By Patrick Jackson
The Cook County prisoners played on secure lap-tops
Convicts in Russia have teamed up to play a chess tournament via Skype with inmates at the biggest jail in the US, Chicago’s Cook County Jail.
Ten convicts from Russian prisons sat down to play, with the encouragement of ex-World Champion Anatoly Karpov.
Cook County were guided by the head of its prison chess programme, Dr Mikhail Korenman, an old friend of Karpov.
The Russians won most of the 20 games but Cook County’s prison chief told the BBC he was delighted by the event.
The jail, which counts the gangster Al Capone and serial killer John Wayne Gacy among its former inmates, launched its chess programme just under a year ago after Karpov visited the facility.
The two-hour tournament was the first of its kind.
‘Path of correction’
According to Russia’s federal prison service, inmates at prisons in Astrakhan, Samara, Saratov, the Yekaterinburg region and Krasnodar were involved.
Each convict played two games, the US inmates using secure lap-tops, placed on tables decorated with American and Russian flags.
They saw their opponents by video link but did not speak.
The final score was 15.5 games to 4.5 games in Russia’s favour, Cook County announced.
Speaking before the game, the Russian prison service said the participation of Russian convicts in the chess event would not reduce their sentences.
However, it testified to “their desire to follow the path of correction”, the service was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass news agency.
Asked by the BBC News website if the tournament would affect the American prisoners involved, Sheriff Dart said: “Not necessarily but it could because one of the things the judges take into consideration when they are sentencing individuals is their conduct in custody and involvement in a programme of substance like this does go quite a way.”
‘New lines of thinking’
Before Wednesday’s tournament, Cook County’s chess-players had linked up for anonymous games with convicts in other countries such as Singapore, Croatia and Canada.
“For a lot of our inmates, they didn’t even know where these countries were so it was just like a geography lesson,” Sheriff Dart said.
“It just opened up a lot of lines of thinking that people had never had before.”
Cook County Jail currently houses nearly 11,000 inmates and employs more than 3,800 correctional officers and support staff.
It is the largest single-site jail in America.
Speaking to CBS Chicago when the programme was being launched last year, Sheriff Dart said about the American prison chess players: “Their lifetime accomplishments could be summarised in about one second – zero.
“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.”