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Chess boxing or chessboxing is a hybrid fighting sport that combines the two traditional sports, chess and boxing. The competitors fight in alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Chessboxing was invented by Dutch performance artist, Iepe Rubingh. What was initially only thought to be an art performance quickly turned into a fully developed competitive sport. Chessboxing is particularly popular in Germany, Great Britain, India and Russia.
- 1 History
- 2 Rules
- 3 Particular requirements and training
- 4 Champions
- 5 Major organisations
- 6 Documentary
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Rubingh’s idea to create a new sport fusing the two disciplines, chess and boxing, originates from the 1992 comic Froid Équateur—written by French comic book artist Enki Bilal (born Enes Bilalović)—that portrays a chessboxing world championship. In the comic book version however, the opponents fight an entire boxing match before they face each other in a game of chess. Finding this to be impractical, Rubingh developed the idea further until it turned into the competitive sport that chessboxing is today with alternating rounds of chess and boxing and a detailed set of rules and regulations. An earlier version of combining chess and boxing was said to have taken place in a boxing club outside of London in the late 1970s. The Robinson brothers were in the habit of playing a round of chess against one another after a training session at their boxing club. However, no direct correlation can be made between the Robinson brothers’ chess playing and chessboxing. The same goes for the Kung-Fu movie Mystery of Chessboxing (1979) as well as the Wu-Tang Clan's song "Da Mystery of Chessboxing" (1993).
The early years
The first chessboxing competition took place in Berlin in 2003. That same year, the first world championship fight was held in Amsterdam in cooperation with the Dutch Boxing Association as well as the Dutch Chess Federation and under the auspices of the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO) that was founded in Berlin shortly before. Dutch middleweight fighters Iepe Rubingh and Jean Louis Veenstra faced each other in the ring. After his opponent exceeded the chess time limit, Rubingh won the fight in the 11th round going down in the history books as the first ever World Chess Boxing Champion. The same goes for the Chess Boxing Club Berlin, created in the following year (2004), that is the first of its kind making Berlin the birthplace of chessboxing.
2005–2008: the first champions
Two years after the first world championship, the first European Chess Boxing Championship took place in Berlin on October 1, 2005. Present day chessboxing commentator Andreas Dilschneider was defeated by Tihomir Atanassov Dovramadjiev when he resigned in the 7th round (chess), crowning the latter the first European Chess Boxing Champion. In 2006, more than 800 spectators filled the Gloria Theatre in Cologne for the world championship qualification fight between Zoran Mijatovic and Frank Stoldt. The 37-year-old Frank Stoldt, former UN-Peacekeeper in Kosovo and Afghanistan, won when his opponent resigned in chess in the 7th round. After qualifying himself to fight for the title in 2006, Frank Stoldt went up against the American David Depto in November 2007 in Berlin, to fight for the first world championship title in the light heavyweight division. More than 800 tickets were sold for the event at the Tape Club in Berlin and made it the biggest chessboxing title fights by then. Frank Stoldt defeated Depto in the 7th round, and thereby cemented Berlin’s status as the leading city in the chessboxing world becoming the first German world champion.
2008–2011: the chessboxing family grows
Chessboxing first received credit from the international Chess Federation FIDE, in April 2008; its president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, took part in a chessboxing demo fight in Elista. At the same time, the chessboxing community began to grow globally at an even faster rate. In 2008, chessboxing clubs were founded in London and Krasnoyarsk. Created in 2009, the Los Angeles Chessboxing Club was the first of its kind in the United States and was directly followed by the New York Chessboxing Club in 2010. The Boxwerk in Munich also opened in 2010 and offers chessboxing training. In addition to the WCBO’s initially European and then later world championships taking place worldwide, the scene at the London Chessboxing Club grew where chessboxing events take place on a regular basis. In 2011, the first international club matchup took place with Berlin and London in the ring—London came out the winner with 2:1 won bouts.
2011–2014: chess boxing turns professional and goes worldwide
In 2011, the WCBO and with it the global chessboxing community made the biggest leap forward in its development to date with the foundation of the Chessboxing Organisation of India and its expansion in Asia, including also Chessboxing China and the Chessboxing Organisation of Iran which were founded in 2012. Furthermore, the third chessboxing organisation in the United States, USA Chessboxing, was founded in 2011 and the European movement was being reinforced by the foundation of the Italian Chessboxing Federation in 2012. What's more, the professionalisation of chessboxing started to take shape in the second decade of the 21st century. In addition to the WCBO that became a registered association under German law in 2014, the Chess Boxing Global Marketing CBGM GmbH—called Chess Boxing Global, CBG—was founded, that as of May 2013, is responsible for organising all of the professional chessboxing fights worldwide and above all, for the organisation of the Chess Boxing World Championships.
The Chess Boxing Organisation India was founded in 2011 by kickboxing official and former Indian kickboxing and karate champion Montu Das. With this, the growth of chessboxing in Asia gained momentum with the first Chess Boxing Organisation in Western Asia already being built in the following year by another experienced official in the kickboxing world: Fereydoun Pouya started the Chess Boxing Organisation Iran.
