Big House – Big Heart

Benjamin Franklin on Chess Ethics

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This article was prepared for the November 3, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In the Nation’s Service?

Although Princeton University senior Ian Prevost does not describe his

first chess-playing trip to the state prison as frightening, his

mother, who lives in Princeton, was much less sanguine. "I was

terribly nervous," she says. "I prayed all day long."

Ian Prevost says the Trenton State Prison was very different from the

Hollywood version of the Big House. "I really didn’t know what to

expect, but it was less intimidating because it wasn’t as bad as in

the movies," he claims. "You could drive in a gate, and go through a

door. You went through a metal detector and then another door. You

showed your pass and went through another door, and you were inside

the prison. The tournament is held in the gym."

Before his first visit, he admits, "It was a mystery how the inmates

were going to be. But they seemed like normal people. A lot of them

had committed gang-related crimes in their teens and 20s and were

serving long prison terms, life or 20 years." One inmate asked how

Prevost how old he was, and said that he had been younger than that

when he entered the prison.

On his second visit, the inmates presented him with a wooden chess

set, engraved, that they had made in woodshop.

Prevost, who is majoring in computer science, began playing when he

was in sixth grade. "It was his total passion from age 11 to age 20,"

says his mother, Carol, an administrator at Princeton University. His

father teaches civil engineering at Princeton, and they have an older

son who is in law school and a daughter who is at Stanford. Ian is

majoring in computer science and worked as an intern at BeneCard last

summer.

Prevost had a coach, John Edwards, starting in middle school, and even

in middle school Prevost was helping out at elementary school chess

clubs. He continues teaching at several grade schools, including

Riverside, his own alma mater. "Now I play online and with the chess

club at Princeton, a few hours a week, though I used to play more," he

says.

He has represented the university’ chess club at the Princeton-State

Prison match three times. On each visit he played up to 20 games

simultaneously. "I tend to get engrossed in the position and not

notice what is going on," he says. "Simultaneous play can be quite

difficult, and even if I spend five minutes per move on each game, it

is easier when the games are played one after another."

For the three visits he has lost two games and given up four draws.

"The third time I performed rather poorly," says Prevost, in the

humble lingo of "a man of proper pride," as set forth by Ben Franklin

(see, page 52).

The prisoners, says Prevost, have learned by trial and error rather

than through chess books. "It does not make them better players but it

can make them more difficult to play against because they have an

unorthodox style."

Chess is a different way of thinking, says Prevost. "Everything is

much clearer in chess than in life. If you play your position right,

you know what the outcome is going to be, whereas in life that is not

always true."

– Barbara Fox

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Big House – Big Heart

Most people who volunteer in prison represent religious organizations.

Stan Kephart, for instance, has been visiting federal prisons since

1986. The coordinating chaplain for Christian Science institutional

activity in New Jersey, he is also an artist and graphic designer at

U.S. 1 Newspaper.

Going from cell to cell, Kephart distributes literature and talks with

people at the New Jersey State Prison and the Central Reception and

Assignment Facility in Trenton. He also visits each of the other

facilities at least once a month.

Kephart says that, through prayer and reading, inmates have been

healed from such conditions as bleeding ulcers, migraine headaches,

depression, and back problems. "Beyond that is the assurance that they

gain from an understanding of God," he says. "One man saw clearly the

possibilities of redemption and restoration, demonstrating it by

cleaning his cell, even the walls."

One of the more unusual volunteer opportunities might be to tutor

inmates in the Stock Market Game, a 10-week simulation of Wall Street

trading conducted by Securities Industry Associated, under the

auspices of the New Jersey Council on Economic Education, Kean College

of New Jersey. Devon Brown, corrections commissioner, had worked with

this game in Maryland and brought it to New Jersey.

The most recent game, from October to December 2003, featured more

than 740 teams made up of juvenile and adult offenders, students in

public schools, college students, and corporate employees. Prison

participants have access only to printed materials, not to computers

or online information. Yet the team from the Garden State Youth

Correctional Facility in Yardville scored the eighth highest gross of

all competing teams. Sixteen of the 61 New Jersey Department of

Correction teams that participated made a profit or nearly broke even.

