When you think of spectator sports, boxing is one that naturally comes to mind – a visceral and gladiatorial competition of physical prowess that keeps audiences teetering on the edge of their seat. Conversely, chess is the furthest thing from most people’s minds when discussing spectator entertainment. As a cognitive game that focuses on quietly outsmarting an opponent, it has never been one to attract vast, baying crowds that can fill entire stadiums.
Allow us to introduce Chessboxing.
Literally, as it sounds, ChessBoxing is a hybrid sport formed from the merging of both the sports of chess and boxing. It’s pretty simple too – held in a standard boxing ring, combatants play alternating rounds of timed chess and boxing, with the ultimate goal to win either via checkmate or knockout (with time penalty or judge decision also possible but less ‘glorious’ options). The concept was first created in 1970s London – and further popularized in 1992 French comic Froid Équateur – but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that Dutch performance artist Iepe Rubingh came up with the modern version of Chessboxing and hosted the first-ever event in Berlin. Fast forward two decades, and there are a ton of fights happening worldwide and two major governing bodies overseeing the whole crazy thing –the World Chessboxing Association and the World Chess Boxing Organisation - and many smaller national ones .
Chessboxing has seen explosive growth in interest and popularity since it was embraced by popular online streaming celebrities. Most notable was the event organized by popular chess YouTube and Twitch personality Ludwig Ahgren. In a packed Galen Center in LA in December 2022, the event saw over a dozen famous streamers, such as BoxBox and Myth compete against one another for bragging rights. The event was a smashing success, with over 300,000 people live-streaming it from their homes and a further 3.7 million views hitting Ludwigs’ YouTube since it was posted. Many viewers tuned into Twitter to announce how it was among the best things they had ever watched despite not knowing much about it.
More recently, on Feb 3rd, Immortal Game’s very own Ambassador Sardoche not only took part in a Chessboxing match against Léo Guirlet in Paris, but won the whole thing via a TKO in the 10th round! It was yet another popular event with scores of people watching either in person or online. There is no doubting its growing popularity, and while the whole thing sounds crazy on paper, Chessboxing is actually a pretty genius idea. Allow us to explain why.
Chessboxing is an extreme challenge of human endurance. One that requires physical strength and skill and mental intellect – and both are constantly tested by the opponent in a draining battle for supremacy. In addition, both the chess and the boxing elements have a significant bearing on each other. It’s pretty fair to say that being constantly hit in the head will have a major impact on a chess player’s ability to focus on their next chess move! Less obviously, mental tasks that require deep concentration can be physically draining, and that would certainly lead to reduced efficacy when it comes to fighting.
In addition, a player may realize that they don’t have the strength required to win the boxing rounds, so need to place all of their dedication to effective chess moves. Conversely, they may realize they are only a few moves away from being checkmated – meaning they will be forced to go all-in on the boxing if they’re to have any hope of winning. Not to mention that if the whole thing is playing out in a huge stadium in front of thousands of cheering fans, there will invariably be a new dimension largely absent from traditional chess – which is typically enshrined with stoic contemplation and anticipatory silence from the few spectators. Effectively the sport is relentlessly attacking its players from all angles, providing a glorious and tense event for all involved.
In this sense Chessboxing is the perfect evolution of both sports – one that allows a hybridized celebration of two apparent disparate disciplines. It also requires a player to train in completely different ways for each aspect, necessitating grand strategies that equal far more than the sum of its parts. For the fans and spectators it represents a fantastic introduction into both worlds for those who might know only about one (or perhaps neither) and also a great way for individuals to connect with others who lean towards the opposite of the two sports.
It is fair to say that some people are confused as to why Chessboxing exists, but none doubt its electric entertainment value, and we don’t doubt it’ll continue to become increasingly popular over the coming years. Indeed, if it continues to expand at its current rate, with more media and social attention placed on it, there is no reason that a new generation of competitors who train from a young age in both disciplines couldn’t enter the fray, taking it from a fun sport into something taking very seriously in major tournaments.
Did someone say the Olympics?