San Quentin’s West Block held a chess tournament right before Christmas and there was only one chess king left standing at the end of the 32-contestant entry – Demetrious Mitchell.
“When I play chess, from my perspective, I do not lose,” said Mitchell, 50, after coming out victorious over a very challenging and fierce competitor. “I was still a little nervous playing my opponent, Mr. Mackey. He and I have history. When it comes to the battle of the minds, he’s my arch nemesis.”
The two best chess players in the building are Mitchell and Vincent R. “Osiris” Mackey. They annihilated challengers that sat in front of them, one by one.
“I have a life philosophy: to survive and evolve,” Mackey said. “The rules of the game are few –my king and army against your king and your army, and both kings with their armies are to engage with equal footing on the battleground.”
Their match was determined upon who can win the best out of five. All games were played on equal footing battlegrounds up until the championship. Additionally, a time clock was added to their game, which was a total game changer.
“Having the clock was an added element that Mr. Mackey was not accustomed to, yet he still ended up getting a stalemate and even won the third game,” said Mitchell.
“I congratulate the winner of the tournament, D. I won the chess tournament in West Block for the last 12 years. So, it’s about time somebody dethroned me. And I appreciate the guys who took it upon themselves to host it. It shows that we as the incarcerated can make some positives things happen when we want to. However, it should have been one set of rules set for all, but hey, I tip my hat to the winner. He was the better thinker.
“My passion for the game allows me to truly enjoy it. I have fun, I learn as I play. And I believe that I be in good company. That right there for me is a win within itself,” said Mitchell.
In the novel “Winning Chess Brilliancies,” International chess Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan writes that the reasons a skilled chess player could beat an equally skilled adversary one day and then lose the next day are many. The main factor, he says, is the inspiration they have.
According to Wikipedia, the first game of chess was played over 1,500 years ago in India. From there it traveled through the Middle East after the Muslims conquered India. Then it went on to Europe and after that, the northern parts of the world.
Chess has also been dubbed an “old man’s sport,” even though there are kids as young as toddlers who play. The contestants in West Block’s tournament were all 40 and older.
During the tournament, kings were knocked off of the board and queens were stolen and traded during the battles. Knights, bishops and pawns were at battle while rooks were trying to protect the kings. The more experienced players who know how to use the four pointers outlined in Seirawan’s advanced to higher levels.
The four pointers are:
Time (deployment of pieces)
Force (being ahead or behind in pieces and pawns)
Pawn structure (for determining a plan)
Space (how much of the opponent’s territory a player controls)
The tournament was sponsored by one of West Block’s chess enthusiast’s, B. “Rahseed” Ballard, who wanted the tournament to be recognized as more than just a game of chess.
“I wanted to sponsor something fun for the residents at The Q since the COVID pandemic has come and all but dismantled the extra-curricular activities that happen here in the prison,” said Ballard. He said that he also wanted to do something that would allow people to get to know each other in a fun way that would relieve some of the tension around pandemic issues in the prison.
Ballard and one of his partners donated $25 for the first-place prize. Canteen certificates and bragging rights were given to the final four contestants and the title of “Chess King” was given to the overall champion.
“This is proof that healthy competition can bring all sorts of different people together – even in the hardest times,” said Ballard.
In the matchups, there was no bias or disparities on the checkered battle field. Race or creed was not a factor. Matches were set up through picking names out of a bag.
It is clear when playing chess that those who play the game strategize by trying to out-think their opponents. Dubbed the thinking man’s game by chess enthusiasts, it is apparent that chess exercises and challenges the most important part of the body – the brain.