Friday, September 28, 2012

The Great Chessboxing Swindle: Nothing Was Delivered

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. Chessboxing is back, having been unaccountably absent from the Olympics, with a show tomorrow at the Scala and another - already sold out - in a fortnight at the Albert Hall.

At the Albert Hall? Good Lord. To be accurate - and it is rare that quoting chessboxing publicity takes us towards greater accuracy rather than away from it, so let us not forego the opportunity - it is in the Royal Albert Hall Loading Bay, which sounds at first like it might be the lift, but is apparently
a stunning, underground landscape encompassing a striking and cavernous interior space, hidden from the general public for 140 years. Massive modern graffiti murals, created by some of London's top street artists, lend a dramatic and theatrical atmosphere ideally suited to staging the sport.
That's "basement venue with painted walls and bar", then. Still, the Beatles got started in the Cavern.

Our gimmick tomorrow is 4 FIGHTERS - 1 WINNER which does rather point in the direction of a freak show rather than a sport, since I rather doubt that this would be allowed in a licensed boxing event. Proper sports play to proper rules. Freak shows do not.

The Albert Hall freak show appears to be an international cast, albeit one apparently lacking (with one exception) international ratings. One assumes that right now, some gullible hack with knowledge neither of chess nor boxing is being fed easy-to-regurgitate nonsense in order to hype the Albert Hall event. In re: the Scala event, our man Woolgar has already found a gullible hack in Rosamund Urwin of the Standard, which when I left London was mostly operating as a work-creation system for cleaning staff on commuter trains.

No obvious improvement is apparent since then, not from Ms Urwin's article anyway, which introduces Mr Woolgar as
One of the men making chess fashionable again
a claim which appears to rest on something almost like chess appearing in a Prada video.

Ungenerous minds may not see this undoubtedly significant moment in social and cultural history as the new Fischer-Spassky, but perhaps they should hush their mouths, since
in London, chess is about to enjoy the kind of profile it hasn't seen since Garry Kasparov — now a Russian opposition leader and Pussy Riot supporter — took on Nigel Short for the World Chess Championship in the capital.
Personally I am almost sure I recall another world championship match in the capital since then, but the struggle of memory against forgetting is not perhaps one to be wasted on the promoter of that match, so let us perhaps suggest that if the profile of chess in London is relatively high at the moment, this may be because of actual chess events taking place in my home city, rather than freak shows such as Mr Woolgar's. Still, "fashionable"? Do me a favour.

Anyway, scroll down from Ms Urwin's churnalism and you can find various remarks from the commentariat, including one from the present writer (which reads as though I typed it wearing boxing gloves - sorry about that) and several from Mr Woolgar's friends and admirers, including the amiable Andy Costello.

I mention this, in part, because as I am sure readers recall, the line used to be that chessboxing was a fast-growing sport. Curiously that claim has shifted, given that even a fool (provided they are not also a journalist) can see that you can only sustain that claim so far when there is only one club in the country, and one promoter putting on shows featuring much the same people. So it is now advertised as

the fastest growing hybrid sport in the world
- by the way, for a professional sport, a total of fifteen hundred nicker isn't a great deal when it comes to prize money, is it? - and so Andy argues thus.
Chess and Boxing are both difficult sports to master. It stands to reason that there will not be a huge number of people who have mastered both. I guess that the are not many pentatheletes for the same reason. Is that cause to knock the pentathalon?
No, it isn't. On the other hand, the pentathalon tends to involve people who actually have mastered five events, as opposed to people who have attempted two and mastered neither. Pentathalon, my arse.

Andy reckons he was good once, though, as in this interview from 2010:
I was a junior chess champion, a really high level player.
Information as to what Andy was champion of, and what "really high level" he actually achieved, is welcomed.

More additions to the mountain of chessboxing bullshit, like the dust heaps in Our Mutual Friend. But back to reality. There may be readers still unaware that having, bizarrely, been elected last year to the post of Director of Marketing of the English Chess Federation, our mutual friend Tim Woolgar has decided, this year, not to stand.

I am not sure, to be honest, whether he actually announced his withdrawal, or whether he simply did not put himself forward. If he did go so far as to make an actual announcement, this would have been the only recognisable activity he undertook in the entirety of his period in the post.

Let's have a look at his candidate statement once again:

My priority would be to draw up and implement a strategy for communicating meaningfully
There was never any strategy, nor any drawing up of one, nor any attempt to do so.
This will involve a re-examination of all the resources at our disposal
There was never any re-examination of anything. In fact there was nothing.

Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Nothing at all.

From start to finish, waffle and nonsense. Far from
communicating more effectively with mass media outlets particularly national newspapers and broadcasters
he never even found a single journalist to bullshit on our behalf.

Still, at least that means that the mountain of bullshit was not added to. Though his candidate statement was as big an addition as he's ever managed.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Tim Woolgar. What did he do for us?

He did nothing.

Take it away, boys!

[Chessboxing index]


Anonymous said...

Perhaps in fairness, attention should be drawn to the report on the year's marketing activity at
where it is claimed that he spent the year trying to prevent a bad year for the public profile of the ECF and its directors becoming worse.


Richard James said...

