That’s an absurd proposition to say…
That chess is pretty much like boxing or any martial arts.
After all, in boxing or other martial arts, you usually want to thrash your opponent’s nose in. In chess, you want to thrash your opponent’s king’s nose in.
You wonder, “how are they alike?” Frankly, the idea confounded me at first too. But then it all seemed clear like Blue Lake, once and for all.
Let me explain how.
(Note: Some people like Enki Bilal and Lepe Rubingh have tried to combine the two, but we are not talking about chess boxing here. Let’s keep them separate for the time being.)
Now I am sort of a martial arts fan, and I love kung fu and boxing. I watch the old clips of Cassius Clay, Mike Tyson, and Tommy Morrison… along with those Chinese documentaries on the Shaolin Temple. I have practiced karate for some time (not an expert though) when I was a kid.
And as an editor of Chessvi, you can understand that I looooooooove chess too. In fact, I eat, sleep and breathe it.
One day, I was watching a fight between Pacman and some Mexican boxer… and it dawned on me. All those years of karate training, countless Chinese action movies, the fight between Foreman and Ali—all this flashed in front of my eyes, and an epiphany that to fight and win a battle is always the same, whether it is with your fists or with your mind.
In fact, once I started considering chess in this way, my understanding of the game instantly improved.
You see, chess is not merely a summation of variation from a chosen opening. It is very much about the heart of the players, the psych environment they are in, reading between the lines, and having the instinct and bravado of a Masai warrior…
For now, let’s just compare chess and boxing and find out their similarities too.
Chess and Boxing are about attack and defense
You will often hear your boxing coach shout, “keep your hands up!” That’s because the most vicious counterattacks often land when you lower your guard. That’s when you yourself go for the kill. Some advanced boxers would often lure you to go for the right cross, dodge it, and then hit back with a nasty uppercut.
So it is in chess too. You might be occupied on how to get his queen trapped and all of a sudden, he puts a check on your king, then another check, and finally, checkmate! You sure got his queen but does it matter anymore? You were knocked out flat… senseless and defeated.
Every chess move you make should build an attack and improve your defense at the same time. The idea is to not go for a rash action but to put pressure by accumulating small advantages move by move until it is “game over” for your opponent.
Like those constant body shots, those little jabs, those running your opponent around to exhaust him… you get the idea. So it is in chess too.
Chess and Boxing are about strategy and calculation
People usually think that there’s no mind involved in boxing. Just go to the gym, grow muscles and charge into the ring like a raging bull. That’s quite not right though.
You see, every boxing match starts before the match actually begins. From trash-talking to press conferences to social media (marketing), everything is a part of the game. Do you see this video below? That’s Ali working up Liston before their big fight. He even recited poetry for that, WTH!
Inside the ring, it depends. Against some, you might want to take it slower, extending the game to the 12th round. Against others, you might want to unleash your “crazy” aggressive side not to let them settle down. You see, there’s always a strategy.
When it comes to tactics, I tend to think of them as combinations. Jab, jab, jab, right hook, and an uppercut. These combinations vary according to the weaknesses of the opponent. As a boxer, you will know which combination your opponent will be most susceptible to.
I don’t need to ramble on how important proper planning and meticulous calculation are to win a chess game. If you are a chess player, I am sure you already know that.
Chess and Boxing feel surreal for most
In both chess and boxing, I think the feeling of surrealism exists at the top level. Have you ever seen Ali dodging punches by a few millimeters? How does it feel? It feels as if it was just a matter of chance that Ali removed his face from the line of the punch and got saved. Or that he sneaked in a left hook right when his opponent’s right hand was down.
Now think about the queen sacrifice by Fischer against Byrne. Can you surely say that he just happened to a position where that tactical idea existed? Or did he really set his opponent into a well-thought trap? We will never know.
You see, at the highest levels of chess or boxing, we never really know what is true and what is not. But what we know is that every piece of the puzzle seemed to fall in all the right places for only ONE party in question.
Chess and Boxing are highly underrated
I totally believe that both chess and boxing are not given as much importance by us as they should be.
No, I don’t mean the popularity of these sports. Boxing is a really popular sport, thriving well in Europe and Asia, and somewhat in the US, with billions of dollars thrown around and millions of fans worldwide. Even the Subreddit has one million followers!
Talking about chess, who does not know about the Queen’s Gambit? The crew members including Anya Taylor-Joy raked in a few trophies, and the whole world went crazy about chess once again. In October 2020, Chess.com has reviewed 125 million games and 5.3 million accounts for fair play, which is a massive player base and up 66% compared to pre-pandemic times.
What I mean is that people don’t take it seriously enough to practice it themselves. Boxing makes for a great cardio exercise. It enhances your hand-eye coordination, makes you stronger, increases stamina and resilience, and works on your overall well-being.
When it comes to chess, I believe it rewires the way you think. You don’t take hasty decisions anymore. You look at life through a more critical eye where only the best move makes sense. It deepens your focus, enhances creativity, and increases self-awareness. In one sentence, chess makes you more intelligent and wiser.
So, instead of just watching the games, giving it an occasional try for fun, and cheering as fans, we should try to take them up as a steady part of our regular routine. Just my two cents.
Chess and Boxing make you a fighter in real life
Last but not least, life is not fair, my friend. As Deadpool said, “Life is an endless series of train wrecks with only brief, commercial-like breaks of happiness.” The best thing we can do is to prepare ourselves for the uncertain.
And both chess and boxing force you to become stronger, more flexible, and ever-ready for what’s to come next. Every plan you make might be thwarted by your super-defensive opponent. Every punch you throw might end up hitting the air and nothing else. Both these have the ability to turn you into a rock-solid fighter with a ‘never say die’ attitude.
And that matters, my friend. So for me, chess is very much like boxing (or any other martial arts). Where every move makes or breaks your game, and you can either win or lose. But you must keep playing nonetheless.