No, that’s not a misprint – there really is a sport called chess boxing. A challenge of both brains and brawn, this hybrid sport consists of 11 alternating rounds; six of chess and five of boxing. Each round is four minutes long, and the match can be won by either checkmate or knockout – whichever comes first – with a points decision made in the event of a tie. Therein lies the catch: how well can you maintain your grandmaster technique after a pummelling in the ring just a minute earlier? Equally, how well can you dodge a swift left hook when you’re still pondering that fiendish Bishop’s Gambit from the previous round?
This crazy concoction is the brainchild of French artist Enki Bilal, first featuring in his 1992 graphic novel Froid Equateur. Dutchman Iepe Rubingh, also an artist, was inspired by Bilal’s award-winning comic and brought the cartoon creation to life. Rubingh is now the World Chess Boxing President, and despite its seemingly odd match-up of logic and loggerheads the sport is growing in popularity. With large followings in Berlin and London, events have also taken place in Japan, India and the USA.
The World Chess Boxing Organisation, whose slogan is ‘The smartest, toughest (wo)man on the planet’, held the first world championship in Amsterdam in 2003, where creator Rubingh claimed the title, dubbing himself ‘Iepe the Joker’. More and more tournaments have been held since, with increasing standards every year. Serious competitors must now not only be experienced fighters, but be Class A strength chess players. 2012 saw the first titled chess grandmaster competing, the suitably named Arik Braun, who also emerged victorious.
Chess boxing is also making a name as a spectator sport, with some events gathering crowds of thousands. The boxing rounds inspire the usual furore within the masses, while the competitors are forced to wear earmuffs so as not to overhear the intense commentary for the chess sections. So, when chess boxing is introduced to the Rio Olympics, remember – you heard it here first!
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