Friday, April 09, 2010

The Great Chessboxing Swindle goes to Upper Holloway

Chessbase has been running April Fools and stories that look like April Fools, but aren't. Bad habit to get into, for the reader anyway: you start thinking other stories are are made up, even when they're not. So it was when I read their 5 April story on the latest round (ho ho) in the Great Chessboxing Swindle. I just couldn't believe what I was reading.

It transpires that the fastest-growing sport in the world has been on the road. It may not be going to the Olympics, but it has at least, like the Olympics, gone to North London. N19 in fact. I am surprised that I hadn't been aware of this before I read it on Chessbase, since apparently
this latest event achieved global media coverage on countless national TV networks
but I suppose I must be in one of the few parts of the globe which missed out. Tsk.

Well, I suppose chess has a low public profile, despite Tim Woolgar's sterling efforts to change all that:
since establishing chessboxing in London two years ago, Tim Woolgar has arguably done more for the profile of UK chess than anyone since Nigel Short challenged Garry Kasparov in London for the 1993 world title!
Funny, I thought that distinction belonged to Ray Keene - at least, according to Ray Keene - and in truth the whole story has more than a touch of Ray about it, most obviously in the tenuousness of the connection between reality and how that reality is being presented.

But we were talking of chess and promotion, and it seems that Tim Woolgar has risen to the heights of "English heavyweight champion". That must have been a long, hard road, with many difficult fights between Tim and the coveted belt, and I look forward to seeing the biopic. I also look forward to seeing what is meant by the claim
Woolgar's Elo has doubled from 800 to 1600 in the past two years, and is still on an upwards trajectory
since this is what you get if you search for his FIDE rating and he does not seem to appear on the ECF grading page either. Perhaps it is a chessboxing grade instead. In which case I have just decided that I am the Aragonese Light-Heavyweight Slav Exchange Analysing Champion and that in that discipline, I have a grade of 2950.

The second bout was a closely-matched affair between the Spaniard Daniel Lizarraga and the German Sebastian Bauersfeld - extremely closely-matched since both happen to possess ratings of 1650. Though not according to FIDE, whose site suggests that they share a rating of 0. (Nor does Lizarraga's rating appear on the list of his native Navarra.)

Still, these mysterious 1650s were an improvement on the 800s on display in the final bout. Presumably though, these patzers made up for their weakness on the chessboard with strength in the boxing field? Not, unhappily, so: one
is political editor of London's Metro newspaper
which, to anyone who knows that periodical, is about as impressive a credential as being English heavyweight chessboxing champion. As it turns out, he has a play about to open, which presumably could do with some publicity:
Higginson has also written a satirical play, Stiffed! which will run in London's Tabard Theatre from 14 April 2010, in the run-up to the general election
the subject of the play being
the UK's political Expenses Scandal.
Whether the work will be in favour of, or opposed to, dubious claims made in the pursuit of money, remains to be seen. The playwright's opponent, meanwhile, turns out to have been
making a programme on his chessboxing adventure.
Which is a bit like making a documentary about making a documentary: an event taking place so that the person taking part can make a programme about taking part in the event. Very contemporary. Very postmodern. Very much an example of hype creating hype.

Woolgar's appearance in the ring was as a substitute for a fighter (if that be the word) who had withdrawn, and one wonders how the world of boxing would view an event in which the bill was headed, for want of alternatives, by the promoter. I think they might consider it a freak show. They might also take the same view of a bout, like the third, whose protagonists were no more skilled or experienced in boxing than they were in chess. I think they'd consider it a joke, and probably one at their expense.

Actually I know what it reminds me of: the old fairground attraction, where punters would be invited to roll up and try their luck in the boxing ring against the "champ". Except without the champ. In this show, everybody's trying their luck. Some are getting away with it more than others.

So much for the fastest growing-sport: a joke indeed. But who, exactly, is laughing at who? That's the question chessboxing raises. The answer isn't so much Wu-Tang Clan as Public Enemy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you're being grossly unfair to Tim Woolgar's chess skills. When he appeared on 'The One Show' last year he played a few moves with the pieces set up almost correctly.

It took me nearly 20 minutes of hard study when I was seven to reach that level.