Odd Sports with Hank Baron: Chess Boxing
On the surface, you would think boxing and chess have little in common. One is designed for the socially inept human being looking to intimidate, subjugate, and publicly humiliate his opponent. The other is boxing. However, you could also argue that these two games (chess is not a sport) were both created with the same intent of safe containment of our inner blood lust (chess as a substitute for war, boxing as a substitute for kicking your ass outside the bar when I find out you left me stuck with a $200 beer tab).
The initial idea for combining these two disparate games came from the 1992 comic book Froid Équateur by French cartoonist Enki Bilal. In 2003, Dutch cartoonist Iepe Rubingh figured this was a fantastic enough idea to bring into the real world.
Thusly, what’s been dubbed the thinking man’s contact sport was born.
Chess Boxing is currently regulated by the World Chess Boxing Organisation, headquartered in Berlin. In 2005, two affiliates were founded (the Chess Boxing Club Berlin and the Bulgarian Chess Boxing Organisation). The London ChessBoxing Club and the German Chessboxing Organisation are also listed on the WBCO site.
How do I play this awesome game?
There are two chessboxers. There’s a referee. There’s a ring, and there’s a chess board. The players alternate between a four minute round of chess (which starts off the game) and a three minute round in the ring, with a minute long break in between chess and boxing. The game can be won early by either a checkmate or a KO. If after eleven rounds the chess game is tied, then the game is decided by points obtain from the boxing match (conversely, if the boxing match is tied the person with the most chess pieces wins the day).
It’s not quite the game I was envisioning from History of the World Part I, but it’s something I guess.
Admirably, this game is being viewed through the lens of anger management and conflict resolution. “Fighting is simply done in the ring where certain fairness rules apply and where there’s a referee,” the site touts. “Wars should be waged on the board, not in reality.” It’s fun to think about this as a method to resolve the whole War on Terror thing with Osama bin Laden, but we’d probably have to catch him first. Bummer.
What would qualify you to become a bona fide chessboxer?
Not a hell of a lot, apparently. There are three requirements:
- You must know how to box
- You must know how to play chess
- You really want to do both at the same time
With its motto (“Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board”), it sounds like some sort of live action RPG—except instead of being played by dudes still living in basements fapping away to fan art of Terra Branford, it’s played by dudes equipped to kill your queen in three moves then rail on you in the ring for hours and hours before breaking a sweat. In an interview with ESPN, Lennox Lewis even had words of praise for this game (which no doubt made the WCBO giddy, who see their ideal card of Vitali Klitschko vs. Lewis that much closer to reality).
According the dots on their map, the sport seems to be taking hold mostly in Europe (with a dot in Japan and two dots in the US… or maybe it’s one dot in the US and another in Mexico… I don’t know, it’s pretty close to Baja).
It’s hard not to think about what could have been if this sport had taken hold in the US decades ago. Perhaps a guy like Mike Tyson with a mind tempered by hours of playing chess wouldn’t have gotten himself into the many jams he’s found himself in. Instead of biting Holyfield’s ear off in mid bout, he may have had a conditioned enough temperament to think his moves through; sneak up on him after the match, then bite his ear off, and pretend it was someone else. Instead of threatening to consume Lennox Lewis’ children for sustenance, he could have said something a little more sophisticated like, “Listen, chappy, I am neither appreciative nor receptive of your antagonizing. I’ll have both your rooks for breakfast, quickly digest them during the break between rounds, then shit ’em all over your face, bitch.”
However, the sad reality is that instead of Punch-Out!, we would have had to tolerate the insipid Mike Tyson’s Battlechess.
Official World Chess Boxing Organisation web site: www.wcbo.org