Currently the Stock Market Game meetings are conducted by paid staff

members, but prospective volunteers could sign up with the education

department by calling 609-292-1510. For other volunteer opportunities,

call the particular institution.

New Jersey State Prison, near Waterfront Park, Box 861, Trenton,

08625. 609-292-9700.

Central Reception and Assignment Facility and Jones Farm, Box 7450,

Trenton, 08625. 609-984-6000.

Garden State Youth Correctional Facility, Box 11401, Yardville, 08620.

609-298-6300.

Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility, Box 500 Bordentown,

08505. 609-298-0500.

Mid-State Correctional Facility, Wrightstown. 609-723-4221 or

609-989-6901.

Top Of Page
Benjamin Franklin on Chess Ethics

The game of Chess is not merely an idle amusement; for life is a kind

of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or

adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of

good and ill events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence,

or the want of it. By playing at Chess then, we may learn:

Foresight, which looks a little into futurity, and considers the

consequences that may attend an action; for it is continually

occurring to the player, "If I move this Piece, what will be the

advantage or disadvantage of my new situation? What use can my

adversary make of it to annoy me?

Circumspection, which surveys the whole Chess-board, or scene of

action: – the relation of the several Pieces, and their situations;

the dangers they are repeatedly exposed to; the several possibilities

of their aiding each other; the probabilities that the adversary may

make this or that move, and attack this or that Piece; and what

different means can be used to avoid his stroke, or turn its

consequences against him.

Caution, not to make our moves too hastily. This habit is best

acquired by observing strictly the laws of the game; such as, if you

touch a Piece, you must move it somewhere; if you set it down, you

must let it stand.

Therefore, it would be the better way to observe these rules, as the

game becomes thereby more the image of human life, and particularly of

war; in which if you have incautiously put yourself into a bad and

dangerous position, you cannot obtain your enemy’s leave to withdraw

your troops, and place them more securely, but you must abide by all

the consequences of your rashness.

And lastly, We learn by Chess the habit of not being discouraged by

present bad appearances in the state of our affairs; the habit of

hoping for a favourable chance, and that of persevering in the search

of resources. The game is so full of events, there is such a variety

of turns in it, the fortune of it is so subject to vicissitudes, and

one so frequently, after contemplation, discovers the means of

extricating one’s self from a supposed insurmountable difficulty, that

one is encouraged to finish the contest, in hopes of victory from our

skill; or, at least, from the negligence of our adversary.

Every circumstance that may increase the pleasure of it should be

regarded.

If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or

express any uneasiness at his delay; not even by looking at your

watch, or taking up a book to read: you should not sing, nor whistle,

nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your fingers

on the table, nor do anything that may distract his attention: for all

these displease, and they do not prove your skill in playing, but your

craftiness and your rudeness.

You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary by

pretending to have made bad moves; and saying you have now lost the

game, in order to make him secure and careless, and inattentive to

your schemes; for this is fraud and deceit, not skill in the game of

Chess.

You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or

insulting expressions, nor show too much of the pleasure you feel; but

endeavour to console your adversary, and make him less dissatisfied

with himself by every kind and civil expression that may be used with

truth; such as, you understand the game better than I, but you are a

little inattentive, or, you play too fast; or, you had the best of the

game, but something happened to divert your thoughts, and that turned

it in my favour.

If you are a spectator, while others play, observe the most perfect

silence: for if you give advice, you offend both the parties.

Lastly, If the game is not to be played rigorously, then moderate your

desire of victory.

Snatch not eagerly at every advantage offered by his unskilfulness or

inattention; but point out to him kindly, that by such a move he

places or leaves a Piece en prise unsupported; that by another, he

will put his King into a dangerous situation.

When a vanquished player is guilty of an untruth to cover his

disgrace, as "I have not played so long, – his method of opening the

game confused me, – the men were of an unusual size," and all such

apologies, (to call them no worse) must lower him in a wise person’s

eyes, both as a man and a Chess-player; and who will not suspect that

he who shelters himself under such untruths in trifling matters, is no

very sturdy moralist in things of greater consequence, where his fame

and honour are at stake? A man of proper pride would scorn to account

for his being beaten by one of these excuses, even were it true;

because they have all so much the appearance, at the moment, of being

untrue.


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