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Weird workouts: chessboxing is more than just mind games

Guy Parsons

If you go see a proper Chessboxing match, you'll witness opponents facing off in in three minute rounds of speed chess and actual boxing. Overall victory can be claimed either in the ring or on the board – a checkmate is as good as a knockout, in other words – so any competitor needs to be able to put up a solid defence in both.

I arrive at London Chessboxing's weekly training class to discover if this is the first sport I'll ever be any good at. As I have the imposing physical stature of a breadstick, I'm a little nervous. But then again, I was once the captain of my local chess club. When I was eleven. 

Fortunately the training classes are far from intimidating, and there were total newbies among the dozen attendees, along with relative veterans. Recreating the rhythm of a real match, bursts of bag-punching, aerobic exercise, and technique-drills are interspersed with five-minute rounds of blitz chess.

At its core, it's interval training, but with a particularly edifying 'rest' period. (The game is also a good distraction from how much your body is starting to hurt, which is what I'd otherwise be pitifully thinking about during such times.) For someone as unfit as me, the challenge of thinking tactically while simultaneously not vomiting up my lungs was also a novel one, and a series of panicky blunders saw me checkmated again and again. (So much for primary school chess club.)

But throughout, coach Tim Woolgar provides tips and instruction, whether it's on a strong fighting stance or developing your pawn structure. He even said something nice about my right hook, by far the manliest thing anyone has ever said about me. And most importantly, nobody hit me in the face.

Chessboxing classes are on Saturday mornings, 10am - 11.30am, at Islington Boxing Club.

Rather watch? See the next match at York Hall, Bethnal Green, on Nov 28, from £21.50. Find out more at

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