At the same time, the process of turning chessboxing professional reached a milestone: The 2013 World Championship in Moscow was the first chessboxing event organised and marketed by Chess Boxing Global. With three world championship fights in one night, more than 1200 spectators and a standard of fighting never seen before, the first CBG event set new standards in the history of chessboxing with Leonid Chernobaev leading the way. He has been able to make a name for himself with more than 15 years of chess playing experience and in the boxing world, as Marco Huck's and Yoan Pablo Hernández’ sparring partner and having fought over 200 amateur bouts. He won the light heavyweight title against Indian fighter Shailesh Tripathi after a technical knockout in the 8th round (boxing). Sven Rooch secured his title in the middleweight class division winning against Jonatan Rodriguez Vega after the Spaniard resigned in the 7th round (chess) and Russian Nikolay Sazhin won the heavyweight title against Gianluca Sirci by checkmate. Thus, Sazhin (Heavyweight), Chernobaev (Light heavyweight) and Rooch (Middleweight) would all go down in Chess Boxing history as the first Chess Boxing Global World Champions. They are also the first professional world champions in chessboxing ever.
In terms of its development into a mass sport, there was much success in 2013 and early 2014 for the chessboxing world. There were more competitors in the second and third Indian Championships in summer 2013 and early 2014 than in any chessboxing events ever before, with more than 245 fighters varying in both age and weight class, taking place in Salem and Jodhpur, respectively. Furthermore, the chessboxing community in London—under the command of London Chessboxing and the WCBA—has continued to grow constantly since 2011 and by now stages chessboxing events for 800 or more spectators on a regular basis 4–5 times a year at the Scala, King's Cross.
2015: Chessboxing today
Chessboxing events in 2015 were produced by London Chessboxing under the WCBA—two events at Scala, King's Cross in London. The second event in June 2015, The Grandmaster Bash!, saw the British, European and IBF light welterweight world champion Terry Marsh fight and defeat Dymer Agasaryan. Terry Marsh (57) is the first professional boxer to compete in Chessboxing and has competed in 3 fights since June 2014 in London and still remains unbeaten in his career. The fight was one of the most compelling to watch as it went the distance, normal time ending in stalemate. After a deciding round of boxing Terry Marsh was awarded victory on points.
How a chessboxing fight works
A chessboxing fight consists of 11 rounds, 6 rounds of chess and 5 rounds of boxing. Chess and boxing rounds alternate, beginning and ending with a round of chess. Each round lasts three minutes, regardless of whether it involves chess or boxing. The total amount of chess playing time is 18 minutes, making it 9 minutes each player. After each chess round, the exact setup is digitally recorded and then repositioned before the following chess round. The breaks in between the chess and boxing rounds usually last 60 seconds. The duration of the rounds and overall fight time in amateur chessboxing fights can change to some degree, as in for example youth tournaments and exhibition fights.
In a chessboxing match, a competitor may win in regulation time by any of the following:
- Knockout (boxing rounds)
- Technical Knockout (boxing rounds)
- Checkmate (chess rounds)
- Exceeding of the time limit by the opponent (chess rounds)
- Disqualification of his opponent by the referee e.g. due to inactivity due to overextended playing time (chess or boxing rounds following multiple warnings)
- Opponent resigns (chess or boxing rounds)
In the case that neither of the chessboxers win in regulation time and the chess game ends in a draw, the fighter who is ahead on boxing points wins the chessboxing bout. In case the scoreboard is also tied, the fighter that used the black chess pieces will be named the winner. This has not yet occurred in practice.
Currently, the following weight classes apply to professional chessboxing events of Chess Boxing Global (as of October 2014):
Men (17 years+)
- Lightweight: max. 70 kg
- Middleweight: max. 80 kg
- Light heavyweight: max. 90 kg
- Heavyweight: 90+ kg
Women (17 years+)
- Lightweight: max. 55 kg
- Middleweight: max. 65 kg
- Light heavyweight: max. 75 kg
- Heavyweight: 75+ kg
For amateur and youth chessboxing bouts under the flag of the WCBO weight classes are graduated in 5-kilo-steps. In exception event hosts can classify into 10-kilo-steps.
Particular requirements and training
A chessboxer must have strong skills in both chess and boxing in order to be permitted to compete in a professional chessboxing fight. The current minimum requirements to fight in a Chess Boxing Global event include an Elo rating of 1600 and a record of at least 50 amateur bouts fought in boxing or another similar martial arts. One deciding factor in chessboxing is that the fighters have to mainly train in speed chess, seeing as the requirements in speed chess are different than those in a classical game of chess. However, chessboxing is not only the ability to master both sports but above all, being able to withstand the constant switch from a full contact sport to a thinking sport, round after round. After three minutes of boxing, pulses are racing, yet the opponents have to face each other at the chessboard barely having taken a break, and have to then perform with calm and think tactically. This switch becomes increasingly hard for the athlete as the fight goes on and he becomes tired.
