Wearing boxing gloves, first they battle it out on the ring for one round, and then they wear their thinking caps to play chess. They move inside the ring again and return to play chess. An ideal marriage between brain and brawn, chessboxing has slowly made its presence felt like one of the hybrid sports in India. The sport combines the intellectual elements of chess with the physical demands of boxing — the two extremes of endurance to determine who can prevail in a battle of the mind and body.
The concept of the game was first developed from an image of men boxing on a chessboard in a 1992 comic book, The Nikopol Trilogy. It inspired Dutch artist Lepe Rubingh so much that he went on to compete in the first-ever chessboxing bout in Amsterdam in 2003. The idea was turned into a real sport on the world stage with Germany, Great Britain, Russia and lately India showing interest.
The rules of this hybrid sport
As per the rules, a typical chessboxing game has 11 rounds in total (6 of chess and 5 of boxing). It begins with chess, essentially speed chess, which goes on for four minutes. During the switch between the boxing ring and chessboard, competitors are provided with noise-cancelling earphones to concentrate on their chess rounds. There is a 10-second move rule on the chess side of the match. Like a boxing match, the contest is scored on points with the competitor having the most points declared the victor at the end. A checkmate also can elicit an immediate winner.
Chessboxing’s entry in India
The game of chessboxing was popularised in India through Kolkata, and its courtesy goes to the Chess Boxing Organisation of India (CBOI), started by Montu Das. Das, the founder and President of CBOI, has been practising Martial Arts for the last 23 years. He was an Indian karate champion in 1995 and a kickboxing champion in 1997. After getting permission from the World Chess Boxing Association, he founded the CBOI in Kolkata in May 2011. On 27 November 2011, India witnessed its first-ever demonstration chessboxing fight at the Bakul Math park in Kolkata in front of 1,500 spectators. However, getting official recognition for the sport been problematic as it needed enough interested people to back for the government to take it seriously.
Mumbaikar Shailesh Tripathi was the first from the country to take up the sport and even represent India at the World Chessboxing Championship. He started his carer in Kolkata from CBOI. Since Das founded the CBOI in 2011, he planned to take India up to the mark of the best chessboxing countries of the world. He even introduced a seeding programme to train chessboxers at his south Kolkata gym as well as touring other kickboxing associations around India to grow the sport. Not only Kolkata, but chessboxing associations and clubs have also sprung up in states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Manipur and Rajasthan.
Gaining mileage across the country
India’s first national chessboxing championship was staged in Kolkata in January 2013. This year, the 8th national chessboxing championship in sub-junior, junior and senior, Men and Women were held at the Khudiram Anushilan Kendra in Kolkata in August. Over 500 participants from across the country participated in the event in different categories, where competitors ranged between the age of seven and 40.
Today India has more than 1,200 registered chess boxers, 35% of whom are women. In India, there are a lot more women involved in chess boxing than in Europe. In Europe, it’s 90% men and 10% women. Almost all the participants in India have initially been boxers or martial arts exponents who took to chess after becoming chessboxers. However, for the sports to become recognised, it has to clear a significant roadblock. Since it is not famous all over the world, it is not an Olympic sport; thus, it is not affiliated to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Applications have been sent to the IOA and sports ministry, and Montu awaits a reply. The national championship, however, have seen excellent support from the sponsors. Big corporate houses also have extended their help.
The future of Indian chessboxing is though unknown, Montu Das has a big challenge for himself, which is to see the tri-colour fluttering with pride at global Chessboxing events which can further lift up the spirit of the athletes practising this sport.