than to say the Club is aware of the allegations and is reviewing the matter.” 

Ramirez was the St. Louis Chess Club’s resident grandmaster in 2015, holding weekly lectures and providing group and individual chess lessons. He is one of just 101 chess grandmasters in the U.S.

Shahade’s post on Twitter publicizing the investigation had garnered more than 2 million views Thursday night. She said four more women have come forward with first-hand allegations of misconduct against Ramirez since it posted.

“There are multiple investigations underway on Alejandro Ramirez and sexual misconduct. … I’d moved on until the past couple years, when multiple women, independent of each other and with no knowledge of my own experience, approached me with their own stories of alleged abuse. These accounts were from much younger alleged victims.”

In addition to her work with U.S. Chess, Shahade is a women’s grandmaster, commentator and author of chess books.

She has worked with Ramirez commentating top-level chess tournaments, including events at the St. Louis Chess Club.

Shahade said during Thursday’s interview she was assaulted by Ramirez in 2012 and 2014 but did not decide to report it until, starting in 2021, she learned of other women alleging misconduct or assault by Ramirez, including young women he coached.

She filed a formal complaint with U.S. Chess this past fall, she said.

Shahade took to Twitter on Wednesday “to notify the chess world and make sure that girls and women who might interact with him in any way might know about it,” she said.

“Bringing it to light can only help the investigations to get to the truth faster.”

Updated Friday with a statement provided by the St. Louis Chess Club