Of might and mind
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Who would have thought that a comic book illustration would one day give birth to a new sport? When French writer-illustrator Enki Bilal released the final part of his sci-fi graphic novel Nikopol trilogy in 1992, he put his protagonist, a boxer, on the cover, wearing black-and-white chequered gloves. In the dystopian world he created, he pit two violent games against one another — boxing with its physicality, and chess, which might be all brain, but is one of the most aggressive games when one is going for the kill. The game has picked up almost two decades later and the sport is played in over 10 countries across the world.
The first chess boxing tournament was held in Amsterdam in 2003. It was soon adopted by England, Russia, Germany, Iran, France, China and Italy. In 2011, this sport came to India. Barely two years old, it's growing in popularity in India with the formation of 10 state-level associations which include Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, among others. "When a new sport is introduced, there is always a lot of curiosity around it. But apart from the novelty, this sport shows a lot of promise because of the expertise in both the aspects that it demands," says Montu Das, the founder of the Chess Boxing Organisation of India (CBOI) in Kolkata. Das has been a former international kickboxing medallist himself and has organised two national championships in the country since 2011, bringing together more than 300 registered players — girls and boys of all ages — from India.
In the game described by Bilal, the contestants played one entire game of chess followed by a match of boxing. Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh liked the concept of the sport but felt that the format did not amalgamate the two games enough. He instead redesigned it, and it now alternates chess and boxing rounds. The game begins with a three-minute round of chess, where players make their opening moves while sitting across a chess board placed in the boxing ring. After the round is over, the chess board is carried out of the ring and the players put on their boxing gloves and begin a three-minute round of boxing. The game has 11 rounds in all, alternating between chess (six rounds) and boxing (five rounds). The winner is decided by a checkmate or a knockout — whichever comes first.