Chessboxing: The sport demanding both brains and brawn

German Chessboxer Tim Bendfeldt before his fight at the Platoon Kunstalle in Berlin, Germany. (David Bitton)
Sunday Chess TV
power chess
German Chessboxer Tim Bendfeldt before his fight at the Platoon Kunstalle in Berlin, Germany. (David Bitton)


Let’s get ready to rumble – then sit down and play a round of chess.

Chessboxing sounds like a joke (and was in fact popularized by a Dutch artist nicknamed the Joker), but it is a serious sport that combines – yep, you guessed it – chess and boxing.

A match starts with a round of chess, then a round of boxing, all while an audience cheers fighters on as they alternate between using their fists and their minds to defeat their opponent. During the chess rounds athletes wear headphones blasting loud music to block out the announcer and the loud fans.

Canadian connection

Winnipeg-born Sean Mooney quickly became a fan of the sport after he first heard about chessboxing while working across the pond in London in 2010.

“I thought it was a joke,” admits Mooney in a phone interview with Yahoo Canada.

Then he saw the crowds and media attention the quirky sport was getting and decided to get in the ring.

These days, Mooney works a white-collar job in finance in New York City, but in his spare time he’s often sparring at the gym, training for a chessboxing match.

“Every time I fight I tell my mom it’s my last one,” he said.

But, he admits he’s not going to give it up anytime soon. When he’s training for a bout he works out before and after work, combining time in the ring with time in the gym lifting weights and running. He also does cross-training, such as yoga and soccer.

Open to the public

While Mooney does chessboxing semi-professionally the sport also attracts amateurs interested in working out their mind and their body for the pleasure and challenge of it.

“Anyone can do it,” said Sina Krause, a spokesperson for London Chessboxing, Inc., in a phone interview. “We get lots of students.”

Krause, who does chessboxing for fun, says many bright people like the challenge of training their mind to focus on a game of chess after their body gets tired out by a round in the ring.

Potential to grow

London, England currently has the biggest chessboxing community, with about 700 people coming out to watch semi-pros like Mooney battle it out in the ring and on the board.

Canadian filmmaker David Bitton has been working on his documentary, Chessboxing: The King’s Discipline for more than five years and is currently putting the final touches on his passion project now.

Since the first world chessboxing championship in 2003 the sport’s fan base has been growing around the globe, said the Torontonian.

While Mooney is currently the only Canadian competing in official World Chessboxing Association bouts Bitton says there is growing interest here.

“I talked to two guys who put on a chessboxing match in their basement in Vancouver,” said the filmmaker.

While chessboxing is never going to deliver a knockout punch to bigger contact sports, like UFC, “it’s definitely growing,” said Bitton. There’s just something compelling about watching two people battle it out, waiting to see if it there will be a KO or a checkmate.

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