Swedish ChessBoxing Sensation in London

by ChessBase
6/28/2009 – London hasn’t been this crazy about a Swede since the heady days of Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon. This was undoubtedly the best chessboxing night yet seen in the UK; there was a superlative headline bout between two of the world's leading chessboxers, controversy involving an illegal move, the flamboyant Red Kite, and an England vs Germany match. Pictorial report with annotated games.

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Swedish ChessBoxing Sensation in London

Report by Rajko Vujatovic & Louise Sizer

Such was the pre-fight demand for tickets that marketing needed to be scaled down for the St. George’s Day event held in London’s Bethnal Green Working Mens Club – it was a 200 capacity sell-out with another 100 being turned away at the door. (Anyone who would like to be notified of the next event should email tim.woolgar@gbcbo.co.uk & request to be added to the GBCBO newsletter distribution list.  Alternatively use this contact if you’d like help setting up a chessboxing club where you live!)

Konrad Rikardson from Malmo, Sweden, featured in a peak time BBC news report

In an exciting development, the evening boasted the world’s first ever amateur chessboxing bout, designed to make it easier for chessplayers to transfer into the sport. There were also the debuts of two bona fide chessplayers – Englishmen Nick Cornish and Matt "Crazy Arms" Read had learnt to box completely from scratch, in a year of gruelling training under the auspices of top coach Bevis Allen.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, chessboxing combines the ultimate mental sport and the ultimate physical sport, with alternating rounds of chess and boxing so that a single chess game is fought in parallel with a boxing match.  Checkmate or knockout wins, whichever comes first!  You start with a round of chess, followed by a round of boxing, then another round to continue the same chess game, and so on and so forth.  Each player has twelve minutes on his clock for all moves, so there is a maximum of six four-minute chess and five three-minute boxing rounds. The same people box and play chess, a common misconception is that there is a handover between a chessplayer and a separate boxer.

That’s how it all works, so let’s see what happened on the night...

The backstage crew is essential to ensure a slick operation. In the above picture Berliner Sabine Prokscha shares a joke with English Master Caius Turner, whilst International Master Malcolm Pein studies his notes for the chess commentary.  One of the greatest pleasures of these evenings is hearing how much Pein’s chess commentary was loved by people who had little or no understanding of the game. Note the gold ‘king trophies’ besides the bell.

Raga (left) and Milo are regular spectators and add a touch of class. Chessboxing has a convivial party atmosphere and is far more female friendly than a normal boxing crowd, with 40% of tickets purchased by ladies.

The Headline Bout:
Sascha Wandkowsky vs. Konrad Rikardson

  • White: Sascha Wandkowsky.  Chess Elo rating – est 1800. 79kg. Chessboxing record – 5 Wins, 2 Losses.  Hometown – Berlin, resident in London.
  • Black: Konrad Rikardson.  Chess Elo rating - est 2000.  79kg.  Chessboxing record – 1 Win, 1 Loss (stopped by a much heavier opponent).  Hometown – Malmo, Sweden.

Sascha Wandkowsky vs. Konrad Rikardson (facing). Wandkowsky surprises the Swede with the Grob Attack 1.g4, a favourite of convicted murderer Claude F. Bloodgood who once had the second highest chess rating in the U.S. after Bobby Fischer & would’ve undoubtedly made a fearsome chessboxer.

Rikardson as Black played a solid no-nonsense defence avoiding the pawn-grabbing complications of 2...Bxg4 3.c4, and proceeded to skilfully outplay the Berliner in the middlegame. Commentator Pein duly instructed the crowd why “A knight on the rim is dim!”, whilst “A knight in the centre is like an octopus!”.  The latter lesson was clearly absorbed by the spectators – the next day at the boxing gym, one could hear the riddle “What goes Neighhh, Neighhh, Wibbble, Wibbbbble?”.

A bearded Iepe Rubingh, artist and chessboxing founder, comments on a move

BAM BAM BAM!  Sascha’s aggression belies his placid exterior outside the ring but Rikardson knows how to defend himself – hunch to protect the body and use the gloves to protect the head. Wandkowksy came back to level terms in the boxing, no mean feat given that Rikardson knocked him down in round six.

Going into round ten, the Berliner needed to go flat out for a knockout since his chess position was hopeless, with Rikardson about to promote a pawn to a queen.  Click here to see Sascha’s final boxing round on YouTube.

(Photo: Dr. Giles Spungin)  In the final chess round eleven, Wandkowksy desperately jettisoned everything to try for stalemate, but Rikardson clinically mopped up the victory. Opinion was that this was the greatest chessboxing bout held to date.  Of course it takes two to make a great contest, so hats off also to runner-up Wandkowsky.

Traditional samba from ‘Cassandra’ formed part of the entertainment between bouts

The Amateur Bout:
Matt ‘Crazy Arms’ Read vs Tim Woolgar

  • White: Matt ‘Crazy Arms’ Read. Chess Elo rating - est 1800.  80kg.  Chessboxing record – Debut.  Hometown - London
  • Black: Tim Woolgar. Chess Elo rating - est 1400.  90kg.  Chessboxing record – 1 Win, 1 Loss.  Hometown – London

A dynamic struggle was anticipated in the Amateur bout, Read’s superior reach and chess ability compensating for Woolgar’s bulk.

