What's Chess Boxing all About?
“You never know what forms a chess boxer,” she says. “You can tell [the participants] come from lot of different backgrounds and I found that incredibly refreshing.”
Competitive Chess Boxing: Brain Meets Pain in IcelandThe sport of chess boxing was invented in 1992 by the French artist Enki Bilal, who thought it up for his comic book, Froid Équateur. It would take more than a decade for the sport to appear in real life, but in 2003 the first official bout was held in Berlin. Today there are chess boxers around the world. Here in the United States, Andrew McGregor is one of the biggest local names. Based in Los Angeles, McGregor is a photographer, filmmaker and founder of the Los Angeles Chessboxing Club.
The rules in chess boxing are simple. There are 11 rounds and players alternate between boxing and chess. The boxing rounds last three minutes and the chess rounds last four. You win by knockout or checkmate. If neither of those is achieved, the boxer with the highest number of points wins.
Chess boxing partly appeals to the same white-collar people who are drawn to things like fight clubs — mild-mannered professionals that need to let out their angst. There’s a banker who fights in the United Kingdom, for example. But Tim Woolgar, the founder of London Chessboxing and the president of the World Chessboxing Association, says there’s also a carpenter, a nuclear submarine commander and plenty of people who are trained as boxers and mixed martial arts fighters. He says the only real thread that unites participants is an open mind.
“It tends to attract people who are original thinkers,” he says. “They tend to be independent spirits with the ability to take on a challenge that other people would be afraid of. You have to be courageous to be a chess boxer because you’re a bit of a pioneer.”
Woolgar, who is 40 and has fought as an amateur boxer, says he likes the challenge of getting knocked around and then having to clear his head to concentrate on the chess board. He thinks the physical-mental strain combination has a lot of real-world applications. Say your car breaks down on the side of the highway in the snow. Or you find yourself lost on a hike. The ability to withstand the physical challenge and still make good decisions is key in these situations and also something that’s at the heart of chess boxing.
“You need to be able to think on your feet,” he says.
This weekend Woolgar will be fighting Andy Costello, 46, during a chess boxing tournament in London. Costello is a professional MMA fighter and says most of his wins in chess boxing have come in the boxing rounds and his losses in the chess matches. He has a chess coach, who he meets with once a week, and says when he’s mismatched on the chess side he does his best to stall on the board and bring it home with his fists.
“I definitely find it harder to focus on the chess and not make a mistake,” he says.
Costello is featured in several of Pannack’s photos and is definitely one of the most striking characters she photographed. He’s got the face of a boxer and he’s got a palpable intensity with his gloves on. What really interested Pannack, however, was that Costello showed the same intensity when he sits down in front of a chessboard. He’s got the stare of someone who wants to knock you out however he can.
“There are people who you are just drawn to,” she says. “You want to paint them, draw them, photograph them, and he’s definitely one of those people.”
From Alexandra Kosteniuk's
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