Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: The Famous Five

Talking, as we were, of jokers, the latest Chessboxing night will have been and gone by the time you read this. And what a night I'm sure it was. Among the most exciting nights out in Europe. Apparently.

Well, if we are to wade through every mound of bullshit that Tim Woolgar and his cronies have left for us, we will certainly need Wellington boots, so let us content ourselves with a look at last Saturday's line-up.

Costello and Sazhin, who were due to meet last Saturday, have both been in the chessboxing racket for quite a while now, and Costello was in Wired magazine last year telling yet another gullible hack the usual cobblers:
Lennox Lewis is a great chess player; the Klitschko brothers are even better.
How good you have to be, to be "even better" than "great", perhaps only Mr Costello can tell us: perhaps he could tell us how good "highly-rated" is, too, since we are told that both he and Mr Sazhin are "highly-rated chess players in their own right".

Maybe, maybe not: indeed "how highly-rated?" is not a more pertinent question than "rated
by whom?" since Mr Costello does not appear to presently have either an English or an international rating.

Nor can I find an international rating for Mr Sazhin although remarkably enough he does possess a Wikipedia page which gives his Elo rating as 1911. Source unknown.

Perhaps Mr Sazhin's page requires updating, since 1911 is a good deal less than 2000, which is a shame since the press release claims that
with five fighters rated above 2000 Elo this is the highest quality chesboxing (sic) line-up ever assembled
making it hard for us to include Mr S among that famous five.

So who can they be? I seem to have played this particular course at least once before but if you will indulge me on this additional occasion, I have to inform you that having run the players' names through the appropriate resource, I have found, not five, but only one meeting the aforementioned description.

We got the numbers

Where the other four are to come from, Lord only knows: even the ECF database (a resource with which Tim Woolgar is presumably familiar, being, ludicrously, Marketing Director of that organisation) offers us only Mike Botteley as a plausible candidate, his ECF of 170 just making it above 2000 if we convert to Elo. Not that that actually makes it an Elo grade, of course, but as it doubles our score, who's quibbling?

Mike Botteley is a master of calculation

Who knows? Maybe they play chess under other names. Or maybe their rankings come from some other source that I'm unaware of. Or maybe, like so much else about the chessboxing circus, some clown just made them up.

One assumes that this circus will carry on a while yet, as there is never likely to be any shortage of hacks of dubious reputation to give it publicity. And naturally this writer is not under the impression that the general public gives a monkey's about Elo ratings - either what they are, or whether or not some impresario wants to make them up.

But it is curious, is it not, that this fast-growing sport, this potential candidate for Olympic status, does not in fact grow more quickly? Not that the hacks notice this, but it's basically the same people, in the same places, with the same old cobblers accompanying it. Only the names of the hacks sometimes change.

Chessboxing: it's a bit of a dog

Not that having the same old characters and the same old story is an impediment to success. Sometimes it can be quite the opposite. Until we grow up.

[Mike Botteley photo: Ray Morris-Hill]
[Famous Five photo: Daily Vile]
[Chessboxing index]


Anonymous said...

It would be possible that they have ratings on one or more of the many online servers. Unless you know their online handle and have data which ties their real name to the handle, such ratings cannot be verified.

Anonymous said...

How does the live commentary work? Is Malcolm Pein in a different room with big screens of both sports? Or is he ringside (boardside). If the latter could this assist the players?

Anonymous said...

I went to this event. It was packed. - Malcolm Pein was in next to the ring - and he commentates with a microphone. The players wear headphones. The commentary is hilarious but a little basic - but am guessing from the audience that they are just social players as I didn't recognise anyone except Lorin D'Costa

simona said...

I went to the previous chessboxing event at the Scala, out of curiosity. It was packed too.

The chess was crap and the boxing was even worse so I won't be going again.

They do put on a good show though, to be fair. Lights, commentary, music, cabaret etc., so I can see why random punters might like it. Your average chess tournament could learn something from this.

Anonymous said...

anon (3rd comment) - what was the quality of the chess?

Anonymous said...

anon (2nd comment) Chess was the best I've seen (my 4th event) - definitely no beginners (though one bout both players were probably only 80-90 ECF). Damn difficult to play chess while boxing alternate rounds.
A serious sport it isn't (well at the moment anyway) but entertaining it certainly is.

Anonymous said...

Referring back to SimonA's comment on staging, I suggest that Malcolm's approach at the London Classic works well. For those nor familiar with the format, the event takes place with four boards on a small stage in a lecture theatre.

The eight players are expected to arrive early and sit in the front row. Then Malcolm as MC will introduce them and invite them to take their place on the stage.

It helps that there's a decent audience by virtue of the point that the super Gm event starts half an hour before the more amateur events.

Magicalmrmerlin said...

Greetings. I competed in the last event, which as ever I treated as competitive but fun. Neither the other competitors from the UK or I have any pretention about being world class at either discipline, though we compete in both and some are fairly strong at either one or the other.

I agree with your criticism of Andy Costello's recent billing as a strong chess player. Relative to others in that event, he would not be in the top half in terms of chess strength. Other than that I think the publicity you cited describes chessboxing fairly, and the night in question accurately.

I think you critique of Andy Costellos comment about Lennox Lewis being a great chess player is a bit slack. Costello clearly did not mean to cite any of these boxers as being of international strength at chess.

As for the ratings criteria.
Personally I cant play in FIDE rated events due to fees and work commitments (a problem for many players). From the players i know from the event and have seen play, 4 of us either are or would be 2000strength if tested in competition -I dont know who the fifth is, although i havent met all of the competitors.

