Sunday, December 06, 2009

Upper Cut to G7

So last night I went to one of the more random events I have attended for quite some time: chessboxing. Yes, you read that correctly.

It's exactly how it sounds, a sport where the... erm... fighters? Players? The two men undergo 8 rounds of alternately chess and full-contact boxing (though ultimately they work on a point system, knock-outs, apparently, are comparatively rare). You win the bout by inducing checkmate or on a technical knockout in boxing. If there is a draw at chess, either via the game itself or if there is a comparative deadlock situation and both players agree to forego the chess  in round 7, it comes down to the boxing. Confusing, no? You soon pick it up, indeed HR and I did by observation and irritating the people around us with questions.

Which leads me neatly on the next curio of the event: the audience. Now, having absolutely no exposure to this game at all previously, I half expected the observers to be either massive, built-like brickhouses and/or grossly obese, tight T-shirt wearing boxing fans or shy retiring bespectacled chess fanatics. As it stood, while there were people who fit this description present, it was more like any pub in suburban London. Middle-class, mostly older than us, almost exclusively Caucasian and almost all as baffled as we were. One could conclude that they had heard about it in the Guardian, Time Out magazine or some other publication, more accustomed to reviewing the latest performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Rather amusingly there was also a better male/female ratio than you would expect at a boxing bout or chess match(!) This lent an air of not taking this terribly seriously: we were here to see community theatre, not Hatton-Mayweather or... a chess match. As such I actually enjoyed the evening.

Through circumstance, we had to miss the first bout and about half of the second, and I spent a chunk of that at the bar, so I took it as a chance to try and understand the game. Pretty standard boxing, and more mundane chess - ended in a checkmate that seemed inevitable. We spent a lot of the time gently mocking the whole situation we found ourselves in - people paying money to support friends (presumably) or watch a game which confused them but they thought might make an interesting enough anecdote at their next wine and cheese party. (I don't know where HR got the idea but I agreed purely on the premise that something that different would be a great sight to behold.) The level of professionalism held by the venue didn't really help. Unfortunately the picture above is misleading - I didn't have the foresight to bring a camera with me, perhaps tempered by the hope that I would be in a cramped dingy underground venue (it was dingy and sub-terrain!) surrounded by massive boxing fans baying for blood. This was no national level event. Not for these chessboxers would there be sponsored chessboxing tables. No, instead we got (presumably magnetic) standard chessboard rested on a folding table (likely previously use to prop up someone's G&T while watching Newsnight), and a bloke hiding in the dark with a laptop mapping out the moves while the screen cut out every so often. And perhaps key to the hilarity is that HR and I found ourselves in the venue that we used to frequent on the unofficially but somehow widely known underage indie-rock drinking nights when we were wee slips of 15 and I thought that Stella Artois was the great beer of beer connoisseurs (nowadays I know it better as the chav-ish beer of pot-bellied wifebeaters). I actually let out a ha!  of amusement and reminiscence when they played the Libertines over the speaker system during the break. On the plus side, I enjoyed the ticket - simplistic, but somewhat stylistically akin to the old school boxing matches.

Also the between-matches entertainer was actually mental. A skinny black man in a pruple velvet suit and feathered top hat busting out 70s dance moves (I was fairly appreciative) and terrible cover songs, who either came from a circus background, novelty pubs or a reformed busker/tramp at our estimation.

The second bout we watched was infinitely more exciting. There was Sasha from Berlin and Daniel from Pamplona, who actually looked the part, unlike the previous two, one of whom was built spryly like a sprinter, and the winner who very much looked like a chess player rather than a boxer. The chess was tense, for spells the crowd was convinced that one or the other would win, and indeed there would always be one with one minute less on their chess clock (there is an allotted 12 mins total over the rounds) so there was the possibility one would run out the clock. As it was, there was a very level playing field in Round 7, exactly the same pieces on the board, both protecting themselves well to the point of risking repetition. To my, and everyone else's relief, they elected for the chess draw and instead to settle it in the boxing ring. When the folding table and chairs were packed away. The boxing side of things was much more interesting. Throughout, Sasha was more technically proficient, better footwork, more combinations, but had a rubbish guard. The Pamplona fighter, in contrast, had zero footwork, but more passion, instead satisfying himself with swinging admittedly solid hooks at his German opponent. What with Sasha's lack of ferocity (for the most part, there were spells for each where it got tense) and Daniel's lack of style or technique, neither would have made it as pure boxers. However, the game was called on points and the facts that Pamplona landed more blows and genuinely put on more effort and a better show led to his declaration as winner.

