A couple of years ago, a former coworker at the day job– who also moonlighted as assistant sports editor and sports columnist for a Cebu newspaper, The Freeman– introduced a fairly new hybrid sport to me: Chessboxing. At first I thought he was pulling my leg when he mentioned a sport that combined, quite obviously, chess and boxing– but I did a bit of research and found out that such a sport indeed exists. His revelation prompted me to investigate the sport further and since then I have watched a fair amount of videos with much amusement.
Chess boxing is a hybrid sport which combines boxing with chess in alternating rounds. The sport began when Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh, inspired by fictional depictions by French comic book artist and filmmaker Enki Bilal, organized actual bouts. Chess boxing is now growing in popularity.Participants must be both skilled boxers and chess players, as a match may be won either way.
Structure and rules
A match consists of up to eleven alternating rounds of boxing and chess. The match begins with a four-minute chess round. This is followed by three minutes of boxing, with rounds of chess and boxing alternating until the end. There is a one minute break between rounds. Speed chess is used, a form in which each player has a total of only twelve minutes for the whole game.
Competitors may win by a knockout, achieving a checkmate, by the judges’ decision, or if their opponent’s twelve minutes of chess time is exceeded. If a competitor fails to make a move during the chess round, he is issued a warning and he must move within the next 10 seconds. Repeated warnings may result in a disqualification. The players put on headphones so that they do not hear any shouted assistance from the audience.
The hybrid sport was envisioned in 1992 by cartoonist Enki Bilal, and chess boxing was featured in his graphic novel Froid Équateur. Iepe Rubingh brought the concept to life, fighting himself under the name “Iepe the Joker”. Rubingh felt the method described in the book, a boxing match followed by a chess match, was impractical. He instead decided on alternating rounds of chess and boxing.
A similar concept was featured in the 1991 Finnish film Uuno Turhapuro—herra Helsingin herra, where the hero plays blindfold chess against one person using a hands-free telephone headset while boxing another person. It is not known if Bilal was aware of the movie. There was also a 1979 movie by director Joseph Kuo called “Ninja Checkmate”; the English-dubbed USA version was known as the “Mystery of Chess Boxing”. It does not feature chess boxing, but it is probably the inspiration for the Wu-Tang Clan song “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” on their first album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993). Wu-Tang Clan producer RZA is a fan and advocate of the sport.
The sport is governed by the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO), whose motto is “Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board.” The first world championship was held in Amsterdam in 2003 and was won by Iepe Rubingh. The First European Chess Boxing Championship took place in Berlin on October 1, 2005. Tihomir Atanassov Dovramadjiev of Bulgaria defeated Andreas “D” Schneider of Germany, who conceded in the seventh (chess) round.
Required chess skill
World-class chess-boxers must not only be experienced boxers, but must also be chess masters. For example, Nikolai Sazhin has an Elo rating of around 1900, while European chess boxing champion Tihomir Atanassov Dovramadjiev is a FIDE Master with a rating over 2300 and has won multiple chess competitions.
A couple of videos of the first Chessboxing World Championships:
A report by BBC World on Chessboxing:
I just want to pose a quick question. If you were a practitioner of this sport, and if you were made to choose just one outcome, would you rather lose by checkmate or by knockout?
And no, stalemates and getting punched in the nuts while trailing on the judges’ scorecards are both out of the question.
UPDATE (6/9/10): I recently stumbled upon a column by ESPN’s Rick Reilly about Chessboxing. The piece is actually an excerpt from Reilly’s latest book, “Sports From Hell: My Search For The World’s Dumbest Competition”. An interesting thing to note here is that Reilly’s book has so far rated poorly over at Amazon.com. The readers/reviewers there just find the book, well, unfunny.
Anyway, long story short, Reilly wastes no time and proceeds to bash Chessboxing from pillar to post, just as he does, I assume, the other “sports” that made it to his book, which I have listed below:
1. World Sauna Championships
2. Ferret Legging
3. Bull Poker
4. The Three-Mile Golf Hole
5. Rock Paper Scissors
6. Women’s Pro Football
7. Drinking Games
10. Nude Bicycling
12. Homeless Soccer
Going back to Chessboxing, below is an excerpt of Reilly’s book excerpt (haha).
There is a sport — chess boxing — that sounded just so deliciously dumb I almost didn’t want to know what it really was. I just liked saying it, “Chess boxing.”
Questions poured forth:
1. Was it two guys sitting at a card table in the middle of a boxing ring playing chess? And maybe one of them goes, “Check.” And the other guy looks at the board, scratches his chin, and then just cold- cocks the guy with a roundhouse right, sending him backwards — bishops and queens and mouthpiece flying — and adding, “You sure?”
2. Could a guy cheat in chess boxing? Cornerman: Ref, check his glove! Check his glove! There’s a rook in there!
3. Can you think of two things that have less in common? I know! Let’s combine scuba and baking? Bowling and colonoscopies?
4. The two do have one thing in common: Participants in both disciplines rarely have sex before a match. Of course, chess players don’t have it after, either.
5. Could the ref step in and call it if it’s getting out of hand?
Ref: That’s it! Fight’s over! He just tried to move his knight diagonally! We’re finished here!
The truth, though, was nearly as dumb. Chess boxing involves two combatants alternating six rounds of chess (four minutes) and five of boxing (three) until one of them is either checkmated on the board or knocked out in the ring, or time runs out on the chess clock. In that case, whoever is ahead on the cards of the judges is the winner.
Does that make any sense?
You can read the whole thing here.
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