What’s the Deal with Chess Boxing?

Pitched as the “ultimate sport”, chess
boxing is – depending on who you ask – either a seamless blend of the cerebral and the physical
or a joke that got kinda out of hand… Formally invented in the early 2000s, chess
boxing is the brainchild of a Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh who has since recognised the
appeal of chess boxing as a spectator sport and worked towards legitimising it as an athletic
pursuit. First though, for anyone unfamiliar with the
sport, chess boxing is described simply by one of the governing bodies of the sport as
“11 alternating 3 minute rounds of chess and boxing”. As per the rules, a traditional chess boxing
bout begins with a round of chess (specifically speed chess where turn times are limited)
which is then immediately followed by a 3 minute round of boxing. Chess boxers are given only limited time to
compose themselves between rounds, during which time the chess board is moved either
from or into the centre of the ring. Victory in chess boxing can be achieved via
either a checkmate, one’s opponent exceeding the time limit on their chess clock, or knockout
and if a bout happens to go the full 11 rounds, it will be scored like a traditional boxing
match. This said, points can be deducted from a player
for doing things like stalling for time during the chess rounds which could cost them the
win if the fight does go to a judge’s decision. In addition, victory can be achieved by stoppage,
technical knockout, or the disqualification of an opponent. As you might expect, chess boxers must wear
boxing gloves during the boxing portions of a chess boxing bout, one or both of which
can be removed for comfort’s sake during chess rounds to make moving pieces easier. Further, to maintain the purity of the one-on-one
nature of chess boxing bouts, during chess rounds chess boxers are required to wear headphones
to prevent people, including audience members, from giving them advice. No doubt with screaming fans and overly enthusiastic
commentators not far away, tuning all that out via the headphones also probably helps
the chess boxers focus. Of course, for safety’s sake, the headphones
are removed for the boxing portions of a chess boxing bout, meaning a chess boxer could theoretically
get advice on what move to make next while boxing. Then again, someone able to parse technical
chess jargon over the roar of a crowd while simultaneously being punched in the face is
probably someone who possesses a mind keen enough to succeed at chess without advice,
so we guess that’s fine. Speaking of mental toughness, this in fact
is touted by many a chess boxer as one of the most difficult aspects of the sports-
having to switch between amping your body up for a physical fight, and then as quickly
as possible calming down to direct a cool, collected mind at the fight on the board. Or as it states on the official Chess Boxing
Global website, Chess Boxing is a rare blend of contrasting
skills. The athlete combines a powerful body with
a sharp mind, and rises above mindless muscle. In the ring, the fighter is fueled by testosterone,
adrenaline and skill. Three minutes later, he changes battlegrounds. The contender has only seconds to restrain
his fighting instinct and move into the silent logic of his mind. Chessboxers need smartness for solving problems;
They must anticipate their opponent’s moves in the ring, as well as on the board. It is the only sport in which the heart, mind
and body perform in total harmony. This is the ultimate battle. With that out of the way, you may now be wondering
where in the hell such a bizarre idea came from? The answer to which is rather fittingly- a
comic book. You see, according to Rubingh chess boxing’s
genesis can be directly traced to a French comic released in 1992 called Froid Équateur
(literally – “Cold Equator”) which is set in the post apocalyptic future hellscape
of 2034. In the comic, chess boxing features heavyweight
boxers beating the living crap out of each other on a giant chessboard. In an interview with The Guardian Rubingh
notes that he was intrigued by the idea of chess boxing after stumbling across Froid
Équateur in his father’s comic collection as a teenager and was keen to make some version
of it into an actual sport. A performance artist and natural comedian
at heart, Rubingh is known in the art world for his numerous, often humorous, performance
art pieces. In fact, one such instance actually saw him
acquire the moniker “The Joker”, which he’s still known by to this day. This was a result of a time he blocked off
an intersection in downtown Tokyo with police tape. Naturally, the stunt earned Rubingh a ten
day jail sentence, which is what he was originally going for. The joke in all this was he spent the duration
of his time in jail dressed in a traditional jester’s outfit, hence the subsequent nickname. Chess boxing has similar origins and was likewise
intended to begin life as a performance art piece, with the artist hoping the absurdity
of the whole thing would do what all art intends to do and make people think. To quote Rubingh himself, We tend to divide everything into different
worlds, but in my opinion worlds are much more connected than people see them at first. Chess boxing breaks through this habit. So many people say to me: ‘Chess and boxing,
they just don’t fit together,’ and some chess players hate the idea, but they forget
that former world boxing champion Lennox Lewis and current champion Vitali Klitschko both
play chess. Boxing is about the control of aggression,
and chess boxing is 200% about the control of aggression. All this said, to Rubingh’s surprise, chess
boxing turned out to be a hit, with the first official chess boxing bout in a Berlin art
gallery, pitting Rubingh against a friend called Jean Louis Veenstra, proving to be
bizarre enough a concept that it actually packed the gallery to capacity. Spurred by the unexpected success of the joke,
Rubingh decided to try and turn his creation into a legitimate sport, holding the first
official Chess Boxing World Championship later that same year in Amsterdam, drawing a crowd
of over a thousand people. Officially endorsed by both the Dutch Chess
Federation and Dutch Boxing Association, Rubingh once again put on the gloves and fought Veenstra
for the championship. Styling himself as Iepe the Joker for the
bout, Veenstra (or Luis the Lawyer as he’s known in the ring) fought a vicious battle
on both the canvas and chessboard with Rubingh eventually emerging victorious- meaning that
not only is Rubingh the inventor of chess boxing, he’s its first champion. Of his victory in the match, Rubingh notes,
“I had a pretty terrible position on the board so in the last round I tried to knock
him out. He only just managed to stay on his feet. The bell went and he put his hands up in the
air but he couldn’t find his corner. He was really dizzy but we still had to play
the final round of chess. There was a clear win for him, but he just
couldn’t figure out the right moves.” Rubingh has since abandoned art almost entirely
to focus on promoting chess boxing as a legitimate sporting pursuit, founding the World Chess
Boxing Organisation. As a nod to the sport’s origins, Rubingh
made sure to found this organisation in Berlin and saw to it that the first honorary chairman
of the WCBO was Froid Équateur creator Enki Bilal. Thanks to these efforts, chess boxing is now
a legitimate sporting endeavour that while having admittedly niche appeal at present,
has a thriving and rapidly growing pool of chess boxing talent that now tallies over
2,000 athletes across the world, with India seeing the largest group with over 600 people
competing in the sport.

