Prisoners play international chess for the first time

By Liam Drury

Prisoners are to play in an international chess tournament for the first time.

The four-man England team are all members of prison chess clubs, set up by the UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC)

As part of the two-day International Chess Federation event, starting this week, the England team will take on inmates from prisons in 31 countries including the US, Russia, Croatia, Portugal and Trinidad and Tobago. 

Chess goes back 1500 years and he is seeing a resurgence after the popularity of the Netflix hit show The Queen’s Gambit.

Access to the internet is severely restricted in UK prisons and largely limited to education. 

But the Ministry of Justice has approved prisoners from the category B HMP Wandsworth in London and the category D open prison HMP Hollesley Bay in Suffolk to take part in the first Intercontinental Online Championship for Prisoners.

They were previously indirectly allowed to play moves via staff, but this time they can make their moves on the computers themselves.

The charity has been working with prison authorities and technology provider Novus to ensure the games are played securely.

Carl Portman has voluntarily visited dozens of prisons up and down the country to teach inmates about what the joys and redemptive qualities of chess. 

He has written a book called Chess Behind Bars.

He told the Guardian: “You can’t take a pool table into your cell, but take a chess set and you’ve got a friend for life. It’s magic.“Learning how to channel aggression and lose gracefully are key benefits of the game.”