Chess boxing

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A chess boxing match in Berlin, 2008

Chess boxing or chessboxing is a hybrid sport that combines chess with boxing in alternating rounds. Chess boxing has experienced two phases: one in the late 1970s and another one from the 2000s until the present day. An image of two boxers at a chessboard was made in the late seventies at a boxing club in South London.[1] In 1979, the Hong Kong martial arts film Mystery Of Chessboxing was released.[2] Although there is no published link between the worldwide chessboxing movement that exists nowadays and these two sources from the seventies, a popular track by the Wu-Tang Clan from their Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) shares its name with the Hong Kong film, and brought widespread popularity to the concept.

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", with the original English title, "Ninja Checkmate") When the concept of chess boxing was reintroduced, it was by Iepe Rubingh in Berlin, where it quickly developed a dedicated and enthusiastic following.[3] He founded the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO) in 2003 in Berlin and the first ever chessboxing club in 2005[4] In the following years, chess boxing organisations appeared in more countries. The newest member is the Iranian Chessboxing Organisation ICBO.[5][6] Since 2008, the English television producer Timothy Woolgar and the team of London Chessboxing produce regular international chessboxing tournaments in London. London Chessboxing is the only chessboxing promotion company to have produced competitive events continuously since 2008 and has been the key player in the sport's development since that time. Several chessboxing events have taken place around the world, including in Berlin, Los Angeles, Tokyo,[7] Nantes (France), Reykjavík (Iceland), Amsterdam,[8] Calcutta (India), Krasnoyarsk (Russia) and Moscow (Russia). Participants must be skilled as both boxers and chess players, as a match may be won either way.

Structure and rules[edit]

A full match consists of eleven rounds: six rounds of chess, each three (WCBO) / four (WCBA) minutes long, and five rounds of boxing, each three minutes long (four minutes under amateur rules).[9] 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.[10][11] There is a one-minute break between each round, during which competitors cool out and change gear.[11][12] 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.[11]

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.[10][11] 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.[13]

The players wear closed-back headphones during the chess rounds to avoid being distracted by the live chess commentary, or hearing advice shouted from the audience.[11]


The concept of chess boxing came up by comics artist Enki Bilal, and chessboxing was featured in his graphic novel Froid Équateur.[10] Iepe Rubingh brought the concept to life, fighting under the name "Iepe the Joker".[14] 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.[15]

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. Bilal was not 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.[10]

The sport is governed by two world governing bodies the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO) based in Berlin and the World Chessboxing Association (WCBA) based in London. The WCBO hosted several events since 2003 in cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Munich, Krasnoyarsk (Russia), Kolkata (India), Shiraz (Iran), Moscow and Paris. The WCBO has members in Germany,[16] China,[17] India,[18] Russia,[19] Italy and Iran.[5][6] The WCBA has hosted more than 20 tournaments over 5 years and has a mission to unify international chessboxing organisations under an egalitarian banner.

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".[20] 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 the left: then reigning light heavyweight world champion Nikolay Sazhin from Russia.

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.[21] In the seventh round (chess) Mijatovic realized he was three moves away from being checkmated and resigned.[21][22]


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.[23] That same month, the United Kingdom's first chess boxing club was begun in London by the World ChessBoxing Association'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.[24][25][26] Stoldt resigned in the 5th round (chess) after losing his queen.[25]

In August 2008 the first chessboxing event was held in London at the Bethnal green Working Men's Club, organised by the promotions team of London Chessboxing. The tournament featured a British heavyweight title fight between Tim Woolgar and Stewart Telford, the result was a 9th Round victory by checkmate for Woolgar.

In December 2008 UK based charity "The Chessboxing Organisation" was officially launched with a remit to provide subsidised chessboxing coaching to young people in London and the UK. In the same month London Chessboxing staged its second event.


In April 2009 London Chessboxing staged an event on 23rd April (St George's Day) featuring an epic fight between Germany's Sascha Wandkowsky and Sweden's Konrad Rikkardson. The bout went the full 11 rounds and ended in a narrow victory for Rikkardson by checkmate.

In June 2009 London Chessboxing staged it's fourth event including a headline bout between Wolfram "The Jawbreaker" Von Stauffenberg and England's Andy Costello. The result was an easy win for Costello by checkmate in Round 3. This night also saw the first chessboxing bout contested under amateur rules with 2 minute boxing rounds and with the contstants wearing headguards and singlets. This was the final event staged at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club.

