As someone who was both on the chess team in high school and a fencer in college, I truly wish human combat chess was a real sport. I'd be its biggest fan.
As it stands, I'll just have to take in the annual performances by Six Elements Theatre. Human Combat Chess is like the mutant spawn of professional wrestling and the Society for Creative Anacronism. Two teams of 16 face off over a giant chess board. Pieces move in normal fashion -- until it is time to capture another piece.
There's nothing automatic here. The two pieces face off in a bit of stage combat, using a bevy of weapon choices, from the ancient trident and net to the not-quite-as-ancient dueling rapiers.
It makes for a fast-paced evening of entertainment, with touches of chess strategy mixed in with moments of violence.
This year's finals pits the Dragons, who are sort of the New York Yankees of the Midwest league (lots of talents without as much chemistry), against the Phoenix. All the while the play-by-play announcers give us a sense of what's happening before us while clearly rooting for one side (the Phoenix).
All of this made for a heady mix, where the combatants could wear knee-high leather boots, a sash, and an Under Armor compression T-shirt and not look out of place. As the game progressed, we learned a bit about the history of combat chess (it goes back centuries; and there are leagues all over the world), and some the distinct rules that are fun to work out as the fights go on.
The performers do have variable skills, so the combat at times felt uneven. A slick brawl could be followed by a slower and clumsy battle that didn't have the grace or violence of the previous one.
Also, while the Wesley Center has a good vibe for the event, it lacks in acoustics. That made a lot of the play-by-play hard to understand. That's a shame, because there were funny things happening when I could hear it.
Though the overall event was fun to watch, a bit more story throughout the experience would go a long way toward making it more compelling. Some of this was played out in the combat itself, but a few "sideline" interviews or pronouncements from the kings could give it some real unity.
IF YOU GO
Human Combat Chess Through July 19 Wesley United Methodist Church, 101 E. Grant St., Minneapolis $15-$18 For tickets and more information, visit online.
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