Chess boxing is for the brainy and brawny.
by Patrick W. Gavin
Hybrid sports are nothing new. We’ve long accepted the biathlon’s combination of skiing with, well, shooting at things. And then there are those marathon runners who also make sure that they can simultaneously carry a waiter’s tray for 26.2 miles. Heck, even in kindergarten, they had us spinning our heads on baseball bats only to then make us run–no zigzag–100 yards with crossed-eyes. And besides: Isn’t diving just a matter of sprinkling a dash of gymnastics on the tried-and-true art of the cannonball?
Into this long, proud history of cross-pollinating sports enters “chess boxing,” a sport gaining popularity in Europe that seems to rest on the premise that board games are always more interesting when there’s some shit-kicking involved.
The sport combines–you guessed it–chess and boxing, and participants alternate between six, four-minute long rounds of chess and five, two-minute rounds of boxing. You win with either a knockout in the ring or a checkmate on the board (the World Chess Boxing Organization’s motto is “Fighting is Done in the Ring, Wars Are Waged on the Board”). If after 11 rounds there are no knockouts or checkmates, a judge will decide the match based solely on the participants’ boxing performance.
Not surprisingly, inspiration for this seemingly silly concept has equally silly roots: A man nicknamed “The Joker”–Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh–brought chess boxing to life in 2003 after seeing the concept in a comic book. Three years later, the number of actual chess boxing participants has grown but still remains low, if only because one could search for days before finding an actual bicep at the local chess club (similarly, you might be hard pressed to find a brain cell at your local boxing gym). Still, the WCBO has staged a handful of events, including its first world championship in Amsterdam in 2003 and the first European Chess Boxing Championship in Berlin last October. The WCBO is eager to expand its reach to Tokyo, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“Playing chess, by itself, can be seen as boring,” says Andreas Dilschneider, spokesperson for the WCBO. “There’s little possibility of putting it on television and introducing chess to a wider audience.”
Ah, but sprinkle a little blood on those chess boards and voila! You’ve got yourself a marketable “Fear Factor”-like recipe for success.
But, would the reverse also be true? If boxing makes an admittedly spectator-unfriendly sport more interesting, wouldn’t chess ruin the excitement of boxing? Dilschneider seems to think that the melding of brains and brawn isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem, and he’s quick to cite such boxers as Lennox Lewis and Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko who are also chess aficionados.
“There are parallels in both sports,” Dilschneider says. “In both chess and boxing, you can work a position for 20 to 30 moves, and if you make one small mistake and lose your attention for just a second, everything can be over.”