GM Timur Gareyev visits the KDOC’s Larned Mental Health Facility

by ChessBase
6/7/2023 – It's a heartening story: a strong chess grandmaster visits a correctional facility to inspire the inmates for the game he excels in. Uzbek American GM Timur Gareyev, holder of the world blindfold record, gave simul displays, blindfold sessions, and even lessons during his visit. Tony Ballard, the Director of Prison Outreach program of The "The Gift of Chess", describes the GM visit and his own rehabilitation with chess guiding his life.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


By Tony Ballard

Going to Larned Correctional facility was a great experience for myself and for those at the facility. We had the opportunity to bring a chess grandmaster, Timur Gareyev, born in Tashkent to Tatar parents. Gareyev was a part of the University of Texas at Brownsville’s chess team from August 2005 to August 2006 and from August 2009 to December 2011 where he helped the university obtain its first national championship. He holds the Guinness world record of playing 48 games blindfolded, winning 80% of those games. With 35 wins, seven draws and six losses. All of his opponents were of decent strength (ranging up to 2200).

We at The Gift of Chess were happy to share this phenomenal person/talent with these men over Memorial Day weekend. We wanted them to know that you may be gone from family and friends, but not forgotten, that they may be out of sight, locked away in prison but never out of mind.

The Event was a huge success as Timur played the first simul at the south unit with 16 players, beating them all. The men enjoyed the time and was encouraged by Grandmaster Timur to continue playing, even taking time to inspire and uplift the men with personal encouragement on improving their chess game. The south unit had four winners, with the first place going to Phillip Caldwell. Grandmaster Timur said this guy had a “real good hold on the game.” Many of the men I had met at one time or another during my incarceration. They were very pleasant and respectful. We were even more happy to have the previous candidate for the House of Representatives, Marck Cobb, who also led the Anatoly Karpov School of Chess for several years.

The buzz surrounding the event was super electric! Grandmaster Timur put on a show at the south unit and the central unit with a few games of blindfolded chess. It was so amazing that the guards afterwards wanted to get pictures and autographs from him. The men at the facility were blown away, as I was, with the talent of GM Timur being able to play games blindfolded – at one point even telling a guy, “Hey you can’t go there, you’ll be in check!” Everyone burst out laughing!

The first-place winner at central unit was Earl Harris, a spirited chess player! I knew this guy from doing time over 20 years in KDOC. He was happy to see me. All of the guys were super happy to congratulate me for putting this event together for them and for coming back into the prison to spread The Gift of Chess.

Many of these men knew my past. Especially Earl Harris who once was my “Road Dog”. He confided in me that he has spent nearly 30 years in prison. And that he could have been home already if not for the horrible choices he made during his time incarcerated. He was charged with more criminal cases for trafficking drugs on different occasions to support his drug addiction. He said that chess helped him to start making better choices. Being a great chess player and making dumb decisions was idiotic. He knew that he could think, and so he does a lot of his thinking and makes choices in life now as if he was playing a game of chess. He also said that he is sober free and has not been on drugs for over two years now!

“Dreamer”, who is also known as Vince Vigil, spoke on how he has removed himself from gang life. And that he has now become the younger gang member’s mentor. He instructs them on how to think and to play chess, and to make moves in life that speak to their character. He said that he tells these “youngsters” that if you have no character you have nothing. Every choice has a consequence. I am proud of Dreamer, who once had strong influence and affiliations with a Latino gang.

I was super impressed by how kind and cordial GM Timur was! He and I played all 36 men in the simul together. He allowed me to play half of the men and the other half he played. He quickly beat the first half of men and while I had been fortunate to win several games, GM Timur came along side me and cleaned the rest of them up with astonishing fashion before the time ran out on us to pack up and leave. The coolest experience!

I was lucky enough to have GM Timur give me some advice with the Slav Defence. one of Black’s safest and strongest defences against the Queen’s Gambit. The way we both clicked and really enjoyed one another’s company was awesome! I am happy to announce that The Gift of Chess and GM Timur look to do more events nationwide as we hope to expand into other prisons nationally.

Before we closed with the awarding of the certificates with GM Timur, I spoke to these men and let them know how proud I was of them for being great host. Including Shane and Mrs. Hopkins the Activity Directors there in Larned correctional facility.

I let them know how powerful chess is for rehabilitation and change. That we are promoting the idea of using your thinking skills to get out of tough situations and to find opportunities to grow through being thoughtful and creative. Two skills that chess provides.

Speaking to these men nearly had me in tears because of all the love they gave me for changing my life and then coming back to give back. I let them know that we at The Gift of Chess have a death grip on this mission to get chess programming in prisons nationwide. Starting here in KDOC first. I let them know that once I get on, I promise to come back and put everybody on as well!

Tony Ballard is a Kansas inmate who turned a 25-year sentence into a passion to teach other inmates critical-thinking skills through The Gift of Chess, where he is the Director of Prison Outreach.

We will bring you a full story on this remarkable person in a separate article in the near future.

For now here are some links:

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register