It was Halloween and IM Malcolm Pein couldn’t imagine what horrors awaited him when he volunteered to commentate at London’s latest chessboxing event, reports Rajko Vujatovic. Surely he has never commentated to so many people who didn’t know any chess rules, let alone the niceties of castling? Pein pulled off a memorable coup however; every member of the audience stayed enthralled throughout, and even learnt a thing or two about chess! By the end of the night, everyone was baying not for blood but for details of their nearest chess club! A peach of a moment was when Pein egged the 150-strong crowd to simultaneously shout “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad Bishop!” Another was when everyone screamed “Patzer” to test whether the chessplayers’ headphones needed the volume cranked up. Your author had great difficulty keeping a straight face while maintaining the the dignity required of a chess arbiter.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, chessboxing combines the ultimate mental sport and the ultimate physical sport, with alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Checkmate or knockout wins, whichever comes first! The first round is four minutes of chess, each player has 12 minutes for all moves, so there is a maximum of six chess and five boxing rounds. The sport was brought to life in 2003 as a work of performance art by Iepe Rubingh (Iepe is pronounced by quickly saying “eeper” as in “beeper”). The spectators loved it so much that Iepe developed it into a fully fledged sport!
Malcolm Pein, fresh from covering the Anand-Kramnik World Championship match in Bonn, approached the evening’s duties with the same amount of dedication, armed with extensive research notes on the protagonists. Use of ChessBase’s coloured arrows and hot squares helped keep the audience’s attention.
The headline event was the rematch between England’s Andy “The Rock” Costello (left) and Germany’s Wolfram von Stauffenberg. Costello was controversially disqualified when the two previously met in Cologne, and a rematch would decide who would go through to the World Heavyweight title fight against Gianluca “il Dottore” Sirci in February 2009.
There were two undercards: Jimbo “The Slice" Taylo vs. Bob “The Red Kite” Innes, and Sweden’s talented Konrad Rikardson vs England’s Tim Woolgar. But before turning to the fights, it would be remiss not to cover the latest fashions.
This is Jen from pop band Hot Breath Karaoke, back by popular demand from August’s inaugural chessboxing extravaganza. She has a fantastic range of leotards and her rainbow outfit is a timeless crowd-pleaser. Perhaps we can get FIDE President Ilyumzhinov’s opinion on whether Jen would make the grade as a Gazprom/Evonik girl?
The Cuban boxing referee takes a break when the chess round is on. Reinaldo Dominguez was a world class junior before his career was cut short by injury. Reinaldo also teaches salsa dance – where he advantageously employs his boxing sense of rhythm, balance and timing. This begs the question, if dancing is like boxing, and boxing is like a game of chess, then doesn’t it follow that dancing must improve you chess? Perhaps this is a secret training method the great Cuban Capablanca employed to become World Champion?
The chess arbiter (and your author) is greeted by an old friend
The venue Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club boasts a wall ‘decorated’ by Banksy, self-proclaimed “guerrilla artist”, who is all the rage with Hollywood stars.
Whilst waiting for the action, the audience were treated to a slideshow on the giant screen. This slide is from Enki Bilal’s 1992 graphic novel ‘Froid Equateur‘ which sets chessboxing in 2023 Paris and was Iepe Rubingh’s inspiration to bring it to life.
The two K’s, Kasparov and Klitschko observe. Chessboxers spend hours debating who would make the best pound-for-pound chessboxer. Some say Klitschko, others say Lennox Lewis. Others would say Kasparov – surely he has the determination to achieve anything if he puts his mind to it? Note the trusty yellow demonstration board in the picture above. This was Plan B if the projector failed!
Andy “The Rock” Costello enters the ring first. He is rumoured to be the template for the Action Man figures – or "G.I. Joe" for US readers. He is hard as nails and has no fear, but is a gentle giant outside the ring. A top county junior who gave up competitive chess just before becoming a teenager, Costello has rediscovered chess through chessboxing.
Wolfram von Stauffenberg wins the traditional stare-off. He is an actor by profession, and has played parts as varied as Shakespeare and Goethe to Rocky Horror and undercover policemen.
And then the chess kicks off in Round One. The promoters found themselves sweating at the lightning speed of play, which risked the bout ending in four minutes without any boxing! Moves were unnecessarily quick and led to errors on both sides, but Costello ended a piece ahead. In my view, the best strategy is not to ‘blitz’ your opponent, even if he is weaker. If you’re hurrying your moves to fight just one less boxing round, then you shouldn’t be in the ring in the first place! However, if by blitzing you induce your inexperienced opponent to also blitz and then blunder, there is merit in the strategy.
After the first four minutes of chess, von Stauffenberg and Costello start to box
Both men love to grapple! Costello because he has a wrestling background; von Stauffenberg because this is how the shorter man should approach the fight to nullify a reach advantage. By the end of round two , Costello’s superior reach was seen to outweigh von Stauffenberg’s experience of 70 fights.
Anticipating that the chess game wouldn’t last long at the current pace, Jen the chameleon card lady gave the audience a multitude of bonus twirls as she circled the ring. Costello is not distracted, eyes fixed on the chessboard while he waits for the bell. But he continued to blitz and promptly returned a piece with a blunder. Shortly after the balance was returned von Stauffenberg, who was intent on using less than three seconds per move, missed a mate in one, exhibiting anguished scowls when Costello back-ranked him. Game over!
