Chess boxing is a hybrid sport that combines chess with boxing in alternating rounds. The sport was seen for the first time at a boxing club in South London,1 after being conceived by siblings James and Stewart Robinson, both keen amateur boxers and club chessplayers. Their original chessboxing club lasted for four years and its members witnessed the release of the influential 1979 Hong Kong martial arts film, "The Mystery Of Chessboxing" 2 ("Shuang ma lian huan" original English title "Ninja Checkmate" )
Chessboxing continued to appeal to the imagination of artists including the French graphic artist and filmmaker Enki Bilal in his comic book Froid Équateur in 1992, and formed the central track "Da Mystery of Chessboxin" on the seminal 1993 Hip-Hop album "Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers)" by the Wu-Tang Clan. The performance artist known as The Joker Iepe Rubingh also staged a live demonstration in 2003.
The modern sport of Chessboxing developed initially in Berlin by Iepe Rubingh and was then established in London by television producer Timothy Woolgar in 2008 where it quickly developed a dedicated and enthusiastic following. London, under the promotional team of London Chessboxing hosts regular chessboxing tournaments and has became established as the global epicentre from which the popularity of the sport has spread. Several chessboxing events have taken place around the world, including in Los Angeles, Tokyo,3 Nantes (France), Reykjavík (Iceland), Amsterdam,4 Calcutta (India) and Krasnoyarsk (Russia). Participants must be skilled as both boxers and chess players, as a match may be won either way.
A full match consists of eleven rounds: six rounds of chess, each four minutes long, and five rounds of boxing, each three minutes long (four minutes under amateur rules).5 The match begins with a chess round which is followed by a boxing round. Rounds of chess and boxing alternate until the end of the match.67 There is a one-minute break between each round, during which competitors cool out and change gear.78 Rules of fast chess are used, and a competitor only has a total of twelve minutes to use for all his chess moves. Player's chess time is measured using a chess clock.7
A competitor may win the match during a boxing round by knockout or a technical stoppage by the referee, by achieving a checkmate or if the opponent's twelve minutes run out during a chess round, or by the opponent's resignation at any point.67 If the chess game reaches a stalemate, the scores from the boxing rounds are used to determine the winner. If the boxing score (calculated on a round-by-round basis) is also a draw, the outcome is declared as a tie.
If a competitor fails to make a move during the chess round, he can be issued a warning after which he must make a legal move within the next 10 seconds or become disqualified. Repeated warnings may also result in a disqualification. The warnings are in use to avoid situations where a competitor would stall a losing chess game and focus his activity only on boxing.9
The hybrid sport was envisioned in 1978 by amateur boxers and club chessplayers James and Stewart Robinson at the Samuel Montagu Boys Club in Kidbrooke, South London. The club achieved a short celebrity status, making headlines in the local media of the day. It's not know if the emergence of the first London Chessboxing club influenced the retitling of the 1979 Kung Fu film "Ninja Checkmate" which was released in English as "The Mystery Of Chessboxing." Later the concept was picked up by comics artist Enki Bilal, and chessboxing was featured in his graphic novel Froid Équateur.6 Iepe Rubingh brought the concept to life, fighting under the name "Iepe the Joker".10 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.11
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 American 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.6
The sport is governed by two world governing bodies the The World Chessboxing Association (WCBA) based in London and World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO). The WCBA has hosted more than 20 tournaments over 5 years and has a mission to unify international chessboxing organisations under an egalitarian banner. After several years of inactivity The WCBO is aiming to relaunch itself with the motto "The smartest toughest (wo)man on the planet."
The first exhibition of chessboxing in front of an audience of art lovers was staged in Amsterdam in 2003 between "Iepe the Joker" and "Louis the Lawyer".12 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.
On April 21, 2006, 400 spectators paid to watch two chess boxing matches in the Gloria Theatre, Cologne. Zoran "the Priest" Mijatovic opened with the Queen's Gambit. Zoran's opponent, a 37-year-old former UN Peacekeeper named Frank "Anti Terror" Stoldt, was well prepared and dominated in both the chess and the boxing rounds.13 In the seventh round (chess) Mijatovic realized he was three moves away from being checkmated and resigned.1314
In April 2008, the World Chess Federation FIDE posted a video on its website showing its president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, playing a friendly chess boxing match in Elista.15 That same month, the United Kingdom's first chess boxing club was begun in London by the Great Britain Chess Boxing Organization's founder Tim Woolgar.
In July 2008 in Berlin, a 19-year-old Russian mathematics student Nikolai Sazhin won the "World Champion" title in chess boxing by defeating Frank Stoldt.161718 Stoldt resigned in the 5th round (chess) after losing his queen.17
On November 28, 2009 the light heavyweight world championship bout took place between chess boxers Nikolay "The Chairman" Sazhin and Leo "Granit" Kraft, at the Ivan Yargin Palace of Sport in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, before a crowd of 2000. Sazhin, a native of Krasnoyarsk, had previous amateur boxing experience, having fought in 95 previous bouts (winning 85), and possessed a chess Elo rating of 2005; however, he had recently suffered an injury to his knee. His opponent, Kraft, was four years younger (at 17 years of age); he was born in Gomel, Belarus, but was representing the German Chess Boxing Organisation. Although younger, Kraft had fought in 50 amateur boxing fights (with a record of 45 wins), and had an Elo rating of 1997.19
The fight opened with the Grünfeld Defence, and was followed by the first boxing round, which was largely dominated by the younger Kraft. The return to the chessboard in the third round saw Kraft castling early, and the resulting play saw Kraft having to defend his king. Sazhin continued in the subsequent boxing round, taking the upper hand in the fight. However, once they returned to the chess board, Sazhin used up too much time attacking Kraft's king. Thus by round eight Sazhin was forced to win by knockout or lose on the board. He failed to do so, and on returning to the chess board, Sazhin resigned the match.19
2011 saw London emerge as a force in international Chessboxing. Svein Clouston won an inaugural Scottish middleweight title in Tufnell Park in March. London Chessboxing experienced success by defeating a Berlin select by two bouts to one at a Chessboxing challenge match in Germany. The Scala in Kings Cross became the first nightclub venue in England to host Chessboxing. At 900 strong crowd watched Hubert Van Melik defeat American Andrew McGregor in the 2nd round. This event also hosted the first recorded women's Chessboxing fight.
