Tony Ballard’s life has been one of turmoil, but chess has become a source of balance during his period of incarceration. Ballard is serving a 294-month sentence for attempted murder, but recently gave one of the most powerful testimonies of the rehabilitative properties of chess. Grandmasters will often be asked to speak on chess, but these lectures are very specific instructional points and often lack a human element. Ballard’s story is raw and filled with valuable metaphors that will help one to see the connection between chess and life. Prison chess is replete with such lessons and Ballard has become a master teacher.
In doing these chess exercises I developed the tools necessary for my personal growth. Patience, controlling my emotions, and setting strategic goals as a means to the end result. WINNING the game. pic.twitter.com/XQIOcPuPpp— The Gift of Chess (@thegiftofchess) June 16, 2022
Ballard was invited to a chess event organized by “The Gift of Chess,” a non-profit entity launched in early-2021. The intitial mission was to distribute 10,000 chess sets throughout the New York area and to target youth, elderly and the imprisoned. This mission expanded globally and the organization has collaborated with Tunde Onakoye who famously launched a “Chess in Slums” initiative in Nigeria.
National Master Tyrone Davis III, currently a student at MIT and Board Member in Gift of Chess, traveled to Nigeria in March 2022 to help in distribution of sets and instruction. Many of these initiatives are attracting a broad base of support. Last year, there was an International Tournament for Prisoners!
National Master Tyrone Davis III playing Benjamin, a boy whom he is sponsoring. Tunde Onakoya (left) looks on with other kids from the Makoko community in Nigeria. Photo by Gift of Chess.
Russell Makofsky contacted The Chess Drum and shared the video of Ballard giving a powerful testimony on why chess has been so important in his life. The Gift of Chess was launching a tournament with Exodus Transitional Community, and invited Ballard to tell his story. Exodus is an organization helping newly-released prisoners settle back into public life. Having been incarcerated since 2003, Ballard was enthusiastic about being able to share his life lessons and the role that chess has had in making his road back to civilian life easier.
In his 15 minutes talk via ZOOM, Tony Ballard gave one of the most inspiring messages. It is another one of those stories that would not normally see the light of day in the chess media, but is so important in showing the reformative powers of chess.
Thanks to Russell Makofsky for bringing this story to light.
Video by Gift of Chess