Imagine playing checkers while getting Kung-Fu-kicked in the head. Well there’s a sport that’s sort of like that: chessboxing.
That is, chess, as in knight takes rook. And boxing, as in Mike Tyson. In Spain there’s a guy who nearly clinched the world chessboxing title last year.
Witness the insanity: the opening bell rings, and opponents sit at a table in the center of the ring for four minutes of grueling chess.
Round two is with gloves. For the next three minutes the name of the game is punch the lights out of the guy in front of you.
Round three finds you seated again, your own bell now rung, trying to remember where you left your rook. It goes back and forth like this for 11 rounds.
“You have to be focused,” said 30-year-old Jonathan Rodriguez Vega, a world chessboxing contender. “Keep the two sports separate from each other.”
Rodriguez was training at a local gym on a recent evening.
“In boxing, when you suffer you have to be mentally cold,” he said. “It’s the same in chess. These two sports have a lot in common.”
The big difference, he said, is that chess doesn’t hurt.
Rodriguez works out three to four hours a day, boxing, then puts in at least two more at the chessboard. He said when was growing up he didn’t even like chess.
“My older brother taught me when I was kid,” he said. “I got turned off on chess because he was constantly making me play with him.”
And, he said, his brother was better. And that’s the thing about Rodriguez. He’s not great at chess - not a master anyway.
Regarding boxing, well, he’s pretty good. But, as an amateur he didn’t make the Olympic team.
He’s lost his only two professional bouts to date. But when he combines the two sports, it’s as if he transforms. He becomes more than their sum ... becomes world-class.
“If you’re quite good in a couple of sports, you might never became a champ in either,” he said. “But joining these two might just be the combination I’m looking for.”
Rodriguez is 2-0 at his new game. And last fall he qualified in a tournament in Germany to compete in chessboxing’s annual World Championships, held in November in Moscow.
There, Rodriguez made it to the finals, but he lost the championship bout, on points. But he didn’t hit the mat, and he didn’t lose his king. And, most of all he didn’t lose his head switching back and forth from the mental to the physical.
“We’re helping to break the stereotypes here,” he said. “That the chess player is the weirdo at home who never leaves his chessboard, and the boxer is the aggressive one going around smashing faces.”
In all aspects of life you have to be cerebral, he said. Boxing isn’t just for meatheads. Chess isn’t just for brainiacs.
Mix the two. You’ll see.