Prisoners prepare for historic debut at chess championships

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Port of Spain Prison on Frederick Street, Port of Spain. – SUREASH CHOLAI

TWENTY-TWO prisoners from five prisons in Trinidad will be selected to compete in their first-ever Virtual Intercontinental Chess Championship, which begins October 13th.

This groundbreaking initiative was introduced to the prisons program team in July by Sonja Johnson, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chess Association (TTCA). Since then, it has had the full support of TT Prisons Service.

Qualifying competitions were held at Port of Spain Prison, Women’s Prison, Golden Grove Prison, Remand Prison and Maximum Security Prison (MSP) from September 9-17.

90 participants from the five prisons took part in these five rounds of competition. The final team (16 men, six women) will be selected by Johnson and other TTCA representatives. The players then train for the online event in October.

The championship is organized by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Chicago in collaboration with the International Chess Federation as part of the “Chess for Freedom” project.

Chess is not new to the local prison population. In 2017 the TTCA teamed up with the TT Olympic Committee to initiate a chess program at the MSP. This was done to enable the development of a sustainable chess program throughout the prison system.

Prison Commissioner Dennis Pulchan endorsed the initiative and said he was satisfied with the proposal and involvement of the prison service in such a milestone event.

He said this program would expose the brilliance and skills of the prisoners and hoped that because of the tremendous response; an ongoing prison chess program could be implemented.

The event, which is coordinated by the program department of the TT Prison Service, is intended to attract national, regional and international attention and will be recorded and broadcast live online.

Johnson was enthusiastic about this initiative.

“This is an opportunity for us to truly demonstrate our commitment to inclusion, and shows an opportunity to work with other areas of community, government and society to ensure we are improving the lives of citizens. I think the country can really benefit from such a positive story right now. “

She added that countries like the US, Russia and Brazil have been competing with each other in recent years.

TT’s opening appearance this year, she says, bodes well for the sport and the local prisoners, and “speaks volumes for our openness in TT to reforms and other things.”

In July, she said, Johnson reached out to prison services to resume chess as all programs had been canceled due to the pandemic.

“Chess was a subject that they thought they should pursue in order to take it up again. I met with the program team and started this intercontinental competition with them to inspire the game of chess and at the same time to give the inmates the unique opportunity to play an international tournament.

“I have to say they also understood the significant impact this could have and worked within their system to get the necessary permits. I was excited.”


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