Chess Behind Bars

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Kevin Thurlow
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Chess Behind Bars

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Wed Aug 30, 2017 4:02 pm

“Chess Behind Bars” by Carl Portman, Quality Chess, 2017
I must start with a disclaimer. The author has been a friend of mine for many years and we are currently locked at 6-6 in a 75-frame snooker match. Those who know me will know that I will still give an honest review.
The title refers to the author’s activities as “Manager of Chess in Prisons”. He starts with some disturbing autobiographical information about his childhood (about which I knew nothing), and one senses that although he kept to the straight and narrow, he could understand those who did not. He says that chess is good for taking your mind off prison, and clearly this means prison both actual and metaphorical. The book carries an interview with John Healy, who wrote an interesting book called “The Grass Arena”. The interview contains some contentious and revealing information.
Carl quotes some claims about the benefits of chess, e.g. that it can help in the fight with Alzheimer’s Disease or, perhaps even more controversially, that chess improves speech and coordination. One of the factors affecting chess in prison is of course funding, a familiar gripe in the public sector. Public opinion tends to be that murderers and bank robbers are in prison for a reason and why should anyone care about them. One can understand this of course, but some basic humanity is desirable. Self-esteem may improve prisoners. Apparently, when Chris Grayling was “Secretary of State for Justice” and in charge of prisons, he banned books, hobbies and gifts of clothing from families. Michael Gove took over and reversed this decision. The author has succeeded in making me approve of Michael Gove, well, once anyway.
The author visited various prisons and encouraged the prisoners to play chess, encountering a wide variety of characters as he did so. He reports on this and suggests means of encouraging chess in prisons, which he hopes will help their mental wellbeing in prison and improve their chances of getting on in the outside world when released. The book is not just about chess, it is partly life, the universe and everything.
There are a large number of instructive exercises in increasing difficulty, in three batches of 64 (of course!) with explanation of the solutions. The later exercises are not so easy. These are followed by thirteen annotated games, some very familiar, some unknown, which will help developing players. The actual chess in the book is aimed at improving players, for example some of the people he encountered. The analysis is clearly set out and the illustrative games are accompanied by biographical information on the players.
The author has an entertaining and enthusiastic style and readers may well find themselves viewing prisoners in a more sympathetic light. Even if this is not the case, at least perhaps we can reflect that chess might just be useful for improving lives.

Jonathan Bryant
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Jonathan Bryant » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:20 pm

Kevin Thurlow wrote: Carl quotes some claims about the benefits of chess, e.g. that it can help in the fight with Alzheimer’s Disease or, perhaps even more controversially, that chess improves speech and coordination..

The way you wrote this didn’t fill me with confidence.

I tracked down the relevant passage and I"m afraid that particularly page of text - in particular the claims the author of the book makes about chess and dementia - didn’t inspire me to read the rest of the book. A vague reference to an undocumented piece of research that the author may or may not have read himself and may or may not have understood*. It’s really not good enough.

This is a pity. The overall thrust of the book as I understand it - that chess programmes can and should be implemented in prisons - is one that I would fully support.









* probably not, given what follows although that’s not really the point.

Kevin Thurlow
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:38 pm

"The overall thrust of the book as I understand it - that chess programmes can and should be implemented in prisons - is one that I would fully support."

Yes - that is the overall thrust of the book. The rest of the book is well worth reading. It's thought-provoking, even if any individual doesn't agree with bits of it!

Gordon Cadden
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Gordon Cadden » Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:41 am

Cannot think of a better place to study chess, than behind bars. All the problems of the outside world are left behind, and you can concentrate on the game. John Healy was a vagrant, but not aware that he spent time in prison. His favourite address was Lincolns Inn Fields, on one of the benches, of course ! Used to call himself a Lincolns Inn Bencher.

David Williams
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by David Williams » Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:47 am

I've thrown it away now, but didn't Ray Keene give a good review of this in his column in the Times? I wasn't convinced about backing it up with one of Fischer's games, though. Possibly the least likely prisoner to be rehabilitated by being offered a chess programme!

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:55 am

David Williams wrote:I've thrown it away now, but didn't Ray Keene give a good review of this in his column in the Times? I wasn't convinced about backing it up with one of Fischer's games, though. Possibly the least likely prisoner to be rehabilitated by being offered a chess programme!
The review by Keene is the first one mentioned in the page for the book at Quality Chess:

https://www.qualitychess.co.uk/products ... l_portman/
"Carl Portman is convinced that chess can play an important role in prisoner rehabilitation... His arguments have convinced no less a personality than England’s most famous chess grandmaster, Nigel Short, who has penned an elegant introduction."