The third match was a massive disappointment in more than one sense of the word. The first chessboxer they brought on was a massive Pole from Warsaw with the encouraging nickname of 'the Wardrobe'. Then, they bring on a ludicrously obese man 'the Red Kite' who looks more like a lardier version of the man who taught me driving. The chess was mundane, nothing at all happened, then: the boxing. Which was worse. I had hoped that:
- Firstly, the chessboxing bouts were structured like all fighting tournaments, in which as you move along the fightcards, you get the better matches. Indeed the second one we saw was much more entertaining than the first.
- Secondly, that the Red Kite would put up more of a fight! Certainly he was built more like a boxing glove than a wardrobe, but you get overweight boxers who are a bit past their prime and retain the ability to throw a beast of a punch. Foolish me - there's overweight, then there's so rotund that I was glad the folding chairs were made out of metal.
The Red Kite turned out to be a chessboxing fraud. Not only was his guard and footwork terrible,  he didn't throw a single decent punch and kept tripping over his feet and falling backward. He threw in the towel (better than he threw punches!) midway through the round. What a disappointment and anticlimax!

I learned three things  as I walked out of the memory-ridden club while the punters danced around in the vacated ring like a wedding crowd at 10pm: Chessboxing is funny; I never want to watch a chess match; in chessboxing, the touch-move rule is as sacred as the offside rule.

Random thoughts you leave you with:

- If you idly flick through the 'Next Blogs' on Blogger, probably at least 70% of them are dedicated to newborns or newlyweds.
- Still digging Mumford and Sons. They have the same old time, almost minstrel-esque storytelling style to their music without losing the feeling of the contemporary, which is why I prefer them to the Fleet Foxes. Not that FF aren't worthy of a crate of praise in their own right.
- They've started showing Live at the Apollo again. Whoo! I wonder if I'll turn up in the audience shots...
- Took another photo through blearly eyes this morning because I happened to wake up grossly early entirely unintentionally. I'm putting it up because I love the colour of the sky but disappointingly the foreground is too light to be a convincing silhouette but too dark to be a proper feature. Boo.

- The weather has finally caught up with me and my nose is starting to emulate the Trevi Fountain. Double Boo. I can but hope I get fully better in time for next week, I can't be ill when there's so much stuff to be done!

5 Response to Upper Cut to G7

6 December 2009 at 23:02

Chess Boxing- Who'd of thought. Hilarious post mate. Keep Them Coming. -JD

7 December 2009 at 03:10

hmm...chess boxing. I wonder if we have this is in the U.S. haha.

If I click on "next blogs" on wordpress...well I don't know. I haven't tried it myself.

7 December 2009 at 18:46

Chessboxing? What do they do with the chess set when the are boxing? I would imagine it could be easily knocked over and they they wouldn't know where the pieces went on the board.

7 December 2009 at 19:19

N - I bet you do! I mean, it's the country where the Terminator is Governor of one of the most influential states? :P I wonder how Arnie would be at chessboxing...

R - You know, I never actually saw. I was always too busy laughing at the ludicrous garden furniture and the earplugs and headphones they made the chessboxers wear so that our derisive jeers would not distract them from that all-too-important rook to C1.

I suppose it must have been a magnetic board - I mean, the piece movements were recorded and displayed on a screen, but it would be insane, even for this sport, to individually set them all up again or hope that the assistant is proficient at holding the board exactly horizontal!

7 December 2009 at 21:27

Haha.... How'd you guess what my favorite sport was?! lol jk ;) but for real... is this for real?!

I would totally hit these up as a regular. Wonder if they have them in Wash. D.C.??

PS... you'd still read my blog even if it reached Chpt 3409843895 ;)