Inside The Surreal World Of Chess Boxing

The hybrid sport of chess boxing combines the mental game of chess with the physicality of boxing.

Fighters participate in alternate rounds that switch between chess and boxing. It is a sport that is growing in popularity but what is it all about?

An action shot of a chess boxing exhibition
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What Is It?

Chess boxing is exactly what it claims to be – a merging of the intellectual elements of chess and the physical demands of boxing.

The sport takes the two extremes of  endurance and blends them together to determine who can prevail in a battle of the mind and body.

It was initially developed by Dutch performance artist Iepe Rubingh although there are also unofficial reports that brothers James and Stewart Robinson invented the sport back in 1979.

Both Robinson brothers were avid chess players that were also classed as amateur boxers.

However, many credit Rubingh for the modern adaptation of the sport that was inspired by the 1992 comic Froid Equateur, written by artist Enki Bilal, with the first competition taking place in Berlin in 2003.

The World Chess Boxing Organisation was formed a short time after and the sport has never looked back.

Since then other organisations such as the World Chess Boxing Association have been established to help the sport expand.

How Do They Win?

Both fighters shaking hands before a Chess Boxing match
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There are several ways that fighters can win a chess boxing fight.

During the chess phase of the fight a winner can be decided through a check mate or by a fighter exceeding the time limit. During the boxing phase, a winner can be determined through a KO or referee decision.

It is also possible for a fighter to win in both the chess and boxing phases by the opponent retiring.

In the instance where the chess phase ends in a stalemate, the opponent with the highest score from the boxing rounds will be confirmed as the winner.

If the points are level then the player in possession of the black pieces in the chess rounds will win.

In Which Countries Is It Most Popular?

The popularity of chess boxing has grown rapidly over the past 14 years since its inception.

This increase in popularity has been particularly prevalent across Europe. Its birthplace of Germany is one of the countries that has seen chess boxing flourish the most in recent years.

Chess boxing has also thrived in Great Britain, India, and Russia. This can be attributed to a large number of the sport’s biggest names hailing from those countries.

Chess and boxing also boast wide participation levels in their own right in those countries. So, it makes absolute sense that a hybrid sport combining the two would also become popular there.

What Training Is Required?

A fighter training for Chess Boxing
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Due to being a hybrid sport, chess boxing requires participants to become masters of both sports involved. Intense practice of both sports is needed.

It is a rule within the sport that participants must be accomplished to a certain standard in both disciplines if they wish to participate in an official competition.

Participants must meet a minimum requirement for both chess and boxing to take part in a Chess Boxing Global event, with an Elo rating of at least 1600 and a record of at least 50 bouts in boxing or an equivalent martial arts discipline.

Fighters are required to switch between the complex thinking of chess and the brute physicality of boxing during a fight. This means that training must mimic the intense pressure fighters endure during these fights.

A standard chess board and it's pieces

Fighters must train to be able to focus their thought process with an increased heart rate and with the adrenaline pumping when at the chess board. They must also practice switching from a resting position into a boxing bout at a fast pace.

Specialized chess boxing training can also be used. Interval training is widely relied upon and speed chess games are often used during training to replicate the conditions of a chess boxing fight.

Instead of boxing between periods of speed chess, the fighters are put through their paces in a series of intense physical exercises.

Some competitors do still keep their training old school though, with a simple format of box sparring merged with speed chess.

Do Punters Bet on It?

Unfortunately, betting on chess boxing is not easily accessible. This is particularly disappointing given how strong the betting markets for chess and boxing in their own right have become.

Boxing is one of the major betting markets in sports betting. As the sport of chess boxing continues to evolve, it seems only a matter of time before it is offered more commonly across the sports betting markets.

Who Are the Most Famous Chess Boxers?

A photo of Nikolay Sazhin, a famous Chess Boxer
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Chess boxers might not be household names like other sporting greats such as Michael Jordan, Pele, or Usain Bolt but there are some that have reached new level of fame within the sport.

If you even have a loose interest in chess boxing then you will certainly have heard of a couple of these fighters.

Fighters such as Russia’s former WBCO world champion Nikolay “The Chairman” Sazhin, Bulgaria’s current WBCO European champion Tihomir “Tigertad” Titschko, and the UK’s very own GBCBO UK champion Tim Woolgar have become famous enough to have their own dedicated Wikipedia pages.

Could it only be a matter of time before we see Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor going toe-to-toe once more but in another sporting arena?

What Other Hybrid Sports Are There?

A photo of two Chess Boxers in action

Chess boxing is not the first hybrid sport to be invented. Golf has provided the basis for a couple of hybrid sports.

Footgolf and frisbee golf have both become popular with football and frisbee players over the past decade.

Biathlon is arguably the most famous hybrid sport, combining shooting with cross-country skiing.

Other examples of hybrid sports include equestrian vaulting, octopush (underwater hockey), polocrosse (polo and lacrosse), and joggling (juggling and running).

Who knows what hybrid sports we could see in the future? Cricket golf? Ten pin baseball? Maybe one day.