Chess Master from Bronx organizes tournaments for inmates

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Thursday, February 25, 2021
Chess Master from NYC organizes tournaments for inmates
A man from the Bronx is visiting prisons across the country to help make a difference one move at a time.

SAINT LOUIS, Missouri (WABC) -- A man from the Bronx who became a ground-breaking chess champion at a young age believes in the possibilities that come from playing the game -- and he's taking his campaign on the road to prisons.

More than 100 inmates at the Saint Louis County Justice Center are playing in the jail's first chess tournament.

"These guys, they're good. That's what they do," correction officer Mario Reed said. "There's some good players in there."

Justus Williams watched it all. He became the youngest African-American Chess Master in history at the age of 12.

Now he is overseeing the tournament he helped make happen.

"We're trying to bring more faces into chess, so we got to get into the underrepresented communities and the jails," Williams said. "It's beautiful. There's a lot of great players in here. Some people, they move so confidently like they've been playing all their life."

But it's more than just a chess tournament.

"What we're really trying to do is get these guys to journal how chess is helping them while in here," Williams said.

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Reed said he has seen the benefits that chess is bringing.

"It keeps them calm and gives them something to look forward to," Reed said. "You know, it's motivation, keeps their mind occupied with something positive. That's what it does for them."

"I think that's why this program is really important in here," Williams said.

The tournament's champion will play against Williams.

But regardless of the outcome, Williams says just being able to talk chess with the inmates and talk about anything at all is pretty cool.

There are more prisoners in the U.S. than any other country on the planet. In New York state, the cost to house and feed a prisoner for a year is close to four years of tuition and room and board at a SUNY College campus.

The hope is that activities like chess could help with recidivism rates.

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