Illinois sheriff introduces jail chess program

Apr 3, 2012, 2:01 AM

Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) – Call it the Sheriff’s Gambit.

A sheriff in Illinois is turning to kings, queens and rooks to help teach inmates at his jail not to behave like pawns.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart launched a chess program at the county jail in Chicago. The law enforcement officer, known for making unusual moves in the name of justice, hopes inmates can take what they learn from a game that rewards patience and problem-solving and apply it to their own lives.

“We see it day-in and day-out that people want instant gratification and that often individuals do not think before they act,” Dart said Monday. “Thoughtless actions will hurt you while playing chess and hurt you more on the street.”

Dart made national news for such moves as suing Craigslist over adult content and exhuming the bodies of eight unidentified murder victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy decades later in hopes of identifying them through DNA.

With the jail chess program, the sheriff got help from Mikhail Korenman. The longtime teacher of the game, whose chess club includes one of the sheriff’s children, came up with the idea.

“I thought it would be good for any people,” said Korenman, a member of the United States Chess Federation Council.

He broached the subject with Dart earlier this year. And on Monday, he accompanied the sheriff to the jail to watch some inmates play.

“It helps kids and it should help the people in the prisons get back to a normal life, make good decisions,” Korenman said, adding that he knows of no other similar jail program in the U.S.

He sees chess as being about making decisions with an eye toward how they will affect the ultimate outcome of the game. “(Players) have to make decisions and analyze their decisions,” Korenman said.

Former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov also was on hand Monday.

Karpov, who knows something about patience having once famously waited and waited for a match with Bobby Fischer that was never played, praised Dart’s effort to bring chess to inmates.

“We started a similar program in Russia 15 years ago, and now we have a championship in Russia for detainees and for people who are rotting in prison,” Karpov told Chicago’s WBBM-Radio.

Dart’s office said 100 inmates are participating now. Ultimately, about 150 are to take part.

Besides the Craigslist and Gacy cases, the sheriff has made headlines with the way he runs his jail.

Inmates are trained in horticulture and landscaping at the garden that has grown dramatically under his leadership. And last year, he initiated a policy that calls for transgender inmates to be housed, dressed and searched according to the gender they identify with rather than their sex at birth.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Illinois sheriff introduces jail chess program