Chess boxing: Between brain and brawn

The sport has gained popularity in Gujarat, Kerala, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and the Northeast.
Participants at the Asian Chess Boxing Championships, 2023. (Photo | Express)
Participants at the Asian Chess Boxing Championships, 2023. (Photo | Express)

Two players sit down at a chess table, locked in intense concentration. A timer rings. They are up in an instant, trading the cerebral game for a physically intense round of boxing. Welcome to chess boxing—a hybrid sport where players alternate between rounds of chess and boxing. The first player to score a knockout or a checkmate wins. This year, the sport completes 20 years of existence and is gaining momentum in India too. The country will now participate at the World Chess Boxing Championships 2023, starting October 28.

Current president of the World Chess Boxing Organisation (WCBO), Montu Das, says, “I was introduced to chess boxing in 2010, when I first watched a bout on TV.” At the time, Kolkata-based Das, an international kickboxing medalist, held an official position in the Kickboxing Federation of India. He promptly emailed Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh—who created the sport—at the WCBO headquarters in Berlin. After several rounds of emails and Skype sessions, which also involved other WCBO officials from Germany and England, Das was given the approval to found and head the Chess Boxing Organisation of India (CBOI) in May 2011.

The number of chess boxing aspirants at the gym run by Das grew. “Parents were excited about the sport, as it included mental training,” he explains. 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. Each match encompasses six rounds of chess and five rounds of boxing. “The challenge is to get yourself under control after a round of boxing so that you can make a strong move on the chessboard. And then get your adrenaline raging again for a boxing bout,” he says.

The sport has gained popularity in Gujarat, Kerala, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and the Northeast. Nongsha Singh Basumatary from Guwahati in Assam emerged victorious in two prestigious championships in June—the Asian Chess Boxing Championship 2023 and the WCBO Indian Open Chess Boxing World Cup 2023. At the World Amateur Chess Boxing Championship in 2022 in Turkey, India topped the table with 18 medals. Given the popularity of the game, Das is hopeful of an Olympics debut in the future.

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The New Indian Express
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