Chess for Freedom Conference

by Boris Bruhn

The Chess for Freedom Conference was an excellent event in Schaumburg, Chicago. Dr Mikhail Korenman, the conference organizer worked extensively with his colleagues from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department to create a unique experience. From Wednesday May 17th to Saturday May 20th, representatives from all over the world met there to talk about the benefits of chess for prison inmates, to exchange ideas, and not least to see good practice.

Getting to know each other over dinner in the evening on Wednesday was followed by a visit to Cook County Department of Corrections (the second largest jail in the USA) on Thursday morning. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich addressed the visitors, as did Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola, before Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart reported on the program. 150 inmates actively participate in the program, several thousand since 2017. These impressive numbers are followed by another immersive experience: sharing and playing with the inmates. There were 20 boards where people played and talked freely.

Friday was followed by a very rich program of in person lectures and online feeds from all over the world. The first was by the British author Carl Portman, who has written the book ‘Chess Behind Bars’. Then, by far the largest delegation from India (6 persons) reported on the “Parivartan-Prison to Pride” program, which included badminton, table tennis, basketball, volleyball and carrom in addition to chess.

One of the presenters was Abhijit Kunte from the Chess in Education Commission

In addition, Jerry Nash, Chairman of the Chess in Education Commission, spoke about the benefits of chess in working with juvenile delinquents (i.e. one step before prison). The Swiss Federation President André Voegtlin gave a very deep insight into the work of the Social Commission in his presentation. A total of 16 contributions exhaustively covered almost everything that has to do with chess for freedom.

The program was rounded off on Saturday with a visit to downtown Chicago. And most importantly: the conversations during this event and within the breaks, and the exchange between colleagues laid the foundation for future collaborations.


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