by Frank Molema | 16 January 2020
It is a combination that initially raises eyebrows. Started in 2003 as a work of art, chess boxing has since become a serious sport that fascinates. "People who are unfamiliar with chess boxing are watching with open mouth and are fully enjoying themselves."
Martijn van Rheenen immediately agrees when asked about the explanation of chess boxing. "It sounds like a very strange combination", admits the initiator of two recent matches of the relatively unknown sport in Paradiso in Amsterdam. “The trick is to get yourself under control after a round of boxing so that you can make a strong move on the chessboard. Try that with the adrenaline raging and a heartbeat of 160 beats per minute.”
6 rounds of chess and 5 rounds of boxing
Chess boxing was conceived by Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh. A match consists of six rounds of chess and five rounds of boxing. The players start with four minutes of chess, followed by three minutes in the boxing ring. There is a one-minute break between each round, in which the players have to put on or take off their gloves and headphones. Matches can be won by checkmate, knockout, a jury decision or time control.
"If you risk losing your chess game, you just have to give it your all to score a knockout"
According to Van Rheenen, a chess boxing match can go either way. "Whether a duel is decided in the ring or on the board varies greatly," he says. “That is the great thing about the game: anything can happen. Players will eventually take risks. If you risk losing your chess game, you just have to give it your all to score a knockout. You’re under pressure to perform."
Seminar plus festival
In the games that were played in Paradiso on 8 January, the winner always beat his opponent in chess. Chess boxing in Amsterdam was part of the IGNITION by SemiFest. An event that consists of a seminar and a festival and meant for people who want to pursue their dreams.
Coincidentally, the very first chess boxing competitions ever were also held in Paradiso in 2003. Then, the venue was packed, but because of the IGNITION scheduling 'only' 450 people were able to attend the matches. “But if we had completely opened the doors of Paradiso to chess boxing, we would be completely full. The great thing is that people who are unfamiliar with chess boxing are watching with open mouth and fully enjoying themselves.”
"Athlete or entrepreneur, you should be able to achieve physical success"
Van Rheenen, not into sports himself, used chess boxing during IGNITION as a metaphor for entrepreneurs who want to turn their dreams into a mission in 2020. "You take the first steps in your mind", he explains. “Why do I have a specific goal and why is that so important to me? Then it's about who you need and who you have to be to get everything out of it. The last part is about your physique: whether an athlete or an entrepreneur, you should be able to achieve physical success. As an entrepreneur you must be a gladiator, be able to receive blows while still being able to think. I could not find a livelier example of how a dream can become reality. This metaphor is also the reason why I started with this sport."
Small community in the Netherlands
Professionals in chess boxing still don’t make enough to live off the sport. With members in China, Iran, Italy, Russia, Germany, Mexico, Turkey and the US, boxing Association World Chess Boxing Organization (WCBO) already organizes competitions around the world. The WCBO also maintains contact with the Russian Garri Kasparov - one of the world's major chess players - and with Ukrainian brothers Vladimir and Vitali Klychko, two gifted boxing professionals who use chess to increase their focus when preparing for matches. According to Van Rheenen, the sport has potential especially in Russia, because both chess and boxing are popular there. The community in the Netherlands is a lot smaller.
Initiator Iepe Rupingh meanwhile dreams of chess boxing as an Olympic sport. Van Rheenen sees opportunities to get the sport on the Olympic calendar. “In water sports and snow sports you see that odd combinations suddenly grow into an Olympic sport. In the beginning it is strange, but in the end it is accepted as an existing combination. It would be amazing if that would happen with chess boxing."