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Chessboxing Review

Our resident fitness expert, Phil McDougall, puts both his mind and body to the test

Published on January 20th 2012.


Chessboxing Review

CHESSBOXING? They’re odd words to find in the same sentence. Excuse the generalisation, but if you enjoy chess then the chances are you’re either rubbish at boxing or you’re somewhat afraid of it. If you’re a boxer do you even know what the castle move is? This sounded too interesting to miss.

Islington Boxing Club is an authentic old, sweaty, no-nonsense boxing gym where two hours of training for organised chessboxing tournaments takes place. To those who may feel slightly intimidated by that, don’t. On entry you feel genuinely welcome then it’s straight into the warm-up. Due to the format of the game (explained below, with the advantage being on the chess players’ side) the participants are predominantly, if not exclusively, from a chess playing background rather than boxing.

If you actually want to improve at either of the disciplines you could do so much more efficiently by attending a class in purely one or the other.

In a nutshell, a chessboxing tournament consists of four minutes of chess followed by three minutes in the ring. The match carries on in this fashion until either someone has won at a 24-minute game of timed chess, or there is a knock out. Therefore if you take a club-level boxer who has recently learned chess and a club-level chess player who has just learned to block and defend in the ring, the advantage is clearly with the chess player, as all they have to do is avoid being KO’ed.

It was encouraging to see people who were complete novices in both disciplines having a bash. The boxing exercise, conditioning and technique components are taken by an experienced boxing coach and are a great workout alone – even if you have no desire to fight or even learn to box. Every so often you take one glove off and play timed chess with the help of some super master chess gurus coaching you through and giving you tips to improve your game.

After the two hour session it was endearingly reminiscent of being back in the Marines when I found myself in a queue of naked strangers huddled in a small shower area, waiting to get wet. We then met in a quaint, newly managed local pub across the road for some more hardcore chess action and a pint. 

Conclusion? I’m no regular boxer but I was hoping for more sparring. If you actually want to improve at either of the disciplines you could do so much more efficiently by attending a class in purely one or the other. However, it’s definitely worth having a go for the fun and novelty factor.

Chessboxing at Islington Boxing Club
20 Hazellville Road
London N19 3LP

Every Saturday 10am –12 noon


Phil McDougall is a former Royal Marines Commando and international level ski racer with more than 15 years experience as a top level triathlete. He is now professional sports performance specialist and a remedial massage therapist.

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Tim WoolgarJanuary 23rd 2012.

Hey Phil, nice article thanks! Regarding your conclusion, we do run a dedicated boxing training session at the gym on Sunday from 12noon-2pm (£5 adults). It's a brilliant class and more sparring for those that want it.

As for the chess part of it, have you ever tried to find a chess coaching class in London? My enjoyment of chess increased exponentially since I started chessboxing and I do now dedicate time to it, but would never have done so without the kick-start from chessboxing.

Hope to see you back at the gym soon, or at the March 10th Chessboxing show at The Scala, Kings Cross (tickets from Ticketweb). It's going to be mindblowing with two of the world's top three heavyweights in action.

(Ps I have a spare Siberian at 77kg if you fancy giving it a go for real, maybe we can work something out?)

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