Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Karpov finally makes a successful prison visit

Former world champion Anatoly Karpov tried to visit his successor, Garry Kasparov (briefly detained in Moscow in 2007 for organizing an anti-Putin rally).  The authorities did not allow Karpov to see Kasparov in jail.  As far as I know, Kasparov never attempted to visit his predecessor, Bobby Fischer, during Fischer's detention in Japan.

But yesterday, Karpov visited chess players in Chicago's Cook County Jail.  The lucky inmates accomplished something that Fischer and Kasparov weren't able to do.

Karpov comes to Chicago regularly as a guest of Mikhail Korenman.  This visit, Karpov and Korenman dropped in on Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to announce a prison chess program.

Brilliant idea!  (Check out the audio: it's a bit disconcerting to this Chicagoan to hear WBBM's John Cody talk about Tom Dart and Karpov in the same sentence.)

I would love to see Dr. Korenman or someone else take this idea one step further.  The average reading level of Cook County juvenile detainees is at the second-grade level.  That's not far from functional illiteracy, and that's a tragedy.  Granted, some of these young people may never have the intellectual capacity or emotional maturity to turn their lives around.  But at least a few of these young people must have these tools: chess could help them prove to themselves that they're smart enough to succeed in an information economy.  If we could help a handful turn their lives around, such a program would be very much worth doing.  (Why chess?  Like mathematics and music, very little cultural capital is required.  With the proper instruction, innate talent will take one far.)

We Cook County taxpayers already shell out $225,000 per year to detain one teenager: as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has noted, that's enough to pay for an entire undergraduate education at a fine private school.  And if that teenager remains Trouble with a Capital T (and let's be honest, doesn't Mikhail Korenman remind you of Robert Preston in The Music Man?), then what's the present value of that teenager's future cost to society?   How much is it worth spending now to avoid ruined lives, victims' suffering, police and judicial and prison expenditures?  We have selfish reasons to turn a few lives around.

Chess won't magically turn inmates or juvenile detainees into model citizens.   (Blitz winnings from the North Avenue Pavilion have been used to buy crack.)  But perhaps it can help some of them think before they act, or at least give them a pleasant and productive way to spend their time in detention.  And if chess can show a few of them that they have great talents that they must not waste, the return on human capital is potentially enormous!

Hat tip to Albert Chow for the following link to WLS's television coverage. (Short commercial first.) Chicago tournament players may see a familiar face in the video.


Keith Ammann said...

I assume this is a volunteer program; who's the volunteer coordinator? Is Korenman running this show, or is the sheriff's department?

Chris Girardo said...

I didn't know Arandel Markovic was in prison. I guess that explains why I haven't seen him around lately.

Nice post, interesting to see this cooperation and I like how they will be 'ready for competitive matches in a month.' They must be training nonstop!

Keith Ammann said...

Strictly speaking, he's in jail, not prison.

Bill Brock said...

Fortunately, I can't be incarcerated for crimes against the English language.

Frederick Rhine said...

"Blitz winnings from the North Avenue Pavilion have been used to buy crack." Bill, I don't think you should confess this sort of thing in a public forum. :-)

Bill Brock said...

When have I ever *won* money playing blitz?

Frederick Rhine said...

That notion does seem far-fetched, so admittedly I figured you couldn't be speaking of yourself.