100 thoughts on “What’s the Deal with Chess Boxing?

  1. What about the movie "The Mystery of Chess Boxing" that came out I'm 1987?
    Which infulenced The Wu-Tang Clan who had a song in 1993 also called "The Mystery of Chess Boxing"?

  2. if chess boxing comes from a comic and people accept it, then its fair to make keijo a real thing as it comes from a manga and people will have to accept it

  3. What ever happened to Pepsi Max and why does it seem that they tried to replace it with Pepsi zero(similar to Coke zero)?

  4. Fighting on a chess board….
    1922 Edgar Rice Burroughs
    The Chessmen of Mars.

    Cold Equator missed it by half a century.

  5. I actually thought chess boxing was one of the many absurdities made up for the Elementary tv show. Who'da thunk it's a real thing?

  6. 1 MAJOR fact you didn't tell us… during the 3 minute round of chess… how LONG in this sport is a chess turn time?

    It's likely the one that can do the most pain and damage while boxing (ultimately a KO) will win…
    TRUE chess players will always arrange for a "Second" to get in the ring for them 😜

  7. Putin's version: chess-Judo
    Chuck Norris' version: checkers-karate
    Trump's version: tic-tac-toe-Fox & Friends daily briefing
    Hillary's version: email-cigars
    007's version: martini-PPK 🔫

  8. I like the idea but… combat sports are a perfect combination of brain and brain alone… boxing is very very very much a thinking sport to compete in.

  9. There are other sports/contests similar to this.
    Actually, I've taken part in Double Fan/Sword Thrust contests before.
    Double Fan is a game similar to Gin, only there are no court cards and Aces are low. You also play two hands of seven cards each and try to have winning hands with both but cannot trade cards between them. It is not a timed contest, but rather one where the first player to not have a play calls the hand and then they move to a bout of Sword Thrust, which is similar to Fencing, only long swords are used and the idea is to knock your opponent's sword out of their hand, or knock them on their ass. If five sword clashes occur without either of these things happening, it's a return to Double Fan, where the deck is reshuffled and the hand continues, though it is the turn of the opposite player to the one who called a no play before. This goes back and forth until one player has won with both hands two times, has knocked their opponent's sword out of their hand four times/knocked them on their ass twice with the latter taking precedence, or seven cycles plus a final round of Double Fan has passed. If the final Double Fan round passes without either player meeting the requirements for a definitive win, then and only then, does it go down to scoring. Any runs or sets of three are not counted in scoring, all else are counted, with high cards counting the most points. Yes, you want the lowest score possible. Every time your sword was knocked out of your hand, that's fifteen points. If you were knocked on your ass, twenty-five. If during a sword clash, your wrist was below your opponent's (what is known as Disadvantage), five points. If your loose cards contained any threes, ten points each (the inventor of Double Fan considers the number three bad luck and in a normal game of Double Fan those loose threes are a ten point deduction). If all four of the threes are either in pairs or sets or runs, minus ten points and minus thirty for having all four threes in a set (in a normal game of Double Fan having all four threes in a set is called 'The Bounty' and is worth thirty points). If during a sword clash you manage to apex the hilts, it's a deduction of fifty points for whomever had their wrist in the advantage, or a deduction of thirty points for both if their wrists were level (very common to happen). If, on the rare occasion one player has an Ace through Seven run with both hands (cannot win Double Fan this way), it's a deduction of one hundred points, which will almost certainly net a win.
    Of course, none of the scoring matters, like I said, if one goes out with both hands of Double Fan twice, or knocks their opponent's sword out their hand four times or on their ass twice. That's an instant win.
    These are usually wagered upon, but the wager can be anything as long as the contestants agree.
    I won three of the four times I've partaken in this; won a bronze ring, some sulphuric acid, and seventy-five thousand Raijin. The one time I lost, I had to part with a beloved doll. All is well though; she completed her collection so it's not the worst thing in existence. I only lost because I just did not have the cards to win; it was a stalemate in Sword Thrust otherwise. I never did win with the cards though; I always had the advantage in Sword Thrust because I train in the sword. I know how to strike weakspots and parry, and my opponents were just hotheads or looking for an 'easy' target, or whatever. It doesn't hurt to know what you're doing, but with cards, it's more luck than skill.

