Thursday, October 14, 2010

Weird Sports, Vol 2: Chess Boxing

Pictured: two men, wondering where the "delete" button is for their lives.

Weird Sports is a semiregular feature I write for the Rec Services blog at Trinity Western University as a favour to a good friend of mine. It will appear on PITB on Thursdays. Today is Thursday. Let us take a break from our Canuckness and appreciate that Canadians are a hockey-loving people, and not the sort that love dumb sports like this one.

Chess Boxing is, sadly, exactly what it sounds like: a hybrid sport that combines the headgame of chess with the punching-a-head game that is boxing. Competitors alternate between four-minute rounds of speed chess and three-minute rounds of being used as a speedbag.

Oh yeah. Chess and boxing, finally united! With two ways to win! You can win a chess boxing match either by checkmate or knockout.

Now I’m no chessmaster by any means, but I can think of when this might come in handy. Often, when wasting time, I challenge my computer to a chess match, and I can’t think of anything more cathartic than punching that smarmy, artificially intelligent twerp right in the face every four minutes or so. Chess, by its very nature, requires an analytical mind. Pugilism is the desperate resort last of those that lack it, an overwhelming majority. Indeed, chess boxing is a very human sport.

But is it popular? Oh my, yes, especially in Russia. Why? Well, Russians live there, and they love chess. They also love fist fighting, especially Russian Fist Fighting, a form of fist fighting which is, apparently, distinctly Russian. Why exactly? No reason, although it’s worth noting that the phrase “Don’t hit a man when he’s down” has its roots in Russian Fist Fighting. Hitting a man when he’s down a rook and a bishop, however, is fine, so long as you’re chess boxing. The sport has grown since its inception in the early nineties, and is now governed by the World Chess Boxing Organisation (the WCBO). Their motto: “Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board.” Clearly, they are not fans of peace. The first world championship held in nutty old Amsterdam in 2003. Since then, national chess boxing federations have been founded, and chess boxers win the right to represent their country at the world championships.

Like many things (including some religions), chess boxing was originally dreamed up by a writer (Enki Bilal) and then taken seriously by crazy people. In this case, the proto-wacko was a man named Lepe Rubingh, who brought the sport to life, with some changes. Rubingh felt that a boxing match followed by a chess match was impractical, so he decided to alternate rounds in the manner I described above, apparently missing that this is also impractical. You see, playing an intense, intellectual strategy game with occasional stoppages to get your nose broken is impractical.

Here is a summary of the 2009 light heavyweight (there are divisions!) world championship bout, from Wikipedia:

November 28, 2009 saw the light heavyweight world championship bout between chess boxers Nikolay “The Chairman” Sazhin and Leo “Granit” Kraft, at the Ivan Yargin Palace of Sport in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, before a crowd of 2000. [...] The fight opened with the Gruenfeld defense, and was followed by the first boxing round, which was largely dominated by the younger Kraft. The return to the chessboard in the third round saw Kraft castling early, and the resulting play saw Kraft having to defend his king. Sazhin continued in the subsequent boxing round, taking the upper hand in the fight. However, once they returned to the chess board, Sazhin used up too much time attacking Kraft’s king. Thus by round eight Sazhin was forced to win by knockout or lose on the board. This he failed to do, and, on returning to the chess board, Sazhin resigned the match.

Okay, forget everything I said. This actually sounds pretty cool. Chess boxing appears to be a sport of nicknames! This might give me a chance to use my old high school nickname, “The Punch-Taker”. How applicable!

Why isn’t this an olympic sport? It’s way, way cooler than speed walking (also a weird sport; some people call speed walking “running”). Chess boxing rules! Check out this highlight package!

I’d love to hear from somebody who’s been to a chess boxing match. Is it riveting? Do the players bleed on their pawns? Can you kick your opponent under the table? Are mistakes made on the chess board as a result of brain trauma suffered in the ring? Are the ringside paramedics also parcheesi champions? I need to know.

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