In order to train these skills, a specialised chessboxing training is used, in which physical interval training forms are combined with blitz or speed chess games. Thereby the fighters adapt the rhythm of a chessboxing bout. For instance exercises like "track chess" and "stair chess" in which training partners will play an 18-minute game of speed chess over six rounds with intensive running exercises in between e.g. 400m sprints or stair sprints. Other common methods of training combine speed chess games with strength exercises such as push-ups. The classic chessboxing training is a box sparring combined with a game of speed chess.
Between 2003–2013, the chessboxing world championships were organised by the WCBO. As of 2013, they take the form of professional events under the auspices of Chess Boxing Global.
- 2003: Iepe Rubingh Netherlands - Middleweight, in Amsterdam against Jean Louis Veenstra Netherlands 
- 2007: Frank Stoldt Germany – Light heavyweight, in Berlin against David Depto United States 
- 2008: Nikolay Sazhin Russia – Light heavyweight, in Berlin against Frank Stoldt Germany 
- 2009: Leonid Chernobaev Belarus – Light heavyweight, in Krasnoyarsk against Nikolay Sazhin Russia 
- 2005: Tihomir Dovramadjiev Bulgaria – Light heavyweight, in Berlin against Andreas Dilschneider Germany 
- 2010: Gianluca Sirci Italy – Heavyweight, in London against Andrew Costello United Kingdom
CBG (starting 2013)
- 2013: Nikolay Sazhin Russia – Heavyweight, in Moscow against Gianluca Sirci Italy
- 2013: Leonid Chernobaev Belarus – Light heavyweight, in Moscow against Shaliesh Tripathi India
- 2013: Sven Rooch Germany – Middleweight, in Moscow against Jonathan Rodriguez Vega Spain
World Chess Boxing Organisation
The World Chess Boxing Organisation e.V. (WCBO) is the leading umbrella organisation for international amateur chessboxing. It is based in Berlin, Germany and legally recognized as a non-profit organisation by the German Government. Iepe Rubingh founded the World Chess Boxing Organisation directly after the first chessboxing fight in 2003. Its goal was, and still is, to establish the WCBO as the worldwide organisation for the sport of chessboxing. The WCBO’s aim is to collect and link all of the active chessboxing clubs worldwide under one roof. It was legally recognised as a registered association by Berlin’s district court in 2014. The WCBO was the official organizer of the chessboxing world championships until it recognised Chess Boxing Global, in accordance with its statute, as the exclusive marketing agent for professional chessboxing fights, in 2013. Since then, the WCBO has been focusing on the organisation of the mass sport chessboxing and its further development. Chessboxing inventor and WCBO founder Iepe Rubingh, is also the current chairman. The first honorary member became Comic book artist Enki Bilal, whose comic provided the inspiration behind the invention of chessboxing.
WCBO member associations
- Chessboxing Club Berlin (CBCB)
- Chessboxing Organisation of India (CBOI)
- Chessboxing Organisation of Iran (CBOIR)
- Italian Chessboxing Federation (FISP)
- China Chessboxing (CBCN)
- USA Chessboxing
- Russian Chessboxing Organisation
World Chess Boxing Association
The World Chessboxing Association (WCBA) is a legally recognized umbrella organisation for chessboxing. It was founded in 2013 and is based in London, England. English heavyweight chessboxing champion, Tim Woolgar, is its current president. The World Chessboxing Association originated from the London Chessboxing Club after having separated from the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO). It was founded by Tim Woolgar in 2013 in order to accelerate the development of chessboxing. WBCO champions are also managed and recognised by the WCBA.
- UK Chessboxing Association
- Russian Chessboxing Organisation
- Italian Chessboxing Federation
- Spanish Chessboxing Association
London Chessboxing is a brand under which the sport of chessboxing has been promoted since 2008 in London, United Kingdom. Although the sport has been practiced in London since 1978, the home of Chessboxing in London today is Islington Boxing Club where London Chessboxing host regular training sessions.
The first ever Chessboxing event hosted in the UK under the brand was at Bethnal Green Working Men's club in Hackney by Tim Woolgar on the 15th of August 2008. Other notable venues include Chelsea Old Town Hall, The Grange Hotel in St Pauls and the Royal Albert Hall. Presently their events are hosted at Scala, King’s Cross, London and York Hall, London.
Chess Boxing Global
Chess Boxing Global (CBG) is a marketing agency responsible for professional chessboxing fights and all commercial activities affiliated with the sport of chessboxing. It is officially the only marketing agency for professional chessboxing recognised by the WCBO and takes on assignments such as organizing world championships for and marketing the profiles of professional athletes. Shortly after being founded by Iepe Rubingh in Berlin in 2013, CBG gained attention thanks to Enki Bilal auctioning off one of his paintings in Paris on February 23, 2013. The auctioned painting, that shows an artistic depiction of a chessboxer, was able to generate 174,000 Euro for CBG. The first world championship under the auspices of Chess Boxing Global took place in Moskow, Russia in 2013 before 1200 spectators. Professional athletes from all over the world fight each other under the slogan, “A quest for the smartest and toughest man on the planet.”
Current champions (as of October 2014)
- Featherweight: Greg Foakes United States
- Middleweight: Sven Rooch Germany
- Light heavyweight: Leonid Chernobaev Belarus
- Heavyweight: Nikolay Sazhin Russia
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.
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