Inside an Italian prison — first FIDE-rated classical tournament

1/14/2019 – Two years ago we came across an interesting and heartwarming tale about a chess expert who accepted a very challenging job to teach the game of chess to prisoners in Italy. He shared at length about his experience at the maximum-security prison of Spoleto and how it changed his perspective about life. The best part of it was the testimonies of prisoners on how the game brought a change in their lives. In this follow-up article, MIRKO TRASCIATTI is back to share an update on the story. | Photo: Inmates playing chess from their prison cells at Attica Correctional Facility, NY, 1972 | Cornell Capa

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Transforming lives: Chess in prison

by Mirko Trasciatti

Last month, for the first time, a classical chess tournament took place in an Italian correctional facility. The tournament was played over seven rounds with a time control of 60 minutes plus 30 seconds starting from the first move and valid FIDE standard ratings among six inmates, who were attending a chess class sponsored and organized by CONI “Sport in carcere”. This innovative project gave them the opportunity to play against people other than prisoners and to gain experience.

The venue, right beside the prison cell, in the library of Spoleto prison | Photo: Mirko Trasciatti

The President of CONI Umbria Domenico Ignozza, the Chief Commissioner Marco Piersigilli, the Spoleto City Councilman Maria Rita Zengoni, the project manager CONI Umbria Valeria Natali, the Educator Sabrina Galanti and the Inspector Edoardo Cardinali were present at the tournament to support the project and to highlight the importance of chess among inmates.

The players listening to the team which made this epic battle possible | Photo: Mirko Trasciatti

I have taught chess in the Spoleto correctional facility for four years and the inmates have come every day to study the rules of the game and to train. Not only the chess class but also the tournament have been sponsored by CONI, by the Bologna “Le Due Torri” shop that helped us with the chess books and by the monthly magazine “Torre & Cavallo” that gave us a free subscription. It was a very successful project and I received lots of messages of congratulation, for example:

“I am glad to know you organize something like that in jail. I would like to have some information to write an article about it and to organize it in Rome too”.

“Congrats! It a great experience both for inmates and for the people who have the opportunity to enter into a jail and meet inmates. It is a learning experience”.

In 2016, Trasciatti was awarded the Best Instructor FSI award! | Photo: UNI

Over the past few years, the inmates had the opportunity to take part in other small tournaments as for example Rapid 2016, Blitz 2018, the Italian team championship FSI (division C) in April 2018 and an online international match against Chicago prisoners. The winner of the chess tournament played in December was Andrea Martelli (scoring 5½/7), who lost only against Vladimir Haxhiu during the second round. Vladimir Haxhiu had a great performance and he is now entitled to be part of the international rating list. He scored of 4.0/7 points only half a point away from the podium.

"Two men look out the same prison bars; one sees mud and the other stars" —Beck | Photo: Mirko Trasciatti

One of the players will be soon released and we are happy to know that he wants to keep playing chess in his hometown. After the ritual acknowledgements, CONI Umbria gave the inmates t-shirts and chessboards useful to train and play in jail. At the end of the ceremony, I played a video called “Colors od babel” made by Luca De Paolis (Nickelodeon Prize 2018) to point out the strict connection between the chess game and social aspects. It was a learning experience in which different culture and different people had the opportunity to meet and grow together without preconceptions.

Players watching “Colors od babel” by Luca De Paolis  | Photo: Mirko Trasciatti

“I took part in the tournament to give the inmates the possibility to play chess experiencing something new and different from their daily routine. I had some prejudices and I was quite doubtful at the beginning, but when we started playing we were just players doing our best to win. There were no differences between inmates and free people, we were exactly the same in front of chessboards. It was a great and unforgettable experience for both!” says one of the players.

During the tournament, all the players started chatting and having fun together in a very friendly and easy going atmosphere. At the end of the day, the inmates shared some Panettone (an Italian sweet bread loaf) with the other players and they wished all the present Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

"There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves" —Eric Sevareid | Photo: Dazed

The chess game has a very important role for inmates: it is not only a game or a hobby. Chess is a way to survive in jail, a way to find a better lifestyle. An inmate says that his life is better than before thanks to chess. It helps not to think about past mistakes.

I still remember my first day of chess class in 2015. I was terrified, it was a completely new experience and I was not sure to be ready to do it. I was worried to teach them something harmful or wrong. I suddenly saw a man looking for some books in the jail library. He did not know about the chess class, but he asked to become part of the group. I said yes. Since then, he has always played chess and I am happy to have done something good for him.

An amazing journey and feat achieved by Trasciatti | Photo: Mirko Trasciatti


This story was originally published by ChessBase India.

About the Author

Mirko Trasciatti

Born in Bologna (Italy) in 1990, Mirko Trasciatti started playing chess when he was 13. After winning some youth tournaments, he won the UISP Italian Championship, cat. B in 2007 and the Umbria Championship in 2011. In 2011, he decided to become a chess instructor, earned the national instructor title, and in 2014, obtained the FIDE Instructor title. For several years he has been working on many projects related to chess. He's also a National Arbiter with four FA norms, member of a council of ASIGC (Italian Chess Association for Correspondence Players) and instructor specialized in youth and social sectors.


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Topics: Italy, prison chess
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macauley macauley 1/16/2019 09:40
@anonimous - Thanks. Peak rating 2043, indeed. (Should have checked.)
anonimous anonimous 1/16/2019 01:57
I'm gonna be pedantic, but Trasciatti is not a Fide Master like the article suggests in multiple places. Kudos to him, though, for embarking on such a difficult journey and for his resounding success.
juha_ovaskainen juha_ovaskainen 1/15/2019 12:25
Complimenti! Great initiative.
Nezhmetdinov1919 Nezhmetdinov1919 1/15/2019 11:52
Reading your article and seeing the pics we've got this curious feeling that we wished to be there... Congrats, my friend. You've done something quite positive.
Rod Plant Rod Plant 1/15/2019 06:45
Bravo Mirko! So many other prisons worldwide that would benefit!
Kpawn Kpawn 1/14/2019 09:34
Is it safe to checkmate a murderer?
KevinC KevinC 1/14/2019 09:26
That's it: Who do I have to murder to get sent to that prison? :)
narendramishra narendramishra 1/14/2019 08:29
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