US, Russian inmates to battle on chessboard

Washington, May 3 (IANS/RIA Novosti) American inmates will be shooting for checkmates against Russian prisoners this month in a first-of-its-kind intercontinental chess match between pawn pushers living behind bars in the two countries.

“They do not accept draws. They go all in: either win or lose,” chess enthusiast match organiser Mikhail Korneman said of the Chicago inmates, who will challenge prisoners from five Russian correctional facilities May 15.

The match, which will be conducted online, is the brainchild of Korneman, renowned Russian grandmaster and former World Champion Anatoly Karpov, and Tom Dart, an Illinois sheriff who launched a chess programme last year in Chicago’s Cook County Jail as a way of encouraging inmates to deliberate and exercise caution when making decisions.

Karpov, whose titanic battles for chess supremacy with rival and compatriot Garry Kasparov captivated the world in the 1980s, has been a driving force in bringing chess to Russian prisons in recent years and was on hand last year when Korneman and Dart announced the programme.

“When Karpov was here, we started talking about [the match between prisoners]. He is very excited. It has never been done before,” said Korneman, who moved to the United States from Russia two decades ago, Thursday.

Ten inmates from the Cook County Jail, the largest jail in the United States with around 9,000 prisoners, will play two 15-minute games each against their Russian counterparts. The Russian side will be represented by prisoners from correctional facilities in the Astrakhan, Samara, Saratov, Sverdlovsk and Krasnodar regions.

The match will be played via a secure internet connection established specifically for the event.

Korenman, who brought former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Kansas for a chess event in 2005, said it is difficult to predict which side might emerge victorious. The Chicago inmates “are not professional chess players but they do have knowledge and they like to go on the attack,” he said.

“I think the match will be very interesting,” Korenman added.

Korenman, Karpov and Dart have all advocated chess as a pastime that can help inmates correct the trajectory of their lives.

–IANS/RIA Novosti

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