Over the Christmas period, I managed to catch up on far too much prime time television. One programme I stumbled across was Russell Howard’s Good News, a show designed so the British public can feel better about themselves over some light humour and ridiculous news stories. However, in the episode I came across, there was a feature on a relatively new, and extremely odd, sport that had cropped up in the past decade. This sport was chess boxing.
Founded by Dutchman Iepe Rubingh in 2003, chess boxing is pretty self-explanatory; two opponents go head to head in a battle of mind and body over six rounds of speed chess, followed by five rounds of boxing, the rounds amounting to three minutes each and alternating until the end of the match. There are several ways of winning a chess boxing battle – these include if a competitor knocks out his or her opponent during the boxing aspect of the match, by scoring a checkmate, or even through the opposition’s resignation at any point in the rounds.
So far, so mind-boggling. The combination of these two very opposing activities is an odd concoction; boxing’s overt aggression and focus on physical finesse would seem to most people to be at odds with chess’ relative calm, self-restraint and emphasis on one’s mental aptitude. However, it does seem to be rather popular despite this odd fusion, with two main worldwide governing bodies dealing with the rapidly increasing interest in the sport; the first, started in 2003 and headed up by Rubingh, is the World Chess Boxing Organisation, which is affiliated with the Chess Boxing Club Berlin and the Bulgarian Chess Boxing Organisation.
The second body to help with the acceleration of the sport’s popularity is the World Chess Boxing Association; founded in 2013 and with headquarters in London, its President, Tim Woolgar, was the heavyweight chess boxing UK champion. It is currently affiliated with the respective UK, Russian, Spanish and Italian organisations.
A sport open to men and women, Russell Howard’s programme featured Kath Dodson, who was proclaimed the world’s first female chess boxing champion in 2011. Whilst boxing itself is arguably a male dominated realm, it is great to see such a variety of women participating in this clash of physical strength, as well mental capability, in the chess boxing sphere. The current male World Champion is Nikolay ‘the chairman’ Sazhin of Russia; one can only guess how he earned his rather dubious nickname.
Although I must admit I did have a bit of laugh at the concept of boxing and chess being fused together in a marriage of mind and body, and the ridiculous image that was conjured up, it appears that chess boxing has even become popular at universities within the UK; Newcastle University has got in on the act, and in April of last year, the Newcastle University Chess Society hosted a Charity Chess Boxing Gala in aid of numerous charities, including that of the Chess Boxing Organisation.
With that in mind, and alongside the start of the new year, if you fancy getting involved in a innovative, weird and wonderful sport, then maybe the glamorous world of chess boxing might be just for you.