Not convinced that chess should be considered a sport? Chess boxing is here to change your mind.
If you’ve been under the impression that chess is a game for cerebral folks without much interest in the physical side of things, you may be surprised to learn about chess boxing. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a hybrid fighting sport/board game where competitors face off in alternate rounds of chess and boxing.
To someone who hasn’t heard of the sport before, it can sound like a ridiculous idea. It certainly seems like an imaginary sport that someone dreamed up in order to combine the two most unlikely activities, and in some ways, it is. Chess boxing encompasses both the macho, aggressive world of professional boxing and the quiet, calculating world of professional chess. The result is a fusion that is both very like and very different from the two sports from which it takes its name. In chess boxing, as in so many things, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
What is Chess Boxing and How Does it Work?
Chess boxing is a sport that was initially thought up by the Dutch performance artist Iepe Rubingh. Though it was initially thought to be nothing more than a zany performance art installation, the concept quickly caught on. Now, Rubingh is the president of the World Chess Boxing Organization, and the sport is gaining a wider and wider following.
One chessboxing fight consists of 11 different rounds, each lasting 3 minutes. The match begins and ends with a round of chess, and in between they alternate between chess and boxing. The transition time between rounds usually lasts about 60 seconds, making the total length of a single chessboxing match roughly 45 minutes. The chess game lasts a total of 18 minutes, giving each player 9 minutes in which to make their moves. Between each round, the current chess position is digitally recorded in order to recreate the position with perfect accuracy once the chess game resumes, after the boxing round is finished.
The Rules of Chess Boxing
The rules of chess boxing are essentially the same as the rules of chess and boxing respectively, with a few more added in to smooth out the whole process. There are several different ways to secure a win in either type of round, including knockout, technical knockout, checkmate, opponent exceeding time limit, opponent disqualification, or opponent resignation.
If none of these things happen during regulation time, the winner will be determined by who has secured more points in the chess game. If both players are tied in chess points, the competitor with more boxing points is declared the winner of the chess boxing bout. If both players are absolutely head to head in both chess points and boxing points, the fighter using the Black chess pieces will be declared the winner, though no match has ever been so close as that.
Just like regular boxing, chess boxing also has weight classes that ensure fighters are always going up against someone more or less their own size. They are as follows:
Men (17 years+)
● Lightweight: max. 154.324 lbs
● Middleweight: max. 176.37 lbs
● Light heavyweight: max. 198.416 lbs
● Heavyweight: 198.416+ lbs
Women (17 years+)
● Lightweight: max. 121.254 lbs
● Middleweight: max. 143.3 lbs
● Light heavyweight: max. 165.347 lbs
● Heavyweight: 165.347+ lbs
Organizers are also particular about who may participate in chess boxing competition – not just anyone can hop in the ring. At current standards, each competitor must have an ELO rating of at least 1600 and also a record of at least 50 bouts of boxing or a similar martial art. The requirements are strict, and not just anyone off the street will be able to meet them – you have to train long and hard just to make it in the door, let alone win your matches once you’re there.
Training for Chess Boxing Success
Chess boxing success relies on a specific set of skills that is not usually acquired through the course of everyday life. Sure, people may acquire these skills individually – it’s common to work on your chess game or become a good boxer, but combining them both requires an entirely different mentality. Playing a game of speed chess while physically exhausted in between rounds of a strenuous activity that involves your opponent trying to punch you in the head repeatedly is not something that most people are prepared for.
In order to get prepared, athletes follow a specialized chess boxing training program with their coaches. This usually involves playing through 18 minute games of speed chess while also doing strenuous cardio or strength exercises in between moves. Repeating this process day in and day out allows players to adapt to the rhythm of a chess boxing match, and it helps them more fluidly switch between activities without missing a beat.
Where is Chess Boxing Popular?
Since the game originated in the Netherlands, it has gained popularity mostly there and in nearby European countries like Germany, Russia, Italy, Bulgaria, and Belarus. Interest in the sport is quickly spreading, though, and chess boxing leagues have begun to pop up in all sorts of places like London, New York, and other cities all around the world. In recent years, chess boxing mania has swept over countries like India, Finland, China, Iran, and others.
The first chess boxing championship tournament took place in Amsterdam in 2003. The Dutch Boxing Association and the Dutch Chess Federation both lended their support to help the event go off without a hitch. The world championship fight took place between Jean Louis Veenstra, and the inventor of the sport himself, Iepe Rubingh. Veenstra exceeded the chess time limit in the 11th round, making Rubingh the first official chess boxing champion – an apt title for the man who started the phenomenon.
In 2005, the European Chess Boxing Championship match was held in Berlin. Andreas Dilschneider faced off against Tihomir Atanassov Dovramadjiev, but he resigned in the 7th round, a chess round, making Dovramadjiev the first European Chess Boxing Champion. Dilschneider would go on to have a successful career in the business, however. Although he has retired from competition, he is currently a chess boxing commentator.
In 2006, chess boxing had its biggest event to that date, with over 800 spectators coming to Cologne to watch the world championship fight between Zoran Mijatovic and Frank Stoldt. Mijatovic resigned in the 7th round, making Stoldt the world champion as well as a fan favorite. Frank Stoldt was 37 years old at the time of his world championship win, and a former UN peacekeeper in Kosovo and Afghanistan. His success in the sport as a German fighter helped to solidify Berlin’s place at the center of the chessboxing world. The rest of Stoldt’s matches drew similarly sized crowds, and the popularity of chess boxing continued to grow.
Final Thoughts on Chess Boxing
Chess boxing is, in many ways, the ultimate activity. It combines the best of both worlds – a cerebral past time where you have to be smart and calculating to get the best of your opponent, and a brutal sport where you need to be quick and aggressive to secure the win. It requires both brains and brawn, and any chess boxing champion is sure to be a master of both.