“It’s an amazing sport, I love it”

The mystery of chessboxing

On November 14, 2003, this author was lucky enough to be present at the first official chessboxing competition, held by the World Chess Boxing Organization (WCBO) in Paradiso, Amsterdam, between Luis the Lawyer (Jean Louis Veenstra) and Iepe the Joker (Iepe Rubingh). The latter won after his opponent lost on time in a winning position. Rubingh, the main event organizer, was a Dutch conceptual artist who sadly passed away in 2020 at 45. The history of chessboxing goes back even further: it featured in the 1979 kung fu film Mystery of Chess Boxing by Joseph Kuo (where it’s about Chinese chess), which the band Wu-Tang Clan referred to in their 1993 song Da Mystery of Chessboxin’.

This remarkable sport of chessboxing is represented here at WEISSENHAUS as well, and with that, we have a fourth world champion among us. After Magnus Carlsen, Ding Liren, and Linh Tran, there is now also Refik Latifi, professional boxer and the reigning chessboxing world champion.

From Wednesday to Friday, Latifi is giving chessboxing workshops together with Martin Neu, originally a chess player, and Denno Probst, a chessboxing trainer. “It’s an amazing sport, I love it,” said Latifi, who won the world title at his first attempt last year in Riccione, Italy.

At the world championship, chessboxing starts with three minutes of chess, then one minute pause, then three minutes boxing, one minutes pause, rinse and repeat for a total of five rounds. The chess clock is set at four minutes and thirty seconds each.

“The first was a very tough fight, we were boxing and playing chess very well,” Latifi said about his semifinal clash with Russia’s Anatolii Shchukin. Although this fight was decided in chess, Kosovo-born Latifi had made an impression as a boxer there. “After the first fight, the other opponent canceled the fight because he was scared,” said Martin. Latifi then won the final against compatriot Ali Remmo.


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Latifi (34) has been boxing for 16 years, but he has only played chess for three years. He said he had trained for the world championship for a full year, which involved a lot of chess. “I played chess three to four hours a day, did puzzles, everything.” He has a rating around 1500 on Chess.com.

Neu (18) has played chess since he was four, but only started with boxing in April last year. “I was at a tournament with my trainer and we talked about boxing, chess, and so on, and he said there’s a chessboxing club in Cologne, where I’m from,” he explained. “First I went to a normal boxing club, because I wanted to have a bit of experience before I get into chessboxing. Then I went to the chessboxing club and then it started.”

Neu also participated at the 2023 world championship, performing a show fight with the well-known streamer Sardoche, the winner of the third edition of Pogchamps. “I go to the chessboxing club regularly and I am also training to run a marathon,” said Neu. “I try to develop my body for it. I don’t have to train chess much but I also do that one or two hours a day.”

Why chessboxing? Neu: “It’s the experience. When you play chess after a round of boxing, you’re sweaty, maybe you had a punch in the face, then you really play a different kind of chess. Maybe you blunder more, you can’t concentrate…”

Probst comes from the boxing world but got more into chess in the last couple of years. “The algorithm on YouTube started showing me chessboxing videos, so we started to try it out,” he said. “We have this park group of about 130 people, who regularly join in a park in Cologne. There was a project with the German Chess Federation and the city council, and they put marble chess tables there. People come there for boxing or playing chess, and we connect this.”


From left to right: Refik Latifi, Denno Probst, and Martin Neu. Photo: Peter Doggers.

He was already a personal boxing trainer, so it was logical for Probst to work as chessboxing trainer too. “I cannot teach Martin chess, because he is better than me, I cannot teach Refik boxing. But I can teach them strategies. For chess players the strategy is fast play in round one, very quick moves, and defensive boxing of course. you need a lot of cardio, you need to run and hide and to survive the rounds. For boxers, it’s slow chess in round one so you reach the boxing before you fall into traps on the chessboard, and then you have do down the Elo in the boxing round, and maybe you can even win on the chess clock as a boxer, it’s possible.”

Refik: “I love the fight and I love the concentration. This is an amazing sport. Chess and boxing is a good combination, but I mostly like the fight. The pulse going toward 200, and only one minute to relax and get ready to play chess. It’s very difficult.”

To chess players, it feels like boxing is more important than chess skills. A good boxer only needs to survive the first round of chess, and then he’ll punch a knockout blow, right? Refik says chess is also important: “I am a very good boxer but I won the world championship fight with checkmate. The Russian boy was a very good boxer too, but I played better chess.”

The question that remains is of course whether there’s a future for Chess960 boxing. “Why not,” said Denno. “Chess960 is a trend, and chessboxing is trending too. This could be two trends together.”

Peter Doggers

By Peter Doggers

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