They play a round of chess then remove their thinking cap to pull on a pair of boxing gloves. They return to the chessboard and go the boxing ring again. It continues for five rounds (final is played over seven rounds) and eventually there’s a winner. Checkmate brings instant victory. So does a knockout punch. This is chessboxing in a nutshell.
Requiring special skills to be good at both and execute them simultaneously, this sport is a marriage between brain and brawn.
Over the last couple of days, Kolkata hosted the fourth senior national chessboxing championship at Salt Lake SAI.
Eight states participated and 90 contestants turned up. Andhra finished as team champions, while Bengal and Maharashtra were first and second runners-up respectively. But results perhaps were not very important. Novelty was the main attraction. About 200-odd enthusiasts who cared to be present, found the event engrossing.
For 21-year-old Dipti, chessboxing was a favourite pastime till the other day. But the young girl from Andhra is now seriously thinking about becoming a professional, after winning the gold medal in the women’s 48kg category. “I started boxing early, when I was six years old. I decided to switch to chessboxing because I found the sport very interesting. I had to learn chess and attended a school camp for 20 days before coming here. I started to train twice a day. It was difficult, given that I work in a private firm to earn my living. But I’m thinking about becoming a professional. This sport offers big possibilities,” Dipti said, speaking to The Indian Express.
Subhojit Das concurred. The Class XI student from St Joseph, New Alipore won the gold medal in the men’s 58-62kg category. He has already decided about making a career in chessboxing. “You’re constantly changing gears in this sport and that’s the real challenge. You start off with three minutes and 40 seconds of chess followed by three minutes of boxing before returning to play chess again. It’s not easy. You’re coming back to the chessboard bruised and battered and still trying to concentrate hard to make the right moves. I found it very difficult in the beginning but practise has helped me adapt,” said Subhojit.
Almost all participants were originally boxers or martial arts exponents who took to chess after becoming chessboxers. Subhojit checkmated his opponents in all three matches here. “It helps if you’re a good chess player. You’ve a head start… I’m a kickboxer but have been learning chess for the past four years.”
Subhojit’s father Montu is the founder president of the Chessboxing Organisation of India. He’s father figure to everyone who’s associated to the sport. What made him plunge into the novelty? “I was a kickboxer (4th Dan Black Belt) and yoga and meditation had always been part of my preparation. You need to calm the nerves before going into a high-combat sport. So I thought, why not bring chess and kickboxing together to combine mind and physique in the playing arena? I started in 2011. Four years down the line, I’m happy with the progress.
“The idea obviously came from Europe and the United States. Now 15 states in our country have actively taken up this sport. From India, chessboxing has gone to Iran, China and Afghanistan as well. Bangladesh, too, are showing interest,” Montu elaborated.
K Trimurtullu agreed. A boxing coach, he insisted that his favourite ward G Sujata make a switch to chessboxing after meeting Montu last year. “Sujata was very good at boxing at age-group levels. But she was not good enough for the senior level. Montu Das convinced me to send her to chessboxing. Sujata trained for two months under chess coach M Ramakrishna before the national. Now I can say I made the right decision. She did very well in Kolkata.
Also, chessboxing is growing fast and has got a bright future.” Sujata bagged the best boxer award in the fourth national.
There’s one problem though. Chessboxing is still not affiliated to Indian Olympic Association. Applications have been sent to the IOA and sports ministry, and Montu awaits a reply. The national championship, however, had good support from the sponsors. Big corporate houses extended help, close to Rs 6.5 lakh was raised. Why are the corporates so interested?
“This sport has potential. Both chess and boxing are popular and a combination makes the whole package attractive,” said Montu. A top officer from ONGC – one of the sponsors for the event – preferred caution. “Our policy tells us to support sport at national and international levels. But it’s too early to comment on chessboxing’s potential.”
Mumbai’s Sailesh Tripathi was the only Indian at the World Chessboxing in 2013. The next world championship is scheduled in 2016 and according to Montu, the number can increase to 12. Maybe his belief is not misplaced.