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St. Louis County inmates find that chess, much like life, forces them to look a move ahead

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There are about 950 inmates being held at the county jail, and the pandemic has resulted in less recreational time. But many of them know how to play chess. Justice center director Doug Burris organized the tournament as a way to motivate the inmates, he said.

“When people think about prisons, they think about guys lifting weights, but we want to stimulate their minds,” Burris said. “Their minds are what’s going to keep them from coming back.”

Williams helped organize the rules of the tournament, and brackets were set up for the players.

“We’ve got some real serious chess players,” corrections guard Mario Reed said. “It helps them relieve stress, do something positive. They can come show what they can do.”

Gary Greer, 31, a St. Louis native, learned to play as a child from his grandfather, and he grew up playing with his two brothers.

Chess, like life, shows “the weakest and the strongest,” said Greer, who’s been charged with assault. “It’s about how you think through a situation and who is there to protect you.”

Jeffery Gautreaux, who fidgets in his seat and frequently bursts into laughter as he talks to a reporter, said chess helps calm him.

“It really takes you away from yourself,” said Gautreaux, 41. “It’s very therapeutic. There’s lots of balance involved, and lots of camaraderie.”