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Berlin is home of one of the most quirky hybrid sports. Combining brain and brawn, chessboxing is the intellectual fight club that’s taking the world by storm. As the name suggests, chessboxing brings together boxing and chess, to challenge its champions both physically and mentally. Born and based in the German capital, welcome to the world’s quirkiest sport.
Chessboxing is the brainchild of Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh and was initially planned to act only as an art performance. Rubingh discovered the idea of chessboxing from the 1992 French science-fiction comic Froid Équatuer. In the comic book version, opponents had to fight an entire boxing match and then face each other in a game of chess. However, recognising that this would be impractical, Rubingh developed the hybrid sport further, to involve alternating rounds of boxing and chess. The unique competition quickly turned into a fully fledged and popular competitive sport, with the first official competition taking place in Berlin in 2003. In the same year, the initial World Championship fight was also held in Amsterdam, in cooperation with the Dutch Boxing Association and the World Chess Boxing Organization (WCBO) which was founded in Berlin. Iepe Rubingh won this fight in the 11th round, becoming the first ever World Chess Boxing Champion. The following year in Berlin, the Chess Boxing Club Berlin was created, the first of its kind, this club cemented the city as the base and birthplace of chessboxing.
Chessboxing received credit from the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in 2008, five years after the first world championship match. FIDE president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, even took part in a chessboxing demo fight. During this time the chessboxing community continued to grow globally, with clubs being found in the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States. By 2011 the chessboxing craze had grown substantially, expanding to India, Asia and the following year to Iran. The cultural boxing club took the world by storm, steadily growing across the globe, delighting fans and champions alike.
Today, the sport continues to experience tremendous success. Drawing in crowds and competitors ready to brave six rounds of chess and five rounds of boxing, with the winner being crowned for successfully getting either a checkmate or knock out. In Berlin, the sport continues to grow with regular events, as well as the forming of the Intellectual Fight club. This club is a series of urban chess boxing events, acting as the rough little brother of the professional Chess Boxing series. As the sport grows and legitimises, the sky’s the limit for founder Iepe Rubingh, and he’s pushing to get the sport into the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. Whether this dream is realised or not, it’s safe to say that this one of a kind, captivating sport is here to stay.