  10. 4:07 I cringed when you horribly mispronounced those French words. Please learn proper pronunciation rules before making a video.

  11. The 1979 Film Poster for the film Ninja Checkmate (1979) : "The Mystery of Chess Boxing"

    There's also this gem from 1993…it ain't nothin' ta f*ck with

    The Mystery of Chess Boxing film features a character called Ghostface Killer. …hmmm..Why does that name sound familiar?? …hmmmmmm…
    "Lee Yi Min stars as a young boy, Ah Pao, who wants to learn kung fu so that he can avenge his father's death at the hands of the Ghost Faced Killer (Mark Long). The Ghost Faced Killer, meanwhile is hunting down a number of clan leaders who all conspired to have him killed. Before attacking, the killer always throws down his "ghost face killing plate," a decorated metal plate with a red face. He then uses his distinctive five elements style."

    Why you no Wu-Tang, M'goodman?

    -A guy who clicked this video specifically for the Wu-Tang info-diddly.

  12. Considering Jeff Bezos net worth, according to Google, is 139.8 billion USD, and McDonald's is worth ~140 billion USD, could Bezos earn few million more and just buy the entire McDonald's company?

  13. Person 1: "So shall we settle this through our intellect through a game of chess or our physical prowess through a boxing match?"
    Person 2: "Both"

    And that's how chess boxing was born.

  14. so… wait. this is chess with weight classes? what?
    i could do this. i could beat everybody at this. but it doesnt matter. its too fuckin stupid. theres no way in hell i'd ever do this.
    seriously, you cant take your gloves off between boxing rounds. if you can take your gloves off between rounds, you dont have your gloves on right.
    this is a fuckin joke. i mean, if a real boxer did this… this sport would be called… 'stupid nerds getting their fuckin heads torn off.' this shit is hilarious.

  15. I still believe that Biathlon is the best example of a combination of two widely different athletic pursuits, cross-country skiing and target shooting.

  16. "The boxers must wear gloves during the boxing part" and that's the part that REALLY needs to go if they want to take this sport to the next level. Not only will it decrease time in between rounds, but knockouts are simply harder when you don't have that padding to protect your hand. I heard about the sport and anyone I spoke to about it made it sound like it was the worst thing they'd ever heard of. I'm down if they get rid of the gloves. Like I'll join a chessboxing circuit yesterday.

  17. I always thought it was where 2 people would play chess, and the chess moves would correspond to boxing moves the boxers had to carry out.

  18. Reminds of a time in college where a roommate and I decided to play some chess while drinking a bottle of vodka. Little did I know that we were training for chess boxing by playing chess while chemically concussed.


  20. I remember reading that comic… Now I wonder how long it will take for someone in Japan to make an anime about chess boxing.

  21. What is the current dominant strategy in chess boxing? Aim your punches to solar plexus to deprive oxygen flow to the opponent's brain, so that you can win in the chess portion? Or channel the frustration that you feel from being outsmarted on the chessboard into some anger-fueled punches?

  22. Hey Simon, the origin of the concept of chessboxing is a comic series by a bloke called Enki Bilal called 'Alexander Nikopol in the 21st century' I'm 100% sure the pretty accurate depiction of the sport predates the esrly 2000s you mentioned by decades. Cheers! (:

  23. I used to play the board game Risk and Boxing. It would start as a game of Risk, but someone would get annoyed and it would turn into Boxing.

  24. The body and mind aren't working together they are taking turns. They should fight while giving voice commands with monitors around the ring

  25. Sumo Melee. Standard Competition Super Smash Brother's Melee rules, with the twist that every 3-5ish minutes you have to pause the game, and go 3-5ish minutes in the Sumo ring. First to drain all 5 lives or to score the pin/ring out in the Sumo wins. Would go great with all the anime cons =)

  26. i was expecting a big board with real people as the pieces of chess, and when a piece is moved the two opponens will fight, the winner stays in the board and the loser leaves

  27. I think this was actually invented by Pres. Andrew Jackson (although he’d use a pistol and rapier); it seems like something he’d do.

  28. Fighting already is supposed to use logic. This would be very fun, no switch of mindset required, for both are battlefields.

  29. I wonder if anyone got disqualified for punching someone during the chess section because they forgot they weren't still boxing.

  30. I'm suddenly inspired to create the MMAML, The Mixed Martial Arts Monopoly League. "Will You Tap Out Or Go Bankrupt First?"

  31. After hearing hte Wu Tang song "Da Mystery of Chessboxin" as a young lad 25 years ago I never thought they'd make an actual sport out of it

  32. Guys we need to introduce a constitutional amendment that the presidential election shall be decided by chess boxing

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