Mikhail Korenman came floating back into town recently through the airwaves, a brief feature (August 10) on National Public Radio. Korenman teaches chess at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, where a team of his students had recently competed in the first international chess tournament for inmates online. Teams of prison or jail inmates in seven nations participated: Russia, Brazil, Armenia, Belarus, Italy, England, and Cook County, U.S.A.
International chess competition among prison inmates via Internet links, in a sanctioned tournament, came as a surprise. Korenman’s involvement did not.
Before Chicago, Korenman, a Russian (Ph.D., K-State), was a chemistry professor at Bethany College, and a passionate chess grandmaster with global connections. By the late ’90s and early 2000’s, Korenman had begun to bring international chess competition to Lindsborg, including tournaments with hefty prizes. (In July 2004, 14 year-old Daniel Ludwig won a $50,000 scholarship to the University of Maryland-Baltimore at the U.S. Junior Invitational. Lindsborg also was host that month for the Kansas Open and the U.S. Junior Open.)
Korenman’s enthusiasm and connections in the chess community brought European champions to exhibit their skills and to compete in Lindsborg. In December 2004, the Lindsborg Open welcomed chess grand masters from Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Swedish Chess champion Eugene Agrest and his wife, Svetlana, an international grand master. They were among 37 of the world’s best chess players in the tournament Dec. 17-23. Alex Moiseenko, Ukraine, and Ildar Ibragimov, formerly of Kasan, Russia, tied for first place.
National intercollegiate championships were decided here. There were several appearances by seven-time world champion Anatoly Karpov, and four-time women’s champion Susan Polgar, and a highly publicized match between the two, in 2004. Karpov, who had several international chess schools, would establish his only U.S. School in Lindsborg.
Korenman’s friendship with Karpov was crucial for an invitation that brought former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to Lindsborg in 2005, and to endorse Karpov’s global initiative, “Chess for Peace.”
Korenman and his wife, Tamara, moved a decade ago to Chicago, where he is president of a consulting company, and where he has been teaching chess – daily classes, 120 to 130 enrolled – at the Cook County Jail since 2012.
“I think for this population (inmates), chess is very important,” Korenman told NPR’s Sacha Pfeiffer. It’s not just a game of chess, he told her, it’s to teach inmates life skills, how to think carefully and to calculate and plan accordingly.
“The tournament we just completed gave them an opportunity to be part of the big world,” he said, “and even they are in the prison today, but one day they will be out, and they know that they can be connected with any country around the world.”
Korenman’s team finished 5th, but won three matches and forged one tie with a Romanian team. After the tournament, he said, an inmate told him that he felt terrible that he had lost a game.
“And I told him, no, you should be proud of yourself that you were selected, that you played in the very first tournament. It’s never been done before. It’s just a hope to have more tournaments like this in the future.”
Senate race is
ho-hum, for now
So far we seem to have a limp lineup of Republican and Democratic candidates to succeed Pat Roberts, 82, who will retire from the U.S. Senate after four 6-year terms there; he also served 16 years in the U.S. House. When Roberts leaves there will be many tributes.
A U.S. Senate race in Kansas with no Republican incumbent is a rare opportunity for Democrats, but the party appears to be unenthused, aimless. Four candidates include former Congresswoman Nancy Boyda and U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom; they may have notable résumés but they are mostly unknown and for now, unheard.
Republicans have burped up Kris Kobach, the party’s un-hooded Grand Wizard, and Susan Wagle, the venomous Kansas Senate President, both cut from the same sprout of hemlock. Four other Republicans, aspiring but frail, are trolling for support among conservative ranks.
Derek Schmidt, the state’s three-term attorney general, has said nothing about running. An earlier supposition making the rounds depended on Kobach’s becoming governor; Roberts would resign early, and Kobach would appoint Schmidt to the Senate so he could run in 2020 as an incumbent. Laura Kelly squelched that one by becoming governor. Since then, Schmidt has waffled, worried that if he ran, his record of carrying Sam Brownback’s holy water and ignoring Kobach’s criminality would be magnified by the Democrats.
And then there is Mike Pompeo, the Kochs’ prized step son and Trump’s proud Secretary of State (for now). Pompeo can have the Republican nomination if he wants it. He has plenty of time; the filing deadline is June 1.