Chess Boxing: A Different Kind Of Saturday Night

September 12, 2011

My mate Ola, the one who finds the maddest things to do in Londinium, sent a text a few weeks ago asking if I wanted to go to a Chess Boxing night at the Scala in Kings Cross. That is totally insane, was my first response – I’m in! So what is Chess Boxing, you may ask dear reader? Well, it does exactly what it says on the tin. The opponents play a game of chess, followed by a round of boxing, alternating until there’s either a checkmate in chess, or a knockout/retirement/referee decision in the boxing: whichever comes first.

So there I was on Saturday night, queuing outside the Scala with Ola, waiting to get in. Our eyes brimmed with salted water as we remembered our (separate) experiences of the Scala when it was a cinema featuring all-nighters and martial arts specials. They were great times, but that was then. We were here now for a night of boxing and chess: activities totally alien to me. Once we were frisked, had our food and water removed and got our overpriced drinks (£6.20 for a half cider and a pint of Guinness, would you please?) we made our way to the ring. And that’s where we stayed for the next few hours as the boxers entered the ring where the table was set, played chess, then when the bell rang, the table and chess board were removed, the gloves were put on and the fighting began.

empty boxing ring

girl with round one card in boxing ring

I had high hopes for the first opponents. I assumed the chess was exciting, judging by the reaction of the crowd. Alas, the boxers weren’t exactly giving out much when it came to the punching. But there was a winner, so fair play to them.

first boxing opponents playing chess

first boxing opponents boxing

first boxing opponents winner

These ones are girls: apparently the first for Chess Boxing. I hoped they’d have more go in them than the first set. They did – marginally.

female boxing opponents playing chess

female boxing opponents boxing

The following set was much better. The chess was more skilful (I’m taking the cue from the audience here) and the boxing was truly exciting. We had also moved to the ringside by then, making for (slightly) better photographs from my crappy camera phone. My prize for making it to the front of the crowd was to be interviewed by their camera crew!

third boxing opponents playing chess

third boxing opponents boxing

The next opponents were hailed as the big hitters of the evening – in every sense. One was a six foot eleven American and the other was a six-foot London-based Dutchman. The big American looked stoned, but worse, I felt he didn’t want to be there at all. Look at that photo and tell me I’m not right.

large tall boxer over six foot

The Dutchman, on the other hand couldn’t wait to get started. He was probably channelling Rutger Hauer.

tall boxer six foot

The chess was OK, but it was the boxing that got really tasty. As big as the American was, he didn’t stand a chance. The Dutchman really went for it. So much so that the compare and others on the sidelines looked really worried and the referee had to go in and remonstrate with him. Needless to say, he won the fight and the belt.

tall boxer six foot winner

There was an interval where we were entertained by… well, I don’t know what. I think the girls held by a woman and a man were supposed to be instruments, because they were strapped up to some gizmo that sounded like a Theremin as soon as they were touched. The man in particular was playing his ‘instrument’ very well, if you know what I mean. The audience were left nonplussed.

half time entertainment

The last opponents were pretty good. Not much more to say here.

fifth boxing opponents winner

There was a final entertainment featuring a girl with lots of hula hoops. In spite of the music cutting out so many times that she had to do her turn with a different soundtrack altogether, she did very well. She was a true professional and much better than the previous pretentious nonsense.

hula girl in the boxing ring

The verdict? There were times when it was in danger of becoming a pantomime and I think the half time entertainment they put on was wrong for the type of event it was, but overall, I would say it was a good night out and one that made me want to go and see a proper boxing match and learn more about chess. I’d call that a result.



  1. The American does have that questioning his choice to be there look.

  2. effing scary…like for real!


    • What, the boxing? The big American? The concept of chess and boxing combined? Or the truly terrible pretentious entertainment at the interval? Possibly all of the above!

  3. Isn’t it a bit tricky moving chess pieces with boxing gloves? 🙂

    • The gloves are off when they’re moving those pieces, but for the purpose of indulging your question, let’s imagine how they would do it. Maybe the gloves have a flip top with velcro to secure it shut when they get ready to punch each other out. Maybe they can pull the main part of the gloves back to the wrists and secure them with clips. Maybe they’re made to work like fingerless gloves with a mitten-like cover to protect the hands when they start pounding into the body, or face. Maybe…

  4. Gosh, could you imagine Bobby Fischer in that ring! Glad you enjoyed your Saturday night out Pie and thanks for sharing – otherwise I should never have known this existed!

    • Well, I wouldn’t have known of its existence if it wasn’t for my mad mate. They may have a version in NY. You should go and see if you can find it. It’ll be a different type of entertainment, that’s for sure.

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