GM Raymond Keene, The Times
That page also points to a review by Dominic Lawson (ECF President) in the Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/a ... rafty.html
Portman is nothing like the literary stylist Dalrymple is. But both men have enlightened the society of criminals with the best of humanity.
*peers closely*

Kevin, they haven't quoted your review!! :wink:

NickFaulks
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by NickFaulks » Mon Sep 11, 2017 12:03 pm

Gordon Cadden wrote:John Healy was a vagrant
Isn't that racial abuse nowadays?

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JustinHorton
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by JustinHorton » Mon Sep 11, 2017 2:01 pm

Christopher Kreuzer wrote:
David Williams wrote:I've thrown it away now, but didn't Ray Keene give a good review of this in his column in the Times? I wasn't convinced about backing it up with one of Fischer's games, though. Possibly the least likely prisoner to be rehabilitated by being offered a chess programme!
The review by Keene is the first one mentioned in the page for the book at Quality Chess:

https://www.qualitychess.co.uk/products ... l_portman/
"Carl Portman is convinced that chess can play an important role in prisoner rehabilitation... His arguments have convinced no less a personality than England’s most famous chess grandmaster, Nigel Short, who has penned an elegant introduction."

GM Raymond Keene, The Times
That page also points to a review by Dominic Lawson (ECF President) in the Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/books/a ... rafty.html
Portman is nothing like the literary stylist Dalrymple is. But both men have enlightened the society of criminals with the best of humanity.
Ah yes, Theodore Dalrymple, who's a good friend of Lawson, not that Lawson seees fit to mention this in his review.

I wonder if Ray's read the book?
"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

lostontime.blogspot.com

Gordon Cadden
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Gordon Cadden » Mon Sep 11, 2017 3:31 pm

NickFaulks wrote:
Gordon Cadden wrote:John Healy was a vagrant
Isn't that racial abuse nowadays?
Would you prefer gentleman of the road, or hobo ?

NickFaulks
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by NickFaulks » Mon Sep 11, 2017 3:55 pm

Gordon Cadden wrote:Would you prefer gentleman of the road, or hobo ?
I honestly have no idea as to what you're allowed to say and what you're not. It will be different tomorrow anyway..

PeterFarr
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by PeterFarr » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:04 pm

NickFaulks wrote:
Gordon Cadden wrote:Would you prefer gentleman of the road, or hobo ?
I honestly have no idea as to what you're allowed to say and what you're not. It will be different tomorrow anyway..
I suppose you could just try and avoid those awkward social situations where you just don't know whether to call people hobo, vagrant or gypsy.

Edit: to be serious, if you are unsure about exact usage, then context and intent matters. For example, If you say "oh look there is a colourful gypsy caravan" you are much less likely to be criticized than if you say "you look like a gypsy" when criticizing someone's dress sense.

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JustinHorton
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by JustinHorton » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:30 pm

Particularly if your manner is hostile, your intent is critical and the term is plainly being used as a pejorative.

However, this has little directly to do with the book under discussion....
"Do you play chess?"
"Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating."

lostontime.blogspot.com

AustinElliott
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by AustinElliott » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:42 pm

NickFaulks wrote:
Gordon Cadden wrote:John Healy was a vagrant
Isn't that racial abuse nowadays?
As the 1824 Vagrancy Act is still on the books in England, I would imagine a lawyer defending you from a libel action could argue that calling someone sleeping rough 'a vagrant' was a strictly factual description and thus carried no imputation of abuse. Whether they would win the argument is a different question... probably one for a lawyer.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Sep 11, 2017 5:11 pm

PeterFarr wrote:Edit: to be serious, if you are unsure about exact usage, then context and intent matters. For example, If you say "oh look there is a colourful gypsy caravan" you are much less likely to be criticized than if you say "you look like a gypsy" when criticizing someone's dress sense.
Strangely, with regards to gypsies, I've not seen anyone use one of the more common terms yet, which is 'travellers'.

Though it can get confusing: Welsh Romani anyone?

Irish Travellers as well.

A bit of an itinerant topic... :wink:

Gordon Cadden
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Re: Chess Behind Bars

Post by Gordon Cadden » Mon Sep 11, 2017 5:47 pm

AustinElliott wrote:
NickFaulks wrote:
Gordon Cadden wrote:John Healy was a vagrant
Isn't that racial abuse nowadays?
As the 1824 Vagrancy Act is still on the books in England, I would imagine a lawyer defending you from a libel action could argue that calling someone sleeping rough 'a vagrant' was a strictly factual description and thus carried no imputation of abuse. Whether they would win the argument is a different question... probably one for a lawyer.
If you had taken the trouble to read " The Grass Arena ", you would see that John Heal
y made it very clear that he occupied a bench at Lincolns Inn Fields. The grass arena was the field at Lincolns Inn.

John was a member of the Hampstead Club for a number of years, after he had achieved fame for his literary works. Not the strong player that he laid claim. No stronger than 140 ECF.

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