Inmates at Wandsworth Prison passed the final stages of an international chess competition in October, after a Justice Department ruling allowed them to participate.
The Intercontinental Online Prisoner Championship brought together teams from 31 countries and ran from October 13-14, with Wandsworth’s side scoring 23 of 24 in the preliminary round but losing in the final.
The team was formed by the Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) charity, founded in 2009 by Malcolm Pein, 61, of Mill Hill.
Pein said, “The benefits of chess for prisoners are simply enormous.
“Besides the general life skills of thinking before you do something, improving concentration and socializing with people, it also reduces isolation in prison and helps relieve boredom, which fuels behavior.
“What was nice was that after the tournament I had a conversation with some of the guys who had been in Wandsworth and one of them said ‘well, it was so nice to be able to forget that you were in jail for a day “.”
The UK team of four consisted of inmates from HM Category B Prison Wandsworth and Category D Open Prison Hollesley Bay Prison.
It was the first official international competition for prisoners organized by the World Chess Federation (commonly known as FIDE), after a previous test race.
Without permission from the Department of Justice (MOJ) to use the computers, the trial saw Pein relaying the movements of prisoners from his chess set, as well as CSC prison coordinator Peter Sullivan.
Pein learned to play chess at the age of three and became British junior champion in 1977, before a successful professional career.
He said getting MOJ approval was a long process as the internet chess server used for the competition, chess.com, needed modifications to make it secure.
Pein said, “Now that we have secured the site, we actually hope to be able to deploy it in all the prisons that have terminals in the cells.
“Once the terminals are installed in the cells of each prison, we want everyone to be able to play chess on the Internet in a secure manner. “
CSC established a chess club in Wandsworth Prison three years ago and hope to open one soon in HM Prison Brixton.
Pein said, “Getting started in prisons has proven to be very difficult, but once we succeeded in forming a club, the word spread among the prison governors, and we actually reached seven by the time. locking.
“Chess has always been quite popular in prison in an unofficial, under-the-radar way, so the first time we ran the club it was completely oversubscribed.
“We went to jail once a week to run a club for a few hours and give them chess sets to play with for the rest of the week.
“Chess has spread all over now on some of the wings – there are still games of chess in Wandsworth according to the officers.”
The CSC is based in Baker Street and works with public schools across the country, including the South West London Boroughs of Lambeth, Wandsworth and Richmond.
They also work in libraries, youth clubs and nursing homes, although the latter is currently not possible due to Covid-19.
A three-day CSC-hosted chess festival in July culminated with a day of activities in Trafalgar Square open to the public and attended by over 5,000 people.
Going forward, Pein hopes the Intercontinental Online Championship for Prisoners will return every year, noting that FIDE was happy with this year’s competition.
Meanwhile, the CSC was recently invited to start a chess club in its first women’s prison, and Pein has expressed a desire to start the UK’s first national prison chess tournament.
Featured Image Credit: Martin Kopta via Creative Commons License