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Chess Boxing – A Sport That Sprang To Life From the Pages Of A Comic Book

A war sport between brain and brawn.

Image: Illustration of Chess Boxing Sport via Shutterstock

You have no doubt heard of the two sports, chess and boxing. But did you know that the two words put together are the name of a third, unusual, hardly-known sport called Chess Boxing?

As the name suggests, Chess Boxing is a combination of the best of two sports – Chess and Boxing. But how does it work? One is a board game and the other a combat sport; how can the two be merged in one sport? Well, chess boxing comprises alternate rounds of chess and boxing.

The catch to this sport is that it requires intellectual competence and efficient combat abilities—a case of brain versus brawn. The rules and aims of the chessboxing championships are decided by WCBO, which stands for the World Chess Boxing Organization. The motto of the WCBO is “Fighting is done in the ring, and wars are waged on the board”.

Now who came up with this unique idea for a sport?

The concept was first introduced through a Hong Kong Kung Fu film, The Mystery of Chess Boxing, a 1979 movie directed by Joseph Kuo. The movie is about a young boy who seeks to avenge his father’s death and is taught chess boxing kung fu by an experienced master.

Years later, a French comic book writer and artist called Enki Bilal published a sci-fi graphic novel trilogy called The Nikopol Trilogy in 1992. In the final chapter of this trilogy titled the Froid Équateur, Bilal featured a chess boxing championship. But that didn’t make it a sport. Almost a decade later, another performance artist-slash-athlete Iepe Rubingh, inspired by Enki Bilal’s work, decided to make it a real sport. And that’s how the chess boxing sport was born.

Image: Chess Boxing, a sport that was conceptualized in a 1990’s comic book via Shutterstock

But guess what? Rubingh is not too unfamiliar to us. He is not just the founder of chess boxing. He was also one of the on-set chess consultants for the popular ongoing Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit that we all love. And the show is even dedicated to him.

Coming back to chess boxing, the sport is slowly making its way around the globe. But it is particularly active in India, Germany, United Kingdom and Russia. India’s Chess Boxing Organization was founded in 2011 by karate champion Montu Das. Other countries that are a part of the WCBO are China and Iran. India saw a rise in chess boxing events in the years 2013 and 2014, with the greatest number of contests concentrated in Salem and Jodhpur.

In Enki Bilal’s graphic novel version of chess boxing, the participants of a chess boxing match fight each other in a boxing competition first and then, as if to prove further, they finish it off with a game of chess. But if you think of it, would your brains even work after getting knocked out in a fierce boxing round? That would be one dizzying game of chess, I tell you. Stars everywhere. Maybe Rubingh had the same thought because he found the idea impractical, and he tweaked the rules a bit and made it alternating rounds of chess and boxing, each with their own set of rules.

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The first chess boxing championship

The first-ever competition of the sport happened in Berlin in 2003, making Berlin the birthplace of the sport. But the first chess boxing championship was held in Amsterdam under the regulations of the WCBO that was founded after the Berlin competition in 2003. The championship was kicked off with a battle of fists and brain between Iepe Rubingh, the founder and Jean Louis Veenstra. And the person we were rooting for, the founder of the sport, Iepe Rubingh, won and his name was written down to be the First World Chess Boxing Champion in the world.

Image: A Chess Boxing Match in Berlin, Germany via Shutterstock

From there, chessboxing clubs were started, training was given to chess boxing aspirants, and chess boxing matches began to be held in places around Europe. The rules of chessboxing are pretty simple (to understand). A chessboxing match ends, or rather, ends in victory when one opponent is knocked out in the boxing match or when an opponent places a checkmate move. Chessboxing games can also be timed, with each round ending within the specified time, and the player with the most number of knockouts and checkmates wins. Players can win from knockouts or checkmates.

The players are given headphones to help them focus without giving in to distractions and also to prevent them from hearing advice from the audience.

A major requirement for this sport is that the player must be skillfully competent in chess and boxing. The players need to be trained in speed chess and mandatorily require an Elo rating of 1600 to participate in a global championship. An Elo rating is a method of measuring the skill level of a player in a game of chess. The players also need to be brilliant at switching between tasks; they need to switch quickly from a hot-blooded game of boxing to a calm and concentrated chess game. I would probably lose because I wouldn’t be able to focus on a game of chess after being hit. The game becomes increasingly hard when the opponents have to switch back and forth, round after round, from a physically exhausting boxing match and then switch without a break to chess, which quite obviously will become mentally exhausting too after a while. These chess boxing champions are remarkable, I must say. They deserve gold medals for their effort. And they are no ordinary human beings.

Image: Chess Boxing, a sport combining Chess and Boxing via Shutterstock

Chessboxing matches in India usually consist of five rounds for amateurs and 11 rounds at national or global levels. So out of the five rounds, the first round will be chess, second round boxing, third round chess, and the chain goes on. The third round is the hardest as it becomes difficult to think after a game of boxing that has sent your blood pressure pumping with a frenzy. It makes it hard to remember chess moves. But the positive effects of this game are that it helps a person gain overall confidence in the fact that they are physically and mentally strong.

The game is actually quite interesting and is a subject of interest for scientists regarding how physical-mental coordination increases through playing this sport. It helps you make fast decisions and helps you to focus on two things at a time.

From a sport of humble origins from literature and movies, this hybrid blending of fist and brain is being considered to be included as a sport for the Olympics. As you read, somewhere in the world, a WCBO organization is deciding the fate of this sport. Fingers crossed! Let us hope that this spectacular game makes it to the Olympics!

Written By

A stargazer with a penchant for words and chocolates. A fan of Greek lore and dystopian novels.

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