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'Pune Prisoners' wins bronze for India in Inter-continental Online Chess Championship

What is unique this time around is that the players were prisoners housed in the Yerawada Central Jail, Pune and the event was the Intercontinental Online Chess Championship.

The Indian team defeated El Salvador and won the bronze medal. The gold was won by the Philippines and the silver by Colombia.

The tournament was organised by international chess federation (FIDE) and the Cook County (Chicago, IL, USA) Sheriff’s Office and coincided with the International Day of Education in Prison.

"Many of the prisoner-chess players are strong enough to be rated. Some can turn into a chess coach for beginners," Grandmaster Abhijit Kunte an employee of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) told IANS.

About 85 teams from 46 countries participated in the tournament, which could also be termed as the ‘chess Olympiad for the Prisoners’.

According to Kunte, there was a selection event in India amongst prisoners in different jails. In the men’s section, the Pune Prisoners came first and the team from Prayagraj Prison came second. In the women’s and youth (juvenile) sections, the teams were from Delhi.

The chess team from Prayagraj Prison played in the initial rounds.

Kunte is the coordinator of the ‘Chess in Prisons’ scheme of IOC’s Parivarthan – Prison to Pride scheme.

"IOC has initiated the scheme on 15.8.2021 whereby the prisoners in different jails were coached in games of their interest. This was done so that the prisoners can have some positivity in their minds," said Bhalchandra Joglekar, deputy general manager, Employee Services and Sports.

Interestingly Joglekar is a former Ranji Trophy player for Maharashtra. "We started the chess in prison programme in 2021. In 37 jails the game was taught. In the last three months, several top players coached the prisoners at different jails," Kunte said.

Speaking about his experience of teaching chess in prisons Kunte said the inmates have lots of free time and chess helps them to keep their mind occupied. "Many prisoners have told me that at night while lying on their bed they think about the games/moves they had played and how they would play the next day," Kunte said.

"Many prisoners had played the game earlier and knew how the pieces moved. Some of them have a decent knowledge of end game," Kunte added.

"The Pune prison authorities were also helpful. They wanted the inmates to win a medal for the country and provided the necessary assistance. It was a team effort," Kunte said.

According to Joglekar, the players were first coached with a traditional chess board and later they were provided with computers with net connection to practice online chess, Joglekar said. "The members of the chess team at Yerawada were very much excited about winning their games. It is very difficult to describe their joy in words after they won the final round," Joglekar said.

"The pride of representing the nation in an international tournament and bringing a medal to the country was very much evident but cannot be described," Joglekar added.

He said the final game was played on September 17 and it was the day for the prisoners to meet their family members. But after 5 P.M. no family meeting would be allowed. "However, the chess games were played in the evening. The jail authorities were considerate and allowed the chess players to meet their family members after their game was over. The players were able to share the good news with their family members," Joglekar said.

"I would like to congratulate all participants, all teams, and everyone who was involved. I hope you enjoyed playing, representing your countries and, most importantly, that you improved your skills by learning and playing chess and communicating with other people. We all hope that at some moment of your life, you will be free to make your own choices, and chess will help you to make those choices rationally," said FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

–IANS

vj/akm

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