Introducing Diving Chess!

by Albert Silver
8/20/2016 – Chess variants come in all shapes and sizes. While most involve variations on the actual rules of chess, such as replacing pieces captured (crazyhouse), adding new pieces (Grand Chess), some try to include it under very unusual circumstances such as the famous Chess Boxing. One variant, already running for a few years now, is Diving Chess, played underwater, and in which your thinking time is determined by how long you can hold your breath!

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The rules are fairly simple, albeit with a twist. The game itself is a normal chess game, except it is played in a swimming pool... at the bottom! Classic pictures of chess players playing on a floating board abound, but this is one variation that is far more challenging.

Bobby Fischer (pictured here in LIFE Magazine) was a fan of swimming and has many photos in a pool and underwater...

... and while there are famous images such as the one above, playing against Larry Evans in Reykjavik in 1972, they are played on the water, not under.

In Diving Chess, the entire game takes place underwater with the board, designed especially for this, at the bottom. The water is essentially chest high and each player takes turns diving under the water to make their moves.

Although informal games are held anywhere at anytime, the aficionados have put together a 'World Championship' each year for several years now. In 2015, the image above, it was held in Third Space Gym in Soho, London.

Each player can only think as long as they are able to hold their breath. Once you’ve made a move and come up for air, your opponent must dive and cannot come back up until they’ve played a move, and then it’s your turn to dive again…

This brings to fore some tactical aspects. Since the rules stipulate you must dive as soon as the other player comes up, one way to pressure the opponent is to play quickly, leaving them less time to recover their breath.

Another technical aspect is using weights. Even if you think spending 15-20 seconds underwater is no big deal, it can become a lot more challenging if you have to make an effort to stay under water. Even diving up and down, combined with constantly holding your breath, can soon become tiresome.

In the 2016 Diving Chess World Championship, Rajko Vutatovic explained that some of his rivals tried to pressure him by playing quickly. Imagine you held your breath for a full minute, calculating your move, and five seconds after you came up, still gasping a bit, you are forced to dive under again.

In spite of the competitive side to this all, it is ultimately still all about having fun in a pool with an original twist on chess


A short video with excerpts from the 2015 edition. Special kudos to the videographer who filmed it underwater!

Players from the 2015 Diving Chess World Championship. James Heppell (England) took gold, followed by Etan Ilfeld (USA) with silver, and Alain Dekker (South Africa) with bronze.


Short video of the 2016 Diving Chess World Championship

In the 2016 edition, gold was shared by Rajko Vujatovic and Etan Ilfeld who scored four wins and one draw (against each other), and bronze was shared by James Heppell and Paul Rosario

Many thanks to Etan Ilfeld for sharing this with us.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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