CHICAGO (CBS) — Chess players from all over the world were facing off in a first of its kind tournament on Tuesday, in a place you might not expect: jail.
Inmates at Cook County Jail have been taking part in a round-robin chess tournament online, competing against inmates from six other countries: Armenia, Belarus, Brazil, England, Italy, and Russia.
The Cook County Sheriff’s office said it’s the first international prisoner chess tournament of its kind.
For the inmates, it’s about a lot more than chess. Some said playing chess is teaching them how to make better life decisions.
“It feels good. It feels good, makes me feel accepted,” Rashad Rowry said.
HAPPENING NOW: Cook County Jail detainees are playing a round-robin chess tournament with detainees from Armenia, Belarus, Brazil, England, Italy and Russia, in the first international prisoner chess tournament of its kind. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/P3BeJ5KIPI
— Mugo Odigwe (@MugoOdigwe) August 6, 2019
Rowry got into chess about four years ago.
“Chess just makes me realize how smart I really was,” he said.
Then there’s Emmanuel Garcia, who has been playing for chess for 25 years. He started playing at age 8.
“I never thought we were going to get to this level. I did it for the hobby. I never did it focusing on a tournament,” he said.
Rowry and Garcia are two of 14 inmates at Cook County Jail participating in the tournament, using laptops in teams of four to challenge inmates across the globe.
“Hopefully we go for second place, because I don’t think we’re going to catch Russia,” Rowry said.
Cook County Jail started a chess program in 2012. Officials said chess instills critical thinking skills, patience, and other qualities needed to navigate life behind bars and move inmates in the right direction when they get out of jail.
“It helps me understand that every decision you make can affect your whole future. It’s either like tomorrow, or maybe two years from now,” Garcia said.
“I never knew how smart I was until I got locked up, and chess kind of like stimulates my mind. It makes my mind move. It makes me think,” Rowry said.
When the tournament ends, the best player will receive a special chess set.