Chess-Boxing Combines Brawn and Brains in One Event

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If you think you are smart and tough, then there is a sport for you: Chess-Boxing. Kyle James reports on this bizarre sport in Germany that combines the thinking man's sport, chess, with the number-one fighting sport, boxing.


Two heavyweight fighters will square off in the boxing ring this Friday in Cologne, Germany, but Frank, Anti-Terror, Stoldt; and Zoran, The Priest, Mijatovic, won't just be throwing jabs and hooks--they'll also be going head-to-head with their knights and rooks. It's a semi-final of the world championship chess boxing. That's an unlikely combination of one of the most physically demanding sports, with one of the most mentally demanding games. Kyle James reports from Berlin.

(Soundbite of yelling, cheering and whistling)

KYLE JAMES reporting:

A chess-boxing bout, at least at the outset, looks and sounds pretty much like other boxing matches.

(Soundbite of yelling, cheering and whistling)

JAMES: There's the introduction of the fighters, who come out in their hooded robes as the hip-hop music starts. There's the woman walking around the ring holding up a numbered sign: Round One is about to begin.

Unidentified Announcer: Let's get ready to rumble! Come on everybody...

JAMES: But then the game takes a sharp detour. A chessboard is rolled out into the middle of the ring, and instead of donning their gloves and pummeling one another, the two fighters sit down and start formulating a blistering chess attack on each other's king.

(Soundbite of gong)

JAMES: After four minutes, the chess round is over, and the men return to their corners. While the board is rolled away, the gloves come on and the fighters come back out for two minutes of serious punching.

Mr. IEPE RUBINGH (Chess-Boxer): I'm a big fan of mixing contrary stuff, or what people see as contrary stuff--and if you're mix it into a hybrid, something new, something interesting, comes out.

JAMES: That's Iepe, The Joker, Rubingh; who was fighting in that match. He won. He's an artist from the Netherlands who now lives in Berlin and is the driving force behind this new sport. He first came across the idea of chess boxing in a French comic book, and three years ago, decided to organize a real game. It was originally planned as a piece of performance art.

Mr. RUBINGH: But we did a real fight. You know, I almost knocked out my opponent. It was, you know, some really interesting chess going on. And, you know, it was real. So, people got really excited, say, whoa! Nobody thought of it at that time, is this an art performance or not? They just enjoyed the game.

JAMES: Back in Berlin, Rubingh decided he was on to something, and started organizing an international competition.

The rules are fairly straightforward. The match starts with a four-minute round of chess, then two minutes of boxing, then back to chess. That goes on for 11 rounds. That is, if a checkmate or a knockout doesn't decide the victor along the way. Andreas Diehl(ph) Schneider, a 36-year-old German actor, got as far as the European finals last October. He says there are many parallels between boxing and chess.

Mr. ANDREAS SCHNEIDER (Actor, Chess-Boxer): In boxing, it's very ultimate, physically ultimate. You know, if you're not concentrated and you get a punch, you can be kicked out in one second. But, in chess, it's nearly like the same. You can work on chess for 20, 30 moves on a position, and you're not concentrated for one moment, you're doing a weak move, and the whole position's equal or lost again.

(Soundbite of tapping)

JAMES: Perhaps an even more bizarre thing about this sport is the training, rather than the matches themselves. In a basement gym in Berlin, amid the punching bags, weights, and boxing paraphernalia--the guys here are working hard. But, they're not in the ring yet and they're not working up a sweat.

(Soundbite of tapping)

JAMES: They're using a chess clock and trying to speed up their game.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle James in Berlin.

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