The Sports Search: Chess boxing

What shines through more in sports? Brains or brawn? What about both.

A photo of two people playing in the chess portion of chess boxing.

“The Sports Search” is a column by Jack Waterman about unique sports.

Welcome to the Sports Search! Every other week I will take you on my journey to explore the massive world of sports, especially those unknown by me or the average fan. These sports will introduce aspects of a culture, show a creative spin on those sports we are all familiar with or just make me laugh. I challenge myself to guess different facets about the sport and its rules before researching it, most likely being wildly wrong. Regardless, I’m glad you’ve decided to learn alongside me. Here we go!

Every sport requires a unique combination of both physical and mental attributes. A quarterback needs a strong arm and quick processing skills. A sprinter needs powerful legs and lighting-quick reaction time. A swimmer needs incredible endurance and extreme focus. What if instead of seeing both aspects work together simultaneously, you could isolate the two. A sport where the brains and the brawn are separated from each other and independently spotlighted.

Introducing… chess boxing!


Upon first thought, I’ve got to believe that this is a fairly self-explanatory sport. I assume there is some boxing and there is some chessing (that definitely isn’t a word, but for this article I am coining it).

I’m picturing a boxer who seems a little less crazy, as if they’ve been beaten in the head fewer times than the average boxer, and I’m seeing a chess player that looks a little out of their element, as if they may break the pieces as they move them around.

I’m familiar with the objectives of boxing and chess, so I would have to say that whoever knocks out or checkmates the other first is the victor. However, I question this because if you had a great boxer who just knocked the other guy out in the first round, then we wouldn’t get to see any chess and that’s just bad television.

But, past those guesses, I’m at a loss. I couldn’t tell you where this originated (although a part of me could easily see this having started at a frat party or football game tailgate), who might play it or how you play.

However, what I lack in answers, I make up for in questions. What really confuses me is the logistics. Are these separate events happening at the same time? I’m sitting here picturing two players sitting down at a table, and one guy moves his rook and then proceeds to take a swing at the other guy. For some reason, my biggest issue with that is that the table might shake and the pieces could fall over. As well, if this isn’t how it’s played and they are separate, do you think of your next chess moves while boxing, or are you thinking of a strategy to knock out your opponent during the chess match? Strategy is crucial to any sport, and these questions need answers.

The Rules

In chess boxing, competitors compete in 11 alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Each round lasts three minutes, with a one minute break in between, and the match ends when someone gets knocked out in the ring or checkmated on the board.

As well, if neither of those happen, time plays a factor. If you use up all of your allotted chess-playing time, nine minutes, or have fewer boxing points when the rounds conclude, you lose. Fighters are organized into weight classes: Lightweight, Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight. On the chess side, while there are no groupings due to ability, each player must have an ELO rating of 1600. There is no messing around in this sport.

Upon learning more about the rules, I thought it would be best to get into some clips of chess boxing in action. I was not disappointed. Not only is boxing always fun to watch, but when that same intensity is carried into the game of chess … boy, does it get fun. The concept of chess being a quiet sport is completely tossed out the window as the commentators are amplified over loudspeakers and fans are free to cheer as they like.

However, through all the excitement, I couldn’t help wondering about something: If the last bout of boxing was a particularly bloody one, might the pieces and board also get bloody, leaving any unknowing viewer to tune in and become wildly confused about this apparent chess massacre? If you are a chess boxer and can clarify this for me, let me know.


Most surprisingly, chess boxing has been around for some time. Starting in Western Europe, the first match happened all the way back in 2003 in Berlin. It gained enough players and supporters to have the first ever chess boxing world championship that same year. Dutch Middleweight fighters Iepe Rubingh and Jean Louis Veenstra went toe-to-toe for all 11 rounds until Rubingh’s victory due to Veenstra using up all his allotted chess time.

Since that riveting match, chess boxing has continued with its world championships and seen expansion across the world, receiving coverage from major news sources such as Eurosport, CNN and the Los Angeles Times.

Speaking of L.A., created in 2009, the Los Angeles Chess boxing Club was the first of its kind in the United States. As far as I’m concerned, that should be L.A.’s claim to fame.

Recently, chess boxing has been gaining more supporters and sponsors, and in 2016, then-FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov publicly announced that he wanted chess boxing to be included in the Olympic Games. I definitely underestimated this sport.

It even has its own internal drama! Two of the most popular chess boxers, Rubingh and Woolgar, have wildly different personalities; Rubingh was much more professional while Woolgar’s events were basically a party. Because of this, they couldn’t decide how to better structure the sport, leading to the creation of two separate governing bodies: the World Chess Boxing Association and the World Chess Boxing Organization. That. Is. Awesome.


Chess and boxing are both incredibly difficult sports at the highest level. I know these guys aren’t necessarily the best at each individual sport, but doing them together has to be difficult. It requires training of the brain and the body, and I have gained immense respect for them.

I think I will always view chess boxing with a hint of humor in its concept, and continue to question the small, comical nuances like the bloody chess pieces. However, if I have learned one thing, it’s that chess boxing is legit. Fans, announcers and players alike really care about this sport and I couldn’t be happier that I stumbled upon it. Sorry boxing, you’re too unsophisticated now. Sorry chess, you just aren’t exciting enough anymore. Now chessboxing — that’s something I can get behind.

The “Sports Search” typically runs every other Friday.