The latest event certainly was quite a spectacle and the crowd seemed to like it. The competitors take it seriously on the night but some of the crowd were taking it more seriously than us!


Jonathan B said...

Thanks for your comment Mike.

I've been tearing around this week so haven't had time to read the full article yet. Howevever this,

4 of us either are or would be 2000strength if tested in competition

raised my eyebrow.

This has got nothing to do with chess boxing. Many 'traditional' chessers say the same sort of thing. I'm always suspcious of that kind of statement though.

Until you actually *are* tested, you can never really know for sure what strength you are. There's a world of difference between internet chess, blitz chess and full-length over-the-board chess. Actually, even club chess and tournament chess are completely different.

I myself would say that were I to be tested I'd be 2000 elo or even 2100. When I play for real, however, the truth is somewhat different.

Magicalmrmerlin said...

Hi Jonathan

I agree with you that the ratings mentioned have little to do with chessboxing. Chessboxing is played at a blitz time limit and under challenging conditions. One is unlikely to see a high quality game under those conditions.

The problem is rating translation. My ECF grading for example, slack and outdated as it is translates as roughly 2000 (i'm told). Thats a reasonable estimate. My mates of 2200+ are better than me, yet the club players i know with ratings of 1900 from the 4NCL are weaker than i am. 3 other players in the chessboxing competition who i met and saw play, play to a similar standard. My opinion of course! perhaps that doesnt count for much! Based on that judgement i dont think the promotion is unreasonable.

Then again if one of them played ECF for a year and got 180 but couldnt play in an FIDE rated competition, that wouldnt count either ....

The issue with promoting chessboxing is. One cannot produce a promotional document that accounts for all the ratings involved. e.g. one could not write 'estimated to be 2050 elo - ECF 175 (longplay only, 2009-10 season)'... followed by a disclaimer scrawled after a players name. The important thing is to have a reasonable estimate.

Some of it is hype of course. For example describing one player as a strong chess player when compared with the rest of the participants he is not, is dubious. I wouldnt have done that. Then again i've played chess for a while, and thats my opinion. Compared with Joe public perhaps he is....

Anonymous said...

While not denying chessboxing as a possible source of good entertainment – so is chessdrinking, incidentally, and it probably would cause less damage - it doesn’t strike me as being either chess or boxing – it’s a (relatively) harmless distraction involving the two sports. You pay up to 50 quid to watch two amateurs box and play chess at a low level on a Saturday night.

What is surprising is the plethora of these non-chess, chessboxing stories being put around by people officially or otherwise connected with chess. So, in the pages of the Times, we were treated to a series of articles during the week commencing March 5 about a "man who would have been dominant at this [chessboxing] game" (Monday), subsequently promoted to "the leading exponent of chess and boxing" on the Tuesday, and who spent the rest of the week placing knockout blows (Capa, Alekhine), landing fatal punches (Fischer, Smyslov) before reverting on the Friday to the advert fodder for the chessboxing on the Saturday.

OK – so Max Euwe played chess and boxed a little – but is that any reason to drag his games out of the room every time there’s a boxing reference in a chess environment? It seems a bit disrespectful to me – but in any event, what silliness by people who are supposed to be acting in the better interests of chess. Wasn’t there anything better going on that needed reporting that week (Reykjavik 2012?) or, more generally, something better that could do with generating chess-related publicity at the ECF (engaging junior and youth involvement in chess?)


Anonymous said...

re grades/ratings

If a grade is genuine, would it not be better to say " an English domestic rating equivalent to around 2000 internationally "

Or perhaps "a club chess grade of 175" or " a club chess grade equivalent to ..."

ejh said...

The important thing is to have a reasonable estimate

For sure, but if the people putting out the estimate have a long track record of putting out absolute nonsense, then their estimates are by definition not to be taken as reasonable.

Magicalmrmerlin said...

I was surprised to hear that there is so much coverage in The Times. Perhaps that isnt a bad thing. I don't see why mentioning chessboxing and publishing some Euwe games is disrespectful. Agreed though, if there is a major tournament, that competition should be mentioned as well.

As for the ratings issue. Tim Woolgar hasnt falsified my rating (if he had i'd be having words). Aside - I don't think people are coming to chessboxing because they are being conned by false rating statistics. They want see an unusual sport, played in a fun yet competitive atmosphere. The competitors don't take themselves too seriously either, and that encourages the crowd who are keen to support them. The competitors arent (on the whole) world class chess players or boxers (neither are 98% of people at chess and boxing clubs), but they are good enough for the sport to be competitive. That alone reflects well on the game of chess.

On the subject of taking oneself seriously. Poor conduct is someting i've witnessed in chess clubs over the years. At one club in particular, around 18 months ago a player expressed to me his belief that boxing is "mindless and brutal" ... it "does not mix with chess". The following week, at the same club, a player threw pieces across the room after losing in 14 moves (with juniors present). No action was taken. I have witnessed scoresheets screwed up by this man, opponents insulted and even a fight. Not exactly great for chess.

Not just him of course, poor sportsmanship and bad behaviour is openly on display at some congresses. It strikes that fostering a more friendly environment at our chess clubs might be a first step to promoting chess ... then again some of these players place themselves on a pedestal, many are fixated with gradings and some are rather unpleasant to play with - but "boxing is mindless and brutal" ... they might learn something from the conduct and ethic required for competitive sports training ... again my opinion only.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally has the marketing director done any marketing yet?