Human Combat Chess: Check, and en garde

Castle this! Meredith Larson in Human Combat Chess.
Castle this! Meredith Larson in Human Combat Chess.
Photo courtesy Six Elements Theatre
Ever thought chess was fine as a game, but needed a bit of real bloodletting to help it into the major leagues?

As a theater arts major at the University of Minnesota, Mike Lubke had that idea, and used it for his senior project. That, in turn, has evolved into Human Combat Chess, which returns this weekend with an all-new show. 

"I had gotten the idea from watching the various human-chess matches that had been performed at the Renaissance Festival. I wanted to provide a modern take on it. Instead of feuding medieval barons playing an archaic game, we present human chess as a competitive combat sport," Lubke says.

There are 32 players on the board, with the kings on each team serving as the "player," announcing the moves. It proceeds pretty much like an everyday chess match (albeit on a bigger scale), until someone moves to capture a square already occupied.

"When this happens, the attacking piece chooses a weapon for the ensuing duel to be fought with, and the board is cleared of everyone but the two combatant players and the referee. The two pieces then perform a choreographed fight scene with the winner of the fight gaining -- or retaining -- control of the square. The play continues until one king is caught in checkmate or loses in personal combat," Lubke says.

Now in its third season, Human Combat Chess presents an ever-evolving in-world story with returning characters and conflicts. There is even a podcast to help you follow the season's developments. 

Presenting fake combat as real takes considerable talent, skill, and planning. This year's edition of Human Combat Chess has a team of seven fight choreographers. All have been honored in some way from the Society of American Fight Directors.

"Audience reactions have been astoundingly positive," Lubke says. "Numerous attendees have mentioned that while they are not regular theater goers, they would gladly come see Human Combat Chess again. Others have mentioned the parallels with professional wrestling, and believe we present a more convincing portrayal of staged violence presenting itself as real."

Like professional wrestling, the sport here (there's even a Jumbotron with additional information about the players) appeals to people interested in a bit of extra story with their sports action. "Chess has a unique appeal to a wide range of people. If fills the 'summer action' niche that, while well represented in film, is nearly absent onstage," Lubke says. "It provides theater patrons with a chance to communally pretend to be sports fans, and vice versa."


Human Combat Chess
Presented by Six Elements Theatre
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays, June 14-29
University Baptist Church
1219 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis.
For tickets and information, visit online.

Use Current Location

Related Location

University Baptist Church

1219 University Ave. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414


Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >