Cook County Jail Inmates Take Part In International Prison Chess Tournament

Mike Krauser
August 06, 2019 - 12:28 pm
A two-day online chess tournament, a first-of-its-kind, has Cook County Jail detainees playing inmates in prisons in six other countries. 

WBBM Newsradio/Mike Krauser

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A two-day online chess tournament, a first-of-its-kind, has Cook County Jail detainees playing inmates in prisons in six other countries. 

"It is something that has never happened anywhere in the world before. To have correctional facilities all around the world playing at once," said Sheriff Tom Dart. 

The tournament is taking place in Division 11 at the jail, and in prisons in Russia, Belarus, Italy, England, Brazil and Armenia. The game boards are projected on screens and the inmates are playing on laptops. 

There were welcoming remarks from Russian Chess Grand Master Anatoly Karpov via video conference. 

Dart said "that would be like Michael Jordan coming and kicking off a basketball tournament.

"This is just not another activity that goes on in our jail and other correctional facilities. As people will tell you, this sport is transformative. It does things for people, the way they think, the way they look at the world, the way they operate."

A two-day online chess tournament, a first-of-its-kind, has Cook County Jail detainees playing inmates in prisons in six other countries. 
WBBM Newsradio/Mike Krauser

Inmate Rashad Rowry took a break after beating Brazil and told WBBM Newsradio he's been in the jail for five years and has been playing chess for four. He said he started when someone told him he wasn't smart enough.  

He said he surprised himself and now said the game, "I look at chess as a way of life...It gives peace of mind. It makes me think. I like the way it makes me think. Every moves got to count." 

He said he went on to beat the guy who said he wasn't smart enough.  

A two-day online chess tournament, a first-of-its-kind, has Cook County Jail detainees playing inmates in prisons in six other countries. 
WBBM Newsradio/Mike Krauser

The chess program at the jail was started seven years ago. 

The Sheriff said inmates leave with new critical thinking skills that can help them avoid a return. 

A study in Brazil found that inmates who play chess are less likely to be locked up again.