If you want to get chess into the news, get into a fight. It's Man Bites Dog as applied to chess: news defined not as what happens, but as what hardly ever happens.
Hence, perhaps, the success of chessboxing, which provides the chess-as-fight story on a plate. When I say "success", I mean "success in getting yourself written about" as opposed to anything else. In that field at least, it's doing really very well. The BBC, for instance, can hardly keep its hands off it: most recently in a piece by Mike Bushell for a progamme that used to be called Breakfast News but is now called Breakfast.
Other recent articles (among the many that Google will locate for you) include one in free-paper-cum-Tube-litter Metro and some perhaps surprising comments from Marina Hyde in the Guardian, referring to
the continuing success of chessboxingand
the burgeoning success of chessboxing.What this "success" actually amounts to is less than clear to this particular writer, although "persuading journalists to repeat unlikely claims" has not been the least obvious aspect. As witness, for instance, the claim in Metro that
chessboxing's really popular with womenwhich strikes me as longer on assertion than on evidence. Or promoter Tim Woolgar's claim - Metro again - that
2016 is a more realistic target- a target, that is, for getting chessboxing in the Olympics. That claim, just a few weeks later had been revised to
we're being realistic about it, so we're not going for 2012 or even 2016which may be the only invocation - or indeed indication - of "realism" I've seen connected with the whole chessboxing business. Not all that realistic, though, since - as nobody seems to have put to Mr Woolgar - there is not the slightest indication that chessboxing will ever be considered for the Olympics. Why would there be?
As far as I can see, the reputation - practically the myth - of chessboxing rests on a tiny number of events in a small number of countries. Or as far as the UK is concerned:
- one chessboxing club in Islington
- a couple of shows in Bethnal Green
- a rather larger number of articles by journalists rather too quick to believe what they're told and what they've seen in other journalists' articles.
Other salient points seem to me to include these:
- there are no professional chessboxers in the UK
- there are no strong chessplayers training to be chessboxers in the UK
- no strong chessplayer has ever taken part in a chessboxing bout in the UK.
Might that change in the future? There are a couple of useful players among the members of the club (that's the club, of course) but none actually seem to be doing so much as preparing for a bout, let alone taking it up professionally. As for players of master strength, the club informed me that one promising young British International Master
is built like an ox and said he'll come to the club to try out chessboxingwhich claim induced me to ask the player directly. His reply referred to himself as "of slight build" and said straightforwardly:
I am not a chessboxer and have no intention to try it.Well I never.
Now as it happens, despite my title, I don't think Mr Woolgar and his colleagues are frauds. I do think however that they're making a lot of unlikely claims on the basis of not very much - and the reason that they're able to do so is that by and large, journalists do not know very much about chess (any more than they know about science) and therefore do not normally know what is, and what is not, believable. With the result that so much rubbish is broadcast and printed.
But it is, perhaps, a little worse than that, because it must be obvious to many people that the main reason chessboxing is receiving coverage is that it's a freak show. That it mostly seeks to make a joke out of chess, as do all the chess-and-fighting stories that preceded it, and a tawdry joke at that.
Because if this is not true, it is hard to explain why a news service that makes no mention in its online coverage of the country's national chess league, nor its national chess championship, nor even of the world championship while that event is taking place - presumably because of perceived lack of public interest - finds it necessary to cover every single event in an activity which has scarcely any competitions, scarcely any clubs and scarcely any followers.
Like hurricanes in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, chessboxing hardly ever happens. But that's the point. That's what news is. That's man bites dog.