Grünfeld Gambit to Go

Mediaweek reports, “Through the first 14 matches of the World Cup, ESPN and ABC have delivered an average crowd of 3.35 million viewers, marking a 64 percent increase from the same period in 2006....” The USA-England match was the most watched first-round game in American broadcast history: 13 million viewers on ABC. It’s record-setting, and the Box offers congratulations and orders an extra portion of grog for all hands.

Now then, for the other 296,000,000 Americans who didn’t catch the match, know this: we share the pain...we understand late June is the dead zone of sports. The NBA is done, NHL is done, baseball is becalmed until September, and the NFL preseason is seven weeks away. What to do?

May I suggest chess-boxing? Begin with a four-minute round of speed-chess, then a three-minute round of boxing, and repeat up to a total of six rounds of chess and five rounds of boxing (there is a one-minute pause between boxing rounds to allow for the lacing and unlacing of gloves). A knockout, checkmate, exceeding the time limit in chess, or a referee decision in boxing ends the contest.

Chess-boxing was founded in 2003 by way of a Dutch performance artist who got the idea from a French comic-book writer who was influenced by a German artist known for “social sculpting.”

That’s funny, but only if you stop there. Further on it’s nothing but brutal. Lennox Lewis, chess expert and former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, observed, “They’re both violent sports.” Particularly chess. “Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” That’s from Mr. Happy, a.k.a. former world chess champion Bobby Fischer.

Think about it. You’re in the ring, boxing, trying to smash your opponent’s nose into his brain. You’re gushing sweat, adrenaline surging, reacting and acting with no thought, and then — ding — the bell rings, a chess table and two chairs are brought into the ring, you sit down, heart hammering against your rib cage, adrenaline still pumping, and consider whether to use the Grünfeld Gambit or go big and use the Nadanian Variation.

Not so funny.

The governing body of this sport is the World Chess Boxing Organization (WSBO), located in Berlin, nation of Germany. The closest (and I think the only) North American chess-boxing club can be found 130 miles north at the Fortune Gym in Hollywood.

The Los Angeles Chess Boxing Club is owned by a 6-foot-9-inch, 280-pound beast of a man by the name of Andrew McGregor. Get this for a résumé: Brother McGregor studied philosophy as an undergraduate, earned a master’s in writing from the University of Southern California, and was a freelance photographer for the Associated Press and Reuters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He founded the Tiziano Project, a charitable organization providing “community members in conflict, post-conflict, and underreported regions with the equipment, training, and affiliations necessary to report their stories...” Think northern Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

McGregor launched the L.A. chess-boxing club last year and is fighting under the name Andrew “The Fightin’ Philanthropist” McGregor. Nice touch. On February 27, he did battle with David “King Kong” Pfeifer out of Austria at Fortune Gym. It was the first sanctioned chess-boxing fight in North America.

McGregor says he wants to be the heavyweight chess-boxing champion of the world. “The sport of boxing is a terrifying thing,” he says, “because all your adrenaline and instincts say to run away when there’s a large, aggressive, skilled man trying to hurt you. I’m 30 years old, so if I was just going to be a boxer, there is no way I could do it, but, if you introduce chess, then I can compete, I just need to be a competent, defensive boxer. I always want to win by checkmate.”

Speaking of February’s fight, McGregor said, “When he hit me, I could hear it. Then, when I got a good shot at him, the crowd would, ‘Ohhhhh,’ and I could feel it. When I went to the chess board, I started to get into his back ranks and knew he was in trouble. [In] the second boxing round, he started going to my liver. He knew I was inexperienced and tried to do as much damage to my body as he could. So, the next round we go back to the chess board, and his king was wide open. I got the opportunity to move my knight in and checkmated him. It was amazing.”

McGregor trained eight months for that fight and won by checkmate in the fifth round. The Box congratulates the future heavyweight chess-boxing champion of the world.

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