Sport fuses chess with boxing

MURRAY GREIG

, Last Updated: 1:25 PM ET

If you think you've got the chops to win by hook or by rook and you weigh in the neighbourhood of 175 pounds, the World Chess Boxing Organization wants you.

What's that? Never heard of chess boxing? To be honest, neither had I until a recent blurb in Ring magazine directed me to the Germany-based WCBO website (www.wcbo.org).

After jumping through a couple of cyber hoops, an e-mail interview with chess boxing guru Dr. Wolfgang Mueller was arranged - which is how I became aware of the worldwide search for a light heavyweight challenger for Frank (Anti-Terror) Stoldt, a Berlin riot cop. He's putting his WCBO title on the line Sept. 1 in the German capital.

"The sport of chess boxing was invented by artist and boxer Iepe Rubingh in 2003, and the first official chess boxing gym opened in Berlin in 2005. From here we have taken it to Amsterdam, Tokyo, Munich, Prague, Paris and Los Angeles," Meuller said in our e-mail chat.

"One of our goals is the ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body, so we've combined the No.1 thinking sport in the world and the No. 1 combat sport into a hybrid that demands the most of its competitors, physically and mentally. Our motto is 'Fighting is done in the ring, wars are waged on the board.' "

You gotta admit, it sounds intriguing. And the rules are pretty straightforward. Staged in a conventional boxing ring, a match starts with a four-minute round of chess. When the bell sounds, the chessboard is removed and the opponents come out punching for a two-minute round of boxing. Between rounds, they get a one-minute breather. After that, the chessboard comes back in, with the pieces in the same position as they were at the end of the previous round.

The rotation continues for 11 rounds - six of chess, five of boxing, A winner is determined by checkmate (chess), exceeding the time limit (chess), retirement of an opponent (chess or boxing), KO (boxing) or referee's decision (boxing). If the chess match ends in a stalemate, the fighter with the higher boxing score wins.

"We have seen very rapid growth by having a great idea in the right place and at the right time," said Mueller. "There are now approximately 50 active professional chess boxers in Europe, and we are getting inquiries from around the world each month. People are filling out the application on our website, and we hope to soon have fighters active in Canada."

Competitions routinely attract crowds in the low thousands, with spectators following the chess moves on a giant video screen suspended above the ring.

The WCBO doesn't have any female fighters yet, but Mueller says it's just a matter of time. "Our sport is very popular with female fans, so we think we will soon begin matches with female competitors."

Former undisputed world heavy-weight champion Lennox Lewis is probably the most famous chess-playing fighter, and he sees the marriage of the two sports as a natural.

"Chess was always part of my training program," Lewis said in a recent interview on HBO, where he's now a colour commentator. "The game has been around for centuries. It improves your focus and reasoning skills and teaches you to strategize. For me, playing chess takes the stress away.

"The sports are similar in that it's one on one. When I was boxing, chess helped me prepare strategies to beat my opponents."

Now if Lewis could just get down to 175 pounds, he might give that German riot cop a run for his money ...


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