New Jersey Prisoners take on Princeton's Finest!

The New York Times' Marek Fuchs wrote an interesting article of an exhibition which took place at the New Jersey State Prison between Princeton collegians Brandon Ashe, 20 (rated 2141) and Ian Prevost, 19 (rated 2055) and a total of 34 inmates. 

It is common knowledge that the talents of many strong prison players lay hidden from the public. However, many of the prisons have chess activities and the participants were excited to put their chess skills on display in the match arranged by prison officials.

Jay Rutherford and Walter Oglesby face Princeton students in exhibition. Photo by Annie McCormick.

Jay Rutherford and Walter Oglesby face Princeton students. Photo by Annie McCormick, NY Times.

"Prison officials say that even outside the club, chess is a mainstay of life in prison, where video games and other hand-held devices are banned. Craig Haywood, the prison's acting supervisor of recreation said he issues 50 to 60 chessboards a week, and the game is even more popular than checkers."

Before the match, Ashe and Prevost expressed nervousness, not because they were entering a prison for the first time, but they were unsure of the strength of the prison players. Naturally, the prison players were confident at their chances and had plotted pre-game strategies.  Anthony Nickels, a 34-year old serving a murder sentence, stated "I'm going to keep attacking. That's my strategy."

Both Princeton players took half of the 34 boards, and the 4-hour match had begun. Within 30 moves, Ashe had run through his opposition while Prevost was still struggling with the unorthodox play of his opponents. Prison players who had lost, joyfully lined up behind the remaining players offering advice. One such player who lasted was
Naifra Boyer, a 46-year old player who had drawn FM Jude Acers on a visit two years earlier. After that exhibition, Acres described the competition as "fierce" and  "above average."

Perhaps the pressure was too great for Prevost, so Ashe had to take half of his remaining boards. Boyer continued to hold strong and ultimately forced Ashe to resign amidst cheers and high-fives. "Chess is a game of life and death," Mr. Boyer declared. "The students were being too aggressive with me. They weren't watching their backs." Basking in his success, Boyer asked the authorities if he could play chess on a "college tour." Despite his promise to behave, the suggestion received a loud round of laughter.

Adaku Ibekwe, "University Chess Team takes on Prison Inmates," Daily Princeton, 24 February 2003.

Fuchs, Marek, "The Game is Chess, the Opponents are Felons,"
New York Times, 22 February 2003. (free registration required)

Posted by The Chess Drum: 24 February 2003