The Indian Chessboxing Organisation was founded in 2011 and staged its first event in Kolkata in November.
Nikolay Sazhin who had by now moved up to the Heavyweight division took on former Mixed Martial Arts fighter and experienced Chessboxer Andy 'The Rock' Costello in Siberia. Sazhin won a chess victory in front of his home supporters.
Nikolay Sazhin faced Andy 'The Rock' Costello again, in March at the Scala in Kings Cross. Costello who held the white pieces opened with a King's Indian Attack. However he failed to find an initiative and quickly fell into a passive position. Despite a determined effort by Costello who dominated the boxing rounds. Sazhin withstood the assault and a capacity crowd saw him win in the final round of chess. The evening also saw Mike Botteley winning a rematch against Chris 'The General' Levy, their second bout. German Tim Bendfeldt defeated Hungarian Atilla Por by TKO in their undercard match on the same bill.
World-class chess-boxers must not only be experienced boxers, but must also be at least Class A strength as chess players.20 For example, Nikolai Sazhin has an Elo rating of around 1900, roughly corresponding to high Class A or low expert level, while European chess boxing champion Tihomir Atanassov Dovramadjiev is a FIDE Master with a rating over 2300 and has won multiple chess competitions.2021 Arik Braun, the strongest chess player to have competed in Chessboxing, is a grandmaster rated 2556 by FIDE.22
The first feature-length documentary about chessboxing is currently in production, entitled "Chessboxing: The King's Discipline." The film follows the development of the sport over a span of 3 years as the promoters in Berlin, London and Los Angeles each attempt to bring their differing visions for the sport to a mainstream audience. At the same time the film explores the various critiques of the sport put forth by members of the chess and boxing communities, while also seeking to understand the potential social impact of a never-before-seen mental/physical sporting combination such as this.
The project is completely independent, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaker David Bitton under the banner of his Anonymous Pineapple Productions. A kickstarter campaign was launched on June 12, 2013, in order to raise the funds needed to complete post-production on the film.23
The documentary is expected to be completed in the 1st quarter of 2014.
- The Tokyo Fight
- 1st Chess Boxing World Championship
- http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/greenwich/9933055.Chessboxing___the_bizarre_craze_that_started_in_a_Kidbrooke_youth_club/. Missing or empty
- Calhoun, Ada (2008-07-10). "Chess-Boxing Hits it Big". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "Highlights of the 2008 World Chess Boxing Championships". secondsout YouTube channel. 23 July 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- "Chesboxing". World Chess Boxing Organization homepage. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- "What is ChessBoxing?". London ChessBoxing. Archived from the original on 2008-08-22. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- James, Kyle (April 19, 2006). "Chess-Boxing Combines Brawn and Brains in One Event". National Public Radio. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- McGroarty, Patrick (2008-07-17). "New sport combines boxing and chess". Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- van Melick, Simon (2003-12-05). "Chess Boxing World Championship". Chessbase. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
- Mahoney, Donny. "Da Mystery of Schachboxen:Ringside at the Chess Fights". Mongrel (21). Retrieved 2008-07-15.
- "Special:Chess Boxing". SportsCenter. 2007-05-07. ESPN.
- "Kirsan Ilyumzhinov As A Chess Boxer!". FIDE. 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2008-07-18.
- Bouvier, Arnaud (2008-07-07). "Chess boxers slug it out". Melbourne, Australia: The Age. Retrieved 2008-07-18.dead link
- "Nikolay Sazhin is the New World Champion". World Chess Boxing Organisation (press release). Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "Chessboxing World Championship 2008 in Berlin". ChessBase (press release). 2008-07-03. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "Youngest Chessboxing Champion Ever". World Chess Boxing Organisation. 2009. Retrieved 9 January 2010.
- Chalk, Andy (2008-07-07). "World Chess Boxing Champion Crowned". The Escapist. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- "Chessboxing on ESPN, Playboy and Maxim". ChessBase. 2006-06-27. Retrieved 2008-07-21.
- Arik Braun rating card at FIDE
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chess boxing.|
- The official WCBO site
- The official Chess Boxing Club Berlin site
- Official UK site
- The official Siberian Chess Boxing Organisation site
- The official Chess Boxing Organisation of India site
- Chessboxing site
- Chessboxing video
- The official Great Britain Chessboxing Organisation site
- A review of chessboxing training classes in London
- A photographic account of London Chessboxing clubs matches since 2009.
- Interview with Iepe Rubingh
- The official site of Anonymous Pineapple Productions
- Kickstarter campaign page for Chessboxing: The King's Discipline