Ex-convict Hector Guifarro: “Chess helped me in so many ways”

by ChessBase
9/8/2021 – The first Intercontinental Online Chess Championship for Prisoners will take place on October 13-14, on the International Day of Education in Prison. FIDE Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola talked to ex-convict Hector Guifarro to find out how the game helped him find a second chance in life.

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Self-esteem, focus

The first Intercontinental Online Chess Championship for Prisoners is scheduled for October 13-14, 2021, on the International Day of Education in Prison. Although the registration deadline is two weeks ahead, teams from 16 countries have already joined the event. Such an interest can be explained by the successful introduction of chess in prisons through different educative programs across the world.

Hector Guifarro is one of those proving by personal example that the game has a positive impact on the lives of people who have ended up in jail after making a wrong choice. A former convict picked up chess while serving his sentence and, in his telling, it saved his life in prison — and is saving it now. FIDE Managing Director Dana Reizniece-Ozola talked to Hector to find out how the game helps people to find another chance in life.

Hector, you’ve been in prison for seven years, and you have confessed that chess saved your life. What is it about chess that makes it so special to you?

Chess helped me in so many ways. It made me more patient, accountable, because in chess you can’t blame anybody but you. It helped me to look at the points of view of other people. It became my outlet. Whenever I had a lot on my mind, I would play chess and I always felt better afterwards. But first of all, chess built my self-esteem through education. I really feel that is important. When you first go to prison, you have to take a test to see where you are education-wise. When I first took it, I scored really low. Before prison, I’d never really taken education seriously, never did my homework. Five or four years later, in order to enter college, I had to take the same test, and my results were much higher. I am not trying to say that chess taught me math or improved my reading, but playing chess for all these years improved my memory and focus.

When in prison, did you have a coach, or you played with your fellow inmates, or read chess books? What was it like?

I didn’t have a chess coach. It was just all free will; it was just so common. At first, I was just killing time playing chess. But after a certain point, I realized that my approach was more like take-to-take; it didn’t have any strategy. So I started thinking more, seeing pieces flow together, and then it just became beautiful to me. I started reading books on chess, learning chess theory.

Did you like playing against the opponents, or reading the books and learning the theory?

All of it. I love playing, I love winning — whenever I checkmate, I smile. Whenever I lose, I can’t wait to play back again. For a long period of time, all I was thinking of was chess. I love everything about it, but chess theory is what made me realize how deep it was. I wanted to read all I could. There are so many openings, so many variations. Inmates are in the perfect place to learn chess theory, as they have a lot of free time.

Chess in prisons

What was the first chess book that you read?

I really don’t remember its name. It was a book that I borrowed from a catalogue. It was for beginners. But now, when I came out of prison, I have more access to the theory, more videos. It all makes me a better player. I started looking at the game differently. Since the last time we spoke in May, I participated in two tournaments and, let me tell you, playing on a clock is really different. It makes my heart beat faster.

Was it a few weeks ago when you played your first tournament?

Yes. I didn’t win my section, but I won a few games and met so many new people. At the end of the day, just being in this environment, seeing other people who love chess was great.

Read full interview on FIDE’s website...

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