Cook County jail inmates take on the world in chess tournament

  • Fourteen inmates at the Cook County jail took on peers from Russia, Brazil, Italy and three other countries this week in an international chess competition. The team placed fifth.

    Fourteen inmates at the Cook County jail took on peers from Russia, Brazil, Italy and three other countries this week in an international chess competition. The team placed fifth. Courtesy of the Cook County Sheriff's Office

  • Cook County jail inmates took on teams from across the world this week in a first-of-its-kind international chess tournament. Learning chess has long-lasting positive effects for inmates, Sheriff Tom Dart says.

    Cook County jail inmates took on teams from across the world this week in a first-of-its-kind international chess tournament. Learning chess has long-lasting positive effects for inmates, Sheriff Tom Dart says. Courtesy of the Cook County Sheriff's Office

  • Cook County jail inmates interacted with detainees in jails around the world this week when they matched skills in a first-of-its-kind international chess tournament.

    Cook County jail inmates interacted with detainees in jails around the world this week when they matched skills in a first-of-its-kind international chess tournament. Courtesy of the Cook County Sheriff's Office

  • Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks with inmates who took part this week in an international chess tournament involving detainees in seven countries. "Chess has so many different benefits," Dart said. "It's amazing."

    Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks with inmates who took part this week in an international chess tournament involving detainees in seven countries. "Chess has so many different benefits," Dart said. "It's amazing." Courtesy of the Cook County Sheriff's Office

  • Joseph Inclan-Lopez, 29, of Carpentersville

    Joseph Inclan-Lopez, 29, of Carpentersville

 
Posted8/9/2019 5:30 AM

The players stared intently at the chess boards in front of them, tracking their opponents' every move and plotting not only a response, but the response after that, and the one after that.

They faced off against foes from Brazil, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, England and Italy, deploying skills honed through hours of practice and coaching from an acclaimed instructor.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The event this week was much like any other international chess tournament, except for one twist -- the first-of-its-kind competition pitted inmates at the Cook County jail against their peers in lockups across the globe.

The tournament was the natural evolution of the growing chess program at the county jail, which now counts more than 100 players. The 14 best were chosen to represent the jail -- and the U.S. -- in the two-day competition, held via Skype and organized, in part, by former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov.

When all the moves were done and pleasantries exchanged between competitors on the other side of the world, the U.S. team had placed fifth -- not bad considering players in some of the countries they faced have been studying chess since grade school.

However, while the success and chance to compete provided a thrill for the inmates, the tournament -- and chess itself -- means much more around the jail these days.

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"Chess has so many different benefits," Sheriff Tom Dart told us Tuesday after the competition wrapped up. "It's amazing."

More than a game

At the top of that list of benefits is the way the game literally changes the way inmates think, the sheriff says.

"So many people we have in the jail are here because they act impulsively, they don't think about the consequences of their actions," Dart said. "Chess trains you to think multiple moves ahead and you have to think about the consequences of every move you make."

Dart said he's heard from several inmates firsthand about how playing has changed their thought process. They take those changes with them when they leave, he added.

Dart's 17-year-old son, Tommy, helped launch a companion program that teaches chess to the children of inmates. The kids can then challenge their parents to a game while they're in the jail.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's building incredible bonds between parent and child," Dart said. "I've had detainees tell me they've never had that kind of a connection (with a child) before."

The program's also a benefit for the jail and its employees. Units where inmates play chess tend to be the most peaceful in the facility, Dart said, making them safer for the detainees and the staff.

So what's next? Dart says plans already are in the works for another -- and bigger -- international tournament.

"Our goal is to have at least one team from every continent."

Insult to injury

Bad enough for Robert Johnson Jr. that he got caught in April 2018 robbing an Elburn bank of almost $120,000.

But now, the guys that captured him are riding around in his car.

The Elburn Police Department received Johnson's 2007 GMC Envoy, under a federal law that allows law enforcement to seize vehicles used in the commission of a crime. After a couple repairs, the SUV is being driven now by the department's deputy chief.

Elburn officers nabbed Johnson after he robbed an Old Second National branch in northern Elburn. A customer in the drive-up lane noticed the heist occurring and called police, who gave chase.

Police caught a break because Johnson, of Machesney Park, didn't know his planned escape route -- Keslinger Road -- was closed for reconstruction of a bridge over I-88, west of town.

"That was very fortunate," Deputy Chief Eric Schlachta said, recalling the chase he and two other officers gave. "I was just about ready to call the pursuit off."

Johnson, 34, has pleaded guilty, and is set to be sentenced Aug. 16. Federal prosecutors want him to serve 70 to 87 months. Johnson is asking for 18 months, and to be able to participate in a Bureau of Prisons residential drug abuse program.

Case update

Last year, we told you about Jose Lopez-Inclan's misguided efforts to beat rush hour traffic by pretending to be a cop -- a decision that not only didn't help him get home from work any sooner, but landed him in court facing a felony charge of false impersonation of a peace officer.

Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer Harry Hitzeman tipped us off this week that the 29-year-old Carpentersville man pleaded guilty Aug. 1 to a reduced charge of attempted false impersonation of a peace officer and was sentenced to a year of court supervision.

Lopez-Inclan also must perform 50 hours of community service and pay $912 in court costs and fees, under the plea deal accepted by Kane County Judge Judge Kathryn Karayannis. If he violates the terms of the deal or commits another offense while on supervision, he could be resentenced to up to 364 days in jail.

Elgin police arrested Lopez-Inclan in September 2018 after he was seen driving with a flashing light on his SUV. He admitted to officers he was in a hurry to get home and believed the flashing light would get other drivers to pull over and let him pass.

Lemon(ade) law

If you read as many police blotters as we do, you're bound to come across some odd cases now and then. Like this one, from Arlington Heights.

According to police, two girls were running a lemonade stand Sunday afternoon in the 1800 block of North Waterman Avenue when a man rode up on a bike, carrying two water guns.

Police reports say the man pointed the squirt guns at the girls and demanded free lemonade. When they told him no way, he sprayed the girls with water and rode off.

The man was described as 20 to 30 years old, and wore a dark hat, boots and a short-sleeved shirt. No word yet on whether police have captured the wannabe lemonade bandit.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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