Ever watched a boxing match and thought to yourself, ‘I just wish the fighters would take a break and play some chess’? Us too! Well, we’re all in luck. Welcome the phenomenon that is chessboxing. By Dan Frost
Life is full of combinations that seem strange at first but, for whatever reason, work when you put them together: ham and pineapple; Sam Taylor Wood and Aaron Johnson; the Tories and the Lib Dems.
Ok, maybe they don’t all work that well. The point is, harmony can sometimes be found between the unlikeliest of partners. And in sporting terms, this principle is best demonstrated by chessboxing.
No doubt some of you are currently experiencing a WTF moment. So allow us to explain.
Chessboxing, as the name suggests, is a hybrid sport that combines chess and boxing – yes, seriously. Over the course of 11 rounds, competitors alternate between a battle of brawn in the ring and a battle of brains at the chessboard – they bash each other to bits for three minutes, then sit down and try to corner each other’s kings for four minutes, before hopping back up for another three minutes in the ring and so on.
Using the rules of ‘fast chess’, they only have a total of 12 minutes to make all of their moves, so even the less physical sections become fast-paced nail-biting contests. As for deciding on a winner, it can either be through checkmate, knockout or a player running out of time in his chess moves. And if none of these happen, it comes down to points from the ring.
So how, you ask, can someone be expected to think clearly about chess strategy having just spent the past few minutes being thumped in the head?
“That’s where the training comes in,” says British chessboxing founder and reigning British heavyweight champion Tim Woolgar. “Your body chemistry changes during the course of strenuous physical activity, and your emotions get wrought up in the course of a fight. So the ability to do all of that and still retain the faculty to think clearly and make plans and carry them through is really tested, but that’s part of the enjoyment of the sport.”
Traditionalists might scoff at the idea of this bizarre mutant entertainment being a sport in its own right. But however you classify it, its growing popularity is increasingly hard to ignore.
Chessboxing was invented on the continent in the early 90s. But it was the involvement of Woolgar and the founding of Britain’s first chessboxing club in 2007 that really lit the fuse for what we have now.
From the first event, in 2008 at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, UK chessboxing has steadily increased its audience. In March, 1,200 people packed into The Scala in King’s Cross to see former world champion Nikolay ‘The Siberian Express’ Sazhin take on Andy ‘The Rock’ Costello. And this Wednesday chessboxing will make its Albert Hall debut (ok, a smaller space beneath the main hall, but still the Albert Hall).
But perhaps you’re still not convinced. It’s a pretty odd pairing after all…or is it?
“There’s a strategic and thinking element to boxing that everyone acknowledges – you quite often hear a boxing match described as being like a chess game,” says Woolgar. “But perhaps the most important thing that really synergises the two sports in my mind is that they are both absolutely a gladiatorial arena.
“Both are battles, and each is an emotional struggle. With boxing, you have to have that willingness to go and deal with another person, and enjoy it. In the same way, a chess player enjoys that duel.”
So there you have it: chessboxing isn’t such a strange combination after all. If anything the two sports are a natural fit. In this age of coalition, it’s good to see that some partnerships are destined to stand the test of time.
Chessboxing, October 10, Royal Albert Hall. www.royalalberthall.com
For more information on chessboxing in London, visit www.londonchessboxing.com