What do you get when you combine a swimming pool and a magnetic chessboard? The answer is diving chess—an brainy aquatic mashup that’s more difficult than it seems.
Diving chess is played like normal chess with one notable difference: Matches take place underwater in a swimming pool. Players take turns moving magnetic pieces on a submerged board. Each player must hold his or her breath while making a move. Once a player surfaces for air, the turn is over. The sport’s official website calls diving chess “the ultimate physical and intellectual challenge.”
“I thought it would be a breeze, but it definitely isn’t,’’ says player Zarein Dolab. “Trying to see the pieces, keep[ing] yourself down there is a lot more difficult, especially if you are playing a long game.”
One challenge is temperature. “The pool is really cold and spending a lot of time under water affects your oxygen intake,” says player Alex Freeland. “It becomes harder and harder to find good moves as the game goes on.”
Playing underwater can influence strategy too. Some players make moves quickly to keep an opponent from recovering his or her breath. After all, if a player surfaces before making a move, it’s game over.
The unusual game is the brainchild of American Etan Ilfeld. Ilfeld, who now lives in England, started playing chess when he was four. He began competing in tournaments at age 10. He has the rank of “chess master,” someone who has achieved a certain high score, or chess rating.
Ilfeld came up with the idea of diving chess in 2012 as part of the Mind Sports Olympiad, a week-long event featuring over 80 diverse boardgame competitions. He thought it would be interesting to incorporate a physical element to make chess a little more “cool.”
There are about 50 competitive diving chess players in the world. In August, 10 of them took part in the 2022 Diving Chess World Championships in London, England. The four-hour event began at 9 pm—a time that most folks aren’t heading to the pool . . . at least not to play chess in it. (We’re not sure just what time that might be, however.)
After four rounds, Michal Mazurkiewicz from Poland won the event. He beat South African Alain Dekker in the final watery game.
This year’s champ says of his success, “I think that 60 percent is chess.” The remaining, he says, combines “other skills: swimming, keeping your body controlled, your pressure, and your breath.”
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. — Proverbs 25:28
Why? Diving chess requires physical prowess, intellect, and the ability to use both well. Exercising self-control is an important life skill—and one frequently discussed in scripture.