What the big screen showed before 19…e5 20.Nxe5?? Rxd1 mate!
Malcolm Pein applauds a checkmate: “Didn’t see a single one in that World Championship you know! And they were supposed to be Grandmasters!”
Iepe Rubingh and Wolfram von Stauffenberg relax at the Post Mortem. Wolfram decided to cease playing the Colle, in keeping with the great amateur tradition that you must switch openings whenever you lose a game.
Konrad Rikardson (left) vs Tim Woolgar. It’s well known the Brits are on the cutting edge of technology. Not happy with one of those sensory displays with masses of unsightly cables, the wizzkids at the London Chess Centre have invented a new wireless device to relay the chess moves. This they call a "Loud Voice", and it is activated when the chess arbiter opens his mouth and vigorously ejects air through the vocal cords. Special soundwaves travel towards commentator Malcolm Pein, who then enters the move on his laptop. To defend against the rare malfunction of Pein’s radar-like ears, the arbiter would periodically double check that the screen position was accurate. A patent on this technology is pending. It will be improved the next time, since the ‘loud voice’ became hoarse and gravelly as the night progressed.
Konrad Rikardson (left) has a distinguished pedigree, having boxed for Cambridge in the Varsity Match against Oxford, and swapped pawns with the likes of IM Harriet Hunt in the University chess club.
Back to the chessboard. After a solid start, both contestants decided to make pretty formations with their kingside pawns. With White to move, the chess program Fritz assesses the position as roughly level.
"Now how do I finish him off?" ponders Rikardson (white), whilst Woolgar drips sweat over the board.
Konrad Rikardson celebrates chess victory after Woolgar blunders in a tense position
James “The Slice” Taylor is white against Bob “The Red Kite” Innes. Would chess be more popular if grandmasters had such colourful nicknames? For example, Magnus “Chopper” Carlsen, Vishy “Anaconda” Anand, or Leonid “Queen Sac for a Minor Piece or Two” Yurtaev?
Malcolm Pein teasingly opined that the position in Taylor-Innes was “brand new to chess”. However, I beg to disagree! Julian Hodgson has reached this several times whilst secretly testing his Reversed Trompovsky in London rapidplays!
OH NO! Someone is down, but who is the victor in the foreground?
It’s James “”The Slice” Taylor! Fortunately the runner-up was back on his feet once the medics had performed their checks. Boxing is very much like a game of chess…apart from being whacked about. Ouch!!
Surviving until the early hours: Rajko Vujatovic (chess arbiter), Iepe “The Joker” Rubingh, Andy “The Rock” Costello, and Stewart Telford (Costello’s cornerman)
||Chessboxing in London’s East End
12.09.2008 – The UK’s first chessboxing extravaganza kicked off on a sultry summer’s night on 15 August in the East End of London. Famous for Jack the Ripper, Pearly Kings and Queens, and 1960’s gangsters, the area is now the hub of a vibrant night scene. Rajko Vujatovic gives his inside account as chess arbiter on the night, whilst Tim Woolgar offers a unique first hand report of his debut chessboxing bout.
||The Russians are coming – in chessboxing
09.07.2008 – Having enjoyed recent success in soccer, basketball and ice hockey, Russia is now also able to boast a world champion in the little-known sport of chessboxing. Russia's Nikolai Sazhin, a 19-year-old mathematics student from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, defeated light heavyweight defending champion Frank Stoldt, a 37-year-old policeman from Germany, to lift the world chess boxing title.
||Chessboxing World Championship 2008 in Berlin
03.07.2008 – In October there is one between Anand and Kramnik in Bonn. But that will be peaceful compared to the World Championship that is scheduled in Berlin this weekend. There four minutes of chess are interspersed with three minutes of violent pugilistic activities. We bring you photos and videos – and we also found out what FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov thinks about this sport.
||American fighter takes on German champ in Chessboxing
14.10.2007 – David “Double D” Depto and “Anti Terror” Frank Stoldt will meet for the World Championship in Chessboxing. Six rounds of speed chess and five rounds of boxing will take place alternatingly. In a maximum of eleven rounds, the decision will come either through K.O. or check mate. The match takes place on November 3rd 2007 in Berlin, Germany. Press announcement.
||Chessboxing on ESPN, Playboy and Maxim
27.06.2006 – This unusual sport, in which two competitors face each other in 11 alternating rounds, six of chess, five of boxing, is rapidly gaining popularity. You know that is the case when you see chessboxing on the front page of a leading sports web site, and as a major story in a number of men's magazines. Check out the ESPN video footage.
Reb in the Boxing Ring
The New Zealand singer and chessboxing fan Reb Fountain informs us that that on Friday, November 21st she and her good friends, the Broken Heartbreakers, will perform in a ring at the Auckland Boxing Association, 1 Ngahura Street, Eden Terrace, Auckland. There is a bar, and seating. Doors open 8.30 – and it's only ten bucks to get in
The line-up is Sleepy Kid, Bond St Bridge, The Broken Heartbreakers, followed by Reb Fountain & the Bandits
"There's nothing like a musical extravaganza set in the coolest boxing ring in town to enrich your senses," says Reb. "I look forward to seeing you there."
If anyone is in the Auckland area, please take some pictures for our next chessboxing report. Say hi to Reb from us and sorry we could not come. It takes like a week to get from Hamburg to New Zealand.