Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chessboxing, 10th October


The set up
How do you stop chess being boring? Now, I know you think the answer is going to be ‘team it with boxing’, given the title of this post, but you’re only half right. The full answer is that you keep it short and sweet and you have Malcolm Pein commentating on it. 

While you cannot be entertained by chess if there are no players playing it, or making the sometimes controversial moves on which Pein was remarking, it was not the players who made the chess rounds interesting. It was Pein, with his fast-paced, intelligible, informative yet humorous commentary. He managed to not only keep us up to speed with what the chess players were doing (no mean feat at the pace they sometimes played), but also tell us why they might be doing that, whether it was a good move or not, sneak in some trivia on the chess world, squeeze in some explanation of the game for the complete novices out there and still find time to keep us laughing with a few one liners. He really made the night for me.

But it was a fun night on the whole anyway. I’ve never been a huge fan of boxing and have never seen any live, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to see such an odd combination and see how they pull it off. First, they have an MC who also deserves much credit for making the night entertaining. He introduced the night, introduced the players and was the one to interview them before and after the bouts. He was a consummate professional, smooth at all times, no matter what kind of answers the fighters threw at him, and again, making us all crack a smile on more than one occasion.

Chessboxing works thus: 11 rounds, starting off with chess, and finishing with chess. Each chess round is 4 minutes, each boxing round is 3 minutes. Players have 12 minutes each on the clock for the chess. They win by either a knockout in the boxing round, or a checkmate. If neither of these happens, it gets a tad more complicated, going to points scored. By keeping the chess to 4 minutes, with a time limit for each player, they manage to segue quite easily from chess to boxing and back again, maintaining the high octane pace built up in the previous round.

The first bout was between an Englishman - ‘General’ Levy (clearly a junglist, hence the name), and a German - ‘CSI” Bendfeld (who seemed like a lovable geek). The first round of chess went by at a steady pace, as we all watched the giant screens which simulated what was happening on the board. After that, things got faster and faster. The bell went, signifying the end of the round, the table was cleared from the ring and then it was time to FIGHT! Before we knew it, three minutes were up and the chess board was out again. ‘CSI’ was dominating and in a blink it was time to box again. Both sides were tiring and no knockout was going to happen. Never mind, it was obvious it would be all over in the next chess round and it was. Ze Germans had won in under 20 minutes. A thrilling start to the night.


Bendfeld and Levy about to start

A short break for a drink and then it was the Bankers round. One guy from Goldman Sachs in his debut Chessboxing match versus one guy from Citibank. This fight was epic and went down to the wire. It lasted as long as a Chessboxing match possibly can, being decided in the final round. Both pugilists were exhausted in the ring, we knew a knockout wasn’t going to happen, and on the board the Goldman Sachs guy, Sean Mooney had the clear advantage. He had managed to not only make one pawn a queen, but two! A feat never before seen in Chessboxing. But to capitalise on this and force a checkmate in the allotted time was too tough, and it was the Citibank man, Brian Woon’s running out of time which decided this nailbiting match. And believe it or not, it really was nailbiting, the chess especially. The bell always rang too soon and everyone groaned that we would have to wait to see what happened on the board. But then they’d have at it with their fists in the ring, and everyone would really get into that again. 


Mooney and Woon slugging it out

After this gruelling bout was over, an interval, during which there was a hula hooper to entertain, and then the final and main event – the middleweight title fight. This was, in the end, the most disappointing of the lot, with only four rounds being fought and the winner being determined on points in the boxing. In the second chess round they repeated their moves three times, neither player willing to take a risk to break through the ‘stalemate’, which means that ended in a draw. That meant they then had another round of boxing in which to get a knock out or it was down to points in the boxing. In the end the Armenian won by one point, was ‘crowned’ and then buggered off with nary a word! 


The final victor is announced

It was somewhat of a relief that the last round finished so abruptly as by this time it was getting late, and we had bought the ‘cheap seats’ which meant standing the whole time. As much as I enjoyed it, I think more than two and a half hours of it, was a more than a decent amount. It would have gone on for longer, with a women’s bout as well, but the poor girl who had turned up to fight had been stood up – her opponent had pulled out at the last minute.

My boyfriend, who is a big fan of boxing, absolutely loved it. I loved it too, much more than I thought I would, and that applies to both elements. Scala, 8th December – the next Chessboxing event. See you there! Apparently on a Saturday there's more of a club part afterwards, which I'd like to try. I loved the tunes that were being laid down on Wednesday!


Graffitti and DJ adding to the ambience

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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.