A Checkmate is as Good as a Knockout

In the Harry Potter books, characters take part in an invented semi-contact sport named Quidditch. Rabid Harry Potter fans who couldn’t get enough of that make-believe world, took it upon themselves to make the fictional game into a real thing. Similarly, Chessboxing is an actual sporting event that, like Quidditch, began as an invention of the literary world, later brought to life by enthusiastic oddballs.

Never heard of Chessboxing? It's pretty much what it sounds like: a mash-up of toe-to-toe stand-up boxing with head-to-head sit down chess. Chessboxing rules, as laid out by the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO), are pretty straightforward, although due to the complexity of each activities own regulations, there is room allowed for on the spot judgement.

The action switches off between a round of chess play, followed by a round of boxing; with a match consisting of 11 three minute rounds, beginning and ending with chess. In between rounds there is a minute break, in which the opponents’ corners can give counsel on boxing, but may not advise on chess. 

World Chess Boxing Organisation

World Chess Boxing Organisation

The chess play is essentially a version of fast chess with a total of 18 minutes; 9 minutes per player spread out over six rounds. Each contestant gets “an adequate amount of time” for each move, determined by the event rules, and any player who exceeds this time will subsequently be given a standing ten count to move a piece or risk disqualification.

A Chessboxer can win by knockout, technical knockout, checkmate, time disqualification or if the opponent resigns.

The idea behind Chessboxing was first introduced as a plot device for a late 20th century French post-apocalyptic sci-fi graphic novel, titled Froid Equator. The comic, created by Enki Bilal in 1992, featured a chessboxing tournament as a major part of the story. Later, the Dutch performance artist, Iepe Rubingh, inspired by the idea, developed the concept of chessboxing into an actual exhibition sporting event. 

Some may also attribute the invention of chessboxing to two brothers from London, James and Stewart Robinson, who, in the late 1970’s, would reportedly enjoy a chess match after sparring together at their boxing gym. Strictly speaking though, that is participating in two activities consecutively and not actually combining those activities in competition.

The first official Chessboxing match took place in Berlin in 2003 between Rubingh and Jean Louis Veenstra, with Rubingh winning by time disqualification. In the next year the Chess Boxing Club Berlin was established, the world’s first, ultimately marking Berlin as essentially the de facto birthplace of Chessboxing.

While the sweet science and the game of queens are certainly strange bedfellows, there's no denying that in each pursuit the master will calculate each attack carefully and avoid opening themselves up for bold counter moves. Conversely, the rookie is compelled to advance with abandon up and until they have to eat a power punch or lose a vital piece. Of course, success as a boxer and/or chess player takes an honest balance of offense and defense. Success in Chessboxing absolutely requires a mastery of controlled aggression.

There is also an interesting dynamic created by marrying the two disciplines since pumped up adrenaline and exhaustion are not a good mix when trying to concentrate. Therefore conserving energy becomes paramount strategy in order to keep one’s head clear, especially in the later rounds when chess play gets more intense and requires focus.

Chessboxing’s certainly not for everybody, but if you love a good game of chess as much as you enjoy sparring, it’s possible you may be cut out as a potential contender. Likewise, if you like riding brooms and playing polo, then perhaps you may love Quidditch.

Posted on May 12, 2016 .