Chessboxing makes an appearance in the September 2012 edition of OL News (the termly alumni newsletter for Latymer Upper School), which arrived through my letterbox today.

The News of Old Latymerians section reports as follows:

Rajko VUJATOVIC (1987), a former Latymer Chess Captain is now a chess master and Chair of the Chess Boxing Organisation.

According to he doesn't have a FIDE title. tells me he's an ECF Regional Master, which seems to mean that you've had a grade of 185+ for two years at some point and you've slipped the ECF a tenner in a brown envelope.

ejh said...

Perhaps in fairness, attention should be drawn to the report on the year's marketing activity at

Yes, I rather like "My key ambition, as outlined in my election address, was to develop the website". Is this the election address referred to? Readers are invited to locate that "key amibition" within it.

Richard James said...

I note from Sabrina Chevannes' blog that tonight's chessboxing had an avian visitor.

Sabrina Chevannes ‏@SChevannes
I'm at @LDNchessboxing and its entertaining but its weird that there is some penguin on stage. What is he doing there?

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's Andy Costello again,
I think you may have missed my point. 'Mastery' is of course a subjective term, and world class boxers are routinely labelled as carthorses in the press.
Can I substitute it with the word 'competence' and return to my point that few people are willing to study chess and train as boxers to the extent that they achieve competence.
I was seeking to explain why there are comparatively few chessboxers.
With regard to my boasting; I played for the Devon junior team and was competing in majors, which as I recall were capped at about under 150 bcf, as an 11 year old. I reckon that made me a high level junior but I'm willing to stand corrected.

Check out 'Prizefighter' and 'biggers better' Eight man elimanation boxing tournaments that take place over one evenning.

Anyway, did you see me whip off gianlucas knight on saturday to set up the fork? Poetry in motion - I'm sure you will agree!

ejh said...

I always wondered why the BBC never called it The Competence Game.

Anonymous said...

I remember the master game, I still have the book of the series...Karpov, miles, short, hartston and his other half. I used to watch it with my Dad. But the point I am making is that there are relatively few people with the discipline to compete in either, let alone both.
The blogger argues that there are not legions of chessboxers, I offer this as an explanation.
I'm not sure if you are using humour to try and make a serious point. If you are could you explain it to me please?

ejh said...

Well, one argument is that this whole of-course-hardly-anybody-is-doing-chessboxing-because-it's-difficult is a rather large change from the previous position of everybody's-doing-chessboxing-so-it's-growing-fast. We could discover this serious point by, perhaps, reading it in the blog piece upon which we have both commented.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't sat that 'hardly anyone' is doing it either. I certainly know plenty of people in my home city of Exeter who would like to have a try.
Enough to put on a local show.
Surely this in itself is remarkable growth for a sport that isnt the easiest to learn and didn't even exist a few years ago. Credit where it is due please.
But your original point seemed to be that the sport lacked worth because it didnt have hoardes of converts. I sought to explain this and would argue that it does have worth, bringing pleasure to those who participate and being great fun to watch.

ejh said...

Funny thing though. Half the time, it's all how popular we are, all these television channels and newspapers talking about us. The other half, it's all no wonder there's so few of us, we only just got started.

Curious, that.

Anonymous said...

It's a fair point. The two main criticisms that you appear to have of chessboxing are:
1) That Tim talks up how popular the sport is.
2) That chessboxers exaggerate how good they are at chess.
These two points represent the crux of the 'swindle'. You make these points well and very humorously, and you should really consider writing a book.
Anyway, point 1; Consider Tim's personality. He has made it his lifes work to take a sport that doesnt exist and bring it into the public consciousness.
He is bound to be an optimist. He will rejoice in every new recruit. Chessboxing is growing. Whether you define the growth as fast, slow, exciting, dissapointing, is a matter of perspective. His will innevitably be positive.

It is also a promoters job to look on the bright side. When did you ever hear a promoter of anything; rock concert, sporting event, etc announce their dissapointment with the way things are going?

Anonymous said...

The second point that you consistantly make concerns the playing strength of participants.
I am a pro mixed martial artist and a similar scenario arises hear. To be an mma fighter you need to be able to box and do muay thai if you are standing, wrestle in the clinch and do jiu jitsu on the floor.

In the early days of mma some boxers were highly critical of mma fighters boxing technique.
Nowadays mma is huge and every pro mma camp has a boxing coach. Men who might otherwise be stacking shelves can earn a living teaching skill that they took a lifetime to learn.

So hybrid sports can be good for their component sports, and chessboxing could bring more recruits to chess. Incidently one of my Exeter chessboxing friends pays for one to one tuition with a good local chessplayer. This is just the start.

A chessboxers games played out in public, so there is no real scope to 'swindle' anyone here. I would add that they are quickplay and we are getting bashed about the swede between rounds, but people are free to make up their own minds about a chessboxers playing strength.

There were a number of grndmasters at saturdays event. They seemed to enjoy it and I was honoured to meet one who was way to kind with his praise!

Come to the next event! Join the squeeze in our cramped, underground, painted bar for the next instalment of the Great Chessboxing Swindle.
My girlfriend Ruthie 'The Pink Machine' Wright will be competing!

ejh said...

He is bound to be an optimist

He is not, however, bound to make things up. Which he does, all the time.