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Sport Alternative: Chess Boxing

By Madeleine Stroth

Chess Boxing; The thinking man’s contact sport.

Photo: Nik Klienberg via

Here’s how it works: two opponents face off in 11 rounds, 6 chess, 5 boxing.  The match starts with a 4 minute chess round, followed by a 3 minute boxing round and repeats back and forth until all 11 rounds are completed, or until one opponent gets a checkmate or a K.O.  Each round is separated by a 1 minute break for opponents to put on/take off their gloves and steady themselves for the next round.

It’s an event unlike any other and is steadily gaining a larger following in countries around the world, bringing together severely differing cultures and fans alike.

The idea for Chess Boxing was inspired by a 1992 comic book entitled, The Nikopol Trilogy, in which futuristic men box on a chessboard floor.  Dutch artist, Iepe Rubingh was inspired by this image and made it his mission to organize and compete in the first ever official chess boxing match in November, 2003.

The flagship matchup was held in Amsterdam and hosted an attendance of over 800 people attracted to the strange spectacle.  Throughout his entire career Rubingh, who is also known as “the Joker,” has played with public perceptions in his artwork, photography, and performance artist feats.  He may be crazy for attempting to pull a stunt like this, but that has not halted his determination to establish chess boxing as a reputable competition around the world.

The World Chess Boxing Organization (WCBO) has compared the sport to the ultimate biathalon, demanding the complete balance of mind and body in its competitors.  It comes as no surprise that the WCBO has adopted the old Latin saying, “mens sana in corpore sanem” (healthly in mind and body), as its credo.

Competing in an official chess boxing match requires the participant to have competed in at least 20 boxing matches, and have and ELO chess rating of 1800 of higher.  Official training clubs have been established in Berlin, London, and Sofia, Bulgaria.  Each of these organizations have recognized themselves as “intellectual fight clubs.”

With the polar opposite demands of the sport, it’s a good idea to have someone in the corner.  Many competitors have both a chess coach and a boxing coach who collaborate to create intense practices which simulate the rush of adrenaline which must quickly be slowed to achieve a clear mind during the chess rounds.  Competitors are required to wear headphones during their chess rounds to muffle audience members shouting out advice as well as the commentator remarks.

While the bloody version of the sport holds its popularity in Europe, groups in the United States have been advocating for combining chess and martial arts to teach young students the importance of strategy and non-violence.

Rubingh advocates for the sport as combining the elements of a complete man, someone who is prepared for anything, “not a complete brute, but not a hopeless nerd.”

The winner of a chess boxing match is determined by either checkmate, exceeding the allotted 12 minute time limit during chess play, retirement of an opponent, knockout, or referee decision.  If the chess game ends in a stalemate, the opponent with the higher boxing score wins.  If the boxing score is even, the competitor with playing black chess pieces wins.

Berlin-based World Chess Boxing Organization: “Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board.”

Check out chess boxing on this youtube video:


Would you watch chess boxing? Would you ever try chess box? Leave us a comment and get in on the conversation.

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