Inside the Cook County Jail law library, 10 men were hunched over laptops playing online chess. A live video of their competitors, all Russian inmates, was projected on the wall.
Correctional Officer Patrice Faulkner roamed the room, encouraging players to take their time. “I’m nervous, because this is a big deal,” she said.
The program is run by Mikhail Korenman, who met chess legend Anatoly Karpov last year. The two chess players, along with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, hatched the idea for this tournament, which, according to Dart, is the first of its kind.
It was a hard match. The U.S. team was entirely from Cook County, while Russia chose players from across the country’s prison system.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he had no delusions the match would solve current diplomatic issues between the U.S. and Russia. But he thought chess was a good activity for the men because it encouraged thinking ahead five or six moves, because you must consider the future impact of every action.
Warren Jackson, one of today’s players, said he had seen that change in himself, “I’m more proactive than reactive now. So I do think chess plays a heavy game when it comes down to you making decisions.”
In the end, Russia won. But Dalvin Brown, Chicago’s star player, won both his games. Karpov complimented his skills and the Russians said they will be sending him a chessboard.
Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @shannon_h.