American inmates to challenge Russian prisoners in chess tournament
May 6, 2013 by Martin Fletcher

American inmates at Chicago’s Cook County Jail will compete against prisoners from five Russian correctional facilities in the first-of-its-kind intercontinental chess tournament, which will be held on May 15.

“They do not accept draws,” Mikhail Korneman, a chess enthusiast, educator and the match organizer, said of the Chicago inmates, according to RIA NOVOSTI. “They go all in: either win or lose.”

Korneman thought up the idea of the tournament, which will be held online, along with renowned Russian grandmaster and former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov and Tom Dart, an Illinois sheriff who launched a chess program last year in Chicago’s Cook County Jail with the hope of encouraging inmates to deliberate and exercise caution when making decisions.

Karpov has been motivating Russian prisons to bring chess to prisoners. He was on hand last year when Korneman and Dart announced the program.

“When Karpov was here, we started talking about [the match between prisoners],” Korneman, who moved to the U.S. from Russia 20 years ago, said, RIA NOVOSTI reports. “He is very excited. It has never been done before.”

Ten inmates from Cook County Jail will compete in two 15-minute games against their Russian counterparts. Cook County Jail is the largest jail in the U.S., with approximately 9,000 prisoners. The Russian prisoners will come from correctional facilities in the Astrakhan, Samara, Saratov, Sverdlovsk and Krasnodar regions.

Korneman expects the matches to be interesting, adding that while the Chicago inmates are not professional chess players, “they do have knowledge and…like to go on the attack,” according to RIA NOVOSTI.

Korneman, Karpov and Dart said chess can help inmates correct the trajectory of their lives.

“For them to get involved with something like this, where they’re actually learning skills and having goals, and feel amongst themselves that they can accomplish things they set out to – it’s the first time that’s ever happened,” Dart said, RIA NOVOSTI reports.


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