September 5th 2009 saw the first London Chessboxing event to be staged at The Boston Dome, an historic amateur boxing venue in north London.

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.[27]

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.[27]

On December 5th London Chessboxing staged its second event at The Boston Dome, with sponsorship from the fledgling Canadian T-Shirt company "Shakh-Matt". Although Shakh-Matt soon disappeared, the event attracted interest from the Canadian Media in particular the Toronto Globe and Mail whose reporter Elizabeth Renzetti covered the event in detail. The report formed the inspiration for David Bitton's documentary film "The King's Discipline", currently in production.


Chessboxing continued to grow in London during 2010 with four more events being held there. English Chessboxing founder Tim Woolgar won against heavyweight Hubert van Melik of the Netherlands.


2011 saw London continue to grow as the major world 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 major events venue in England to host Chessboxing. This venue saw the first USA V Europe chessboxing bout as a 900 strong crowd watched Hubert Van Melik defeat American Andrew McGregor to claim the inaugural WCBA world title and the "Botvinnik Belt". This event also hosted the first recorded women's Chessboxing fight between Ruthie "Pink MAchine" Wright and Sophie "Red" Dexter.

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 London, 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.

In June 2012 Andy Costello was back in action in London, this time in a contest against Gianluca Sirci from Italy. Costello secured a checkmate victory in Round 8.

July 2012 saw the first titled chess grandmaster compete in Chessboxing. Arik Braun took part in a Berlin event and emerged victorious.

In August 2012 London Chessboxing staged a sell-out event in the historic Royal Albert Hall. The tournament was produced in partnership with the Royal Albert Hall Events division and was staged in a unique space underneath the Albert Hall proper which had not been opened to the public before. An exclusive audience of 500 people paid up £150 per head to witness the show which was streamed live on the internet (the first chessboxing show to be live-streamed)via the website . The event was notable for an enthralling 11-round contest between two City of London bankers Sean Mooney and Bryan Woon to decide the inaugural WCBA "Banker's Belt" trophy. The contest was decided in Mooney's favour by time penalty in Round 11. The Royal Albert Hall event also so a high-quality encounter between Jose Sanchez Amen from Costa Rica and Armenia's Dymer Agasaryan for the WCBA World Lightweight Title which Agasaryan won on points following a draw by three-fold repetition on the chessboard.

In September London Chessboxing staged another event at the Scala, Kings Cross which was also live-streamd on the internet gaining an audience of some 100,000 viewers for the three hour show.

December 2012 also saw Jose Sanchez Amen return to the ring in London in a WCBA world-title eliminator against Russia's Ravil Galiakhmetov. A thrilling contest was decided in the Russian's favour by a TKO in round 9. This event also saw the debut of the Siberian chessboxing organisation's President Vladimir Makarov in a middleweight contest against Spain's Daniel Lizarraga, a duel which Lizarraga won by TKO.


March 2013 saw the opening of the chessboxing season in London with a well supported event at Scala, Kings Cross, by now widely acknowledged as the most important venue for chessboxing worldwide.

In 2013, Chess Boxing Global, the official sports marketing agency for Chessboxing, founded by Iepe Rubingh, hosted the first professional Chessboxing World Championships in Moscow, Russia. The event took place in the Izvestia Hall on November 28. The event included 3 world championship fights in 3 weight divisions: middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. [28] [29] [30]

The first fight was between the German Sven Rooch and the Spaniard Jonatan Rodriguez Vega. After two mistakes, Jonatan Rodriguez Vega put his King down and Sven Rooch won the fight in the 7th round.

In the second fight, the Belarussian Leonid Chernobaev and the Indian Tripathi Shailesh converged in the ring and on the board. The fight was won by Leonid Chernobaev after a technical knockout.

The fight for the heavyweight title was between the Russian Nikolay Sazhin and the Italian Gianluca Sirci. Nikolay Sazhin became World Champion after the put down of the king by Gianluca Sirci.

Required chess skill[edit]

World-class chess-boxers must not only be experienced boxers, but must also be at least Class A strength as chess players.[31] 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.[31][32] Arik Braun, the strongest chess player to have competed in Chessboxing, is a grandmaster rated 2556 by FIDE.[33]


The first feature-length documentary about chessboxing is 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 successful kickstarter campaign took place between June 12-July 17, 2013 and raised over US$35k for the production.[34]


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