(Photo: Dr. Giles Spungin)  Matt ‘Crazy Arms’ Read (left) lived up to his nickname when he played his cherished Orangutan Opening 1.b4 against Tim Woolgar.  This contest was notable as the world’s first ever Amateur chessboxing bout, where headguards and large 16 oz. gloves are worn as in standard Amateur boxing. It’s far more difficult to stop your opponent with this level of protection, thus favouring the chessplayer.

Compared to professional chessboxing, the combatants each have 6 minutes to make all moves instead of the normal 12 minutes.  Each chess round lasts three minutes instead of four whilst each boxing round is two minutes instead of three; so there is a maximum of four chess rounds and three boxing rounds. However, if you play sufficiently quickly that you don’t use up more than three minutes of your own time, then you only need to survive four minutes of boxing.

Matt Read uses his long ‘crazy arms’ to good effect

If you can’t reach his head go for the body instead. Woolgar gets thru the defences of the 6ft 6 in (200 cm) tall Read, whilst Cuban referee Reinaldo Dominguez looks on

Then it’s back to the final round of chess where there is confusion and high drama! In a losing position & with ten seconds remaining on his clock, Woolgar claims a win when Read makes an illegal move, failing to defend his king from a long-range queen check.

But both players have been briefed  that the first illegal move won’t lead to an automatic loss for the offender – this wouldn’t be popular with paying spectators!  The organisers have instead amended the FIDE blitz laws so an illegal move is treated like a punch below the belt, where disqualification occurs only after repeat offences, and the referee has latitude to punish with penalties.  Therefore a delighted Matt ‘Crazy Arms’ Read won the world’s first ever Amateur chessboxing bout!

The Heavyweight Bout:
James ‘The Slice’ Taylor vs. Bob ‘The Red Kite’ Innes

  • White: James ‘The Slice’ Taylor. Chess level – beginner improver.  100kg.  Chessboxing record – 1 win from 1 fight.  Hometown - Bristol
  • Black: Bob ‘The Red Kite’ Innes. Chess level – beginner improver.  100kg.  Chessboxing record – 1 loss from 1 fight.  Hometown – Cardiff

This is a return match from when these gents met in August 2008, when The Slice emerged victorious after an upper cut in round 2.

The heavyweights slug it out over the board. Bob ‘The Red Kite’ Innes (facing) and James ‘The Slice’ Taylor tease commentator Malcolm Pein with the possibility of entering the Frankenstein-Dracula opening variation, but it didn’t quite happen. If you’re wondering where these nicknames come from, Red Kite is a newsletter produced by Innes, whilst Taylor is known to have a weakness for custard slices.

After some ups and downs, The Red Kite headed into boxing round four with a chess advantage.

Since these guys last met in August 2008, Bob ‘The Red Kite’ Innes has worked on an unorthodox boxing style which instantly endeared him to the entire crowd. Combining boxing with moves borrowed from Greco-Roman wrestling and Modern Ballet made for an entertaining combination of defence and counterattack. Everyone was chanting ‘RED KITE!  RED KITE!  RED KITE!”’. James ‘The Slice’ Taylor tried to win support by some artful showboating but couldn’t hope to challenge the popularity of the mighty Red Kite. Sadly for his adoring fans, the former Scottish Universities Heavyweight Champion hadn’t quite perfected his experimental boxing technique and was occasionally caught off-balance after an imperfect pirouette, with the bout ending prematurely at the tail-end of round four by technical Knockout. See the Das Bild report for more on Red Kite!

The England vs. Germany Bout:
Nick Cornish vs. Sebastian Bauersfeld

  • White: Nick Cornish. Chess Elo rating - est 1600.  81kg. Chessboxing record – Debut.  Hometown - London
  • Black: Sebastian Bauersfeld. Chess Elo rating – est 1800.  80kg.  Chessboxing record – 4 Wins, 1 Loss.  Hometown - Berlin

Here we have two men of similar height and physique. Bauersfeld was the favourite on paper, with more boxing experience plus a slightly higher chess rating. The German was born to be a chessboxer –- his grandfather was a chess master whilst his father was a former GDR boxing champion. As Malcolm Pein stated in his live commentary, Bauersfeld also has a lucky name – it means Pawn Square in German, literally ‘farmer field’. 

(Photo: Dr. Giles Spungin)  Englishman Nick Cornish (left) vs. Germany’s Sebastian Bauersfeld

Bauersfeld as Black made a bold attempt to blockade on the white squares but somewhat risky since he hadn’t yet castled his king to safety. When Cornish offered a queen exchange with Qb4, this was not only greeted by boisterous boos at the behest of commentator Pein, but also let Bauersfeld realise his strategic objective.

Nick Cornish shows the deepest concentration in the ring

The German fans were taken aback when Cornish held his own in the boxing with flurries of aggressive counterpunching that at one time had Bauersfeld on the ropes. Exhausted but proud to have comfortably survived his first competitive round in the ring, the Englishman resumed round three with a ‘chessboxing blunder’, an uncharacteristic move that would’ve never happened in normal chess. Resignation followed shortly after. Despite the loss of the bout, it was a great success for the rookie, who impressed with his physical fitness & boxing technique.

Our photographer Louise Sizer is a final year student of Graphic Design for Communication at London's prestigious Chelsea College of Art and Design. Louise's current work involves photographing athletes of unusual sports; her repertoire also includes Bog Snorkelling, Man vs. Horse marathons and Unicyclists. Her pictures were taken without flash with a Nikon D200 camera and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Requests to obtain high definition prints or to use Louise’s photos for major commercial publications should be sent to Louise Sizer (who is contactable via emailing tim.woolgar@gbcbo.co.uk).

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