Tony Ballard and the Gift of Chess

by Frederic Friedel
7/4/2023 – Tony Ballard is a Kansas prison inmate who turned a 25-year sentence into a passion for chess. He used the game to teach other inmates critical-thinking skills, and became the Director of Prison Outreach. Tony partnered with The Gift of Chess, an initiative that is set to distribute one million chess sets all over the world by 2030. To date they have manufactured over 80,000, sending most to African nations. Read this report and prepare to be inspired.

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You can listen to Tony Ballard's life story in this Perpetual Chess podcast... 

... or you can watch the above video portrait.

Tony, who had a very difficult upbringing and made some very regrettable choices in his early years, is currently serving a 294-month prison sentence for attempted murder. On this Twitter page he wrote:

"Chess is my passion and has been my personal tool in reshaping my thinking and rehabilitating my life after being imprisoned at the age of 25.

Playing chess was something that I did for fun when I was a juvenile without much thought. When I found myself in prison, I once again picked up chess as a tool to pass the time. The more I played, the better I got and the more interested I became in wanting to actually “know” the game.

The deeper I delved into chess the more it caused me to think deeper. The more I was challenged to hold a thought, and/or maintain a sharp focus. I found that the more I learned, the deeper I studied theory, openings, & gaining a greater understanding of chess, the better I got.

After several years, I became known as that “chess guy” that could beat everyone. I found myself playing tougher opponents within the prison. And sometimes losing very tough games where I was either out played or overtaken by my emotions and blundered the game.

I came to prison as a result of drugs coupled with an anger problem. Which led to compulsive and destructive decision-making. Chess is where I found the tools to overcome these issues. As one continues to grow inside the game of chess, not only are his/her cognitive abilities challenged. But also, to become really good, he/she must be able to control their impulses. Their anger and anxieties. And become focused solely on the strategic goal of winning the game.

In doing these chess exercises I developed the tools necessary for my personal growth. Patience, controlling my emotions, and setting strategic goals as a means to the end result. WINNING the game. While life is not a game. These cognitive tools that I developed, cultivated, and nurtured within every game equipped me for success in my actual life. My confidence and self-esteem soared as I used these skills in my daily interactions. And now, after nearly 20 years of incarceration, I have partnered with The Gift of Chess initiative...

The Gift of Chess is a 501(C)(3) charitable organization transforming lives through our universal language of chess. We distribute chess sets globally, leveraging chess as a low-cost high-impact catalyst for opportunity. ​Our key initiatives include Global Outreach, Prison Outreach, and Youth & Refugee Education.

To date we have manufactured over 80,000 chess sets for global distribution. ​Our goal is to distribute 1,000,000 chess sets by 2030. For some, opportunity means access to a college education, For many others opportunity could mean access to a chess set.

On the Gift of Chess Twitter page you can follow the activities of the organisation. Here some examples:


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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