Fight Knights

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Ellwood

Welcome to the world of chess boxing.

It's 1992 , the death throes of the Cold War. French artist Enki Bilal publishes the last installment of his epic graphic novel,The Nikopol Trilogy. It depicts the bleakness of life in a post-apocalyptic Paris; sport in such a violent world, Bilal reasons, would reflect the bloodthirsty culture. As evidence, he invents an absurd mashup: boxing plus chess, where fighters battle both in the ring and on the board. Cut to 20 years later: the nuclear apocalypse he imagined may not have come to pass, but the sport he created is thriving. More than 250 fight knights are devoted adherents of the strange but compelling sport of chess boxing.

It was a prankish performance artist, Iepe Rubingh, who staged the first real-world bout in Berlin a decade ago. Calling it the perfect combination of "the No. 1 thinking sport and the No. 1 fighting sport," Rubingh recalls his anxiety that the match might lack the drama to grip the 300 spectators, "but nobody went to the bar during the chess rounds--everybody was fascinated." Rubingh was inspired to start the World Chess Boxing Organization, or WCBO, which now oversees the sport worldwide.

The rules of this surreal combination of knuckle dusting and brain twisting are simple. Two players alternate between boxing (three minutes) and chess (four minutes) up to a total of 11 rounds. A champ can be declared by knockout or checkmate; if neither has been achieved by the end of those 11 rounds, the decision rests on the points scored in the ring. Longtime competitor David Pfeifer--a biographer and novelist by profession--explains the challenge: "Adrenaline rushing through our body makes you punch back under attack, but you have to control that impulse to play chess," he says. …