International Chess Federation
Tuesday, 11 May 2021 22:11
Chess for Freedom Conference and Tournament: Brief recap

The International Chess Federation together with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (Chicago, USA) held the first event of the Chess for Freedom program. The project, aimed at the introduction of chess as a tool for education and social inclusion in prisons of different countries, is carried out under the 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov’s patronage. 

The project kicked off on May 11 with an online conference featuring FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and other guests who discussed various topics and made presentations. 

In parallel with the conference, an exhibition online tournament with four participant countries – Armenia, Russia, Spain, and the USA, was held on Both the conference and the tournament were broadcast live on the FIDE YouTube channel

Federation officers, journalists, and members of the penitentiary administration and policymakers had a chance to join the Zoom call and ask questions.

In his introductory speech FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich told about the program, its main goals, and objectives: 

“We are starting this conference to share the best practices of introducing chess into prisons for prisoners and inmates… We really believe that the game of chess, one of the oldest intellectual games historically is very helpful to improve socialization skills for people who are restricted in their freedom, to help people to think a bit more rationally. People who made mistakes in the past but have all possibilities to improve their lifestyle in the future. Chess is very instrumental in doing that.”

The 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov who has been the driving force behind this program also greeted all the participants:

"In Russia, we started this program 22 years ago… 10 years ago the program became international, it was adopted in Brasil, Switzerland, Belarus."

In his presentation, "Norway Chess in Society Prison Project", Geir Nesheim, a member of the FIDE Social Commission stressed the importance of government support for launching chess activity virtually everywhere and cooperation with the Norwegian Correction Service.

GM Darcy Lima shared the Brazilian experience of introducing chess to inmates and the positive impact of the game on prisoners in his presentation “Chess that Liberates”:

"The repeated infringements rate in Brazil is 72%... For those who stayed in a chess program for less than 1 year, this rate drops to 47%. 1-2 years - 22%. More than 2 years - 17%."

Doctor of Philosophy an Associate Professor at the University of Leithbridge, Alberta, Canada, Grigg Lance told about a program and research project for at-risk youth and prison inmates “Chess for Life”. According to him youth felt accepted and respected at Chess for Life sessions, not judged; many appreciated the calm atmosphere during the sessions and the regularity of the program.

The English Chess Federation manager of chess in prisons Carl Portman focused on redemption that chess promise and quoted real-life testimony about the power of the game.  

All the presentations available for download in PDF format:

Norway Chess and Society Prison Project (by Geir Nesheim)

Chess that Liberates (by GM Darcy Lima)

Chess for Life (by Grigg Lance)

Chess and Redemption  (by Carl Portman)

The former prisoner Hector Guifarro shared his experience in the course of the tournament: "I started playing chess in prison. At the start, it helped to deal with stress and anxiety. The more I kept playing, the better I became, and I just fell in love with it."

The Russian team won all three matches and came in clear first, the USA finished second with two victories, Armenia and Spain scored an equal amount of team points but the former netted one more board point.

Final standings:

1. Russia – 3
2. USA – 2
3. Armenia – ½
4. Spain – ½

Reflecting on the event as a successful start of the "Chess for Freedom" program, Sheriff of Cook County Tom Dart emphasized that "this was just a first step". The organizing team is focused on autumn when the First Intercontinental Online Chess Championship for Prisoners will be held on the occasion of International Day of Education in Prison, from 13-14 October 2021.