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Sports you’ve never heard of: Chessboxing

Chess and boxing are two sports that don’t seem to have any natural affiliation. In one, two stereotypically nerdy opponents come together in a battle of wits while seated comfortably across from each other at a table. In the other, two muscle bound opponents attack each other with their fists in a show of strength and endurance. In fact, the only thing the two competitions appear to have in common is the hand-shake at the end of the match. That is, of course, until the two activities were merged in what can only be referred to as chessboxing!

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by Chelsea Thornton (Staff Writer)
Email:  cascade.sports@ufv.ca

Chess and boxing are two sports that don’t seem to have any natural affiliation. In one, two stereotypically nerdy opponents come together in a battle of wits while seated comfortably across from each other at a table. In the other, two muscle bound opponents attack each other with their fists in a show of strength and endurance. In fact, the only thing the two competitions appear to have in common is the hand-shake at the end of the match. That is, of course, until the two activities were merged in what can only be referred to as chessboxing!

In 1992, Enki Bilal released his graphic novel Froid Équateur, which featured a hybrid sport that combined the mental prowess of speed chess with the physical prowess of boxing. Iepe “The Joker” Rubingh, was apparently never taught the difference between truth and comic books, and he began organizing and fighting in chessboxing matches. He won the first ever Chessboxing World Championship in 2003.

A chessboxing match consists of alternating rounds of chess and boxing and can run up to eleven rounds long. The first round is a four minute chess round, which is followed by a one minute break, then a three minute boxing round. This structure is repeated until somebody wins either by knock-out, checkmate, or by forcing their opponent to exceed the 12 minute time-limit in chess. If the chess game ends in a stalemate, the highest scoring boxer wins; if the boxing score is a tie, then the win goes to the player with the black pieces.

The World Chess Boxing Organization, or the WCBO, governs the sport, organizing competitions and recruiting competitors. Their motto is: “Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board.” Currently, they are actively seeking competitors, with links to their application page on almost every section of their website. They stress the importance of being both an experienced boxer and “passionate” about chess. Iepe the Joker, for example, has an Elo rating of 1850. The Elo rating system is a way to relatively rank players in two player games, and Iepe’s rating would rank him as a Class A chess player according to the United States Chess Federation, whose average member Elo ranking is 657. Another chess boxer, Tihomir Atanassov Dovramadjiev has a ranking of 2300, which is high enough to qualify him as World Chess Federation (FIDE) Master.

Since the first ever chess boxing match was held in 2003, the sport has been rapidly gaining in popularity. The 2009 World Championship attracted a crowd of two thousand people, and Iepe the Joker’s recent comeback fight was waged before a sold-out crowd.

The sport has seen coverage from both ESPN and Time Magazine. The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, who believes that the sport is a useful means of teaching youth about peaceful conflict resolution, has spoken in favor of the sport, and was quoted in Time Magazine: “Play in tournaments for the prizes, or just for the joy of flexin’ ya mentals.”

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