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Ever heard of chess boxing?

Chess Boxing Offers a Way Out of Poverty for Young Women in India

photo-Students at Montu Das's chess boxing school play a round of chess before getting into the ring.Swati Sanyal Tarafdar

KOLKATA, INDIA – On a misty winter morning at a gym in Kolkata, Pushpa Jha, 15, hits a punching bag with all her might, sweat trickling down her cheeks and temples, while her mother looks on.

Jha had severe malnutrition when she was younger, which affected her respiratory system badly, stunting her growth. Tiny and frail, she’s an unlikely candidate for a gold medal at the World Chess Boxing Amateur Championships, but she won that very title in May 2017. Now she has set her sights on the 2018 championships, to be held this July in Kolkata.

Her coach, Montu Das, president of Chess Boxing Association of India, says that she has something that many players do not – a desire to succeed against all odds. Her mother, Golapi Jha, agrees.

“She forgets everything when she is up in the ring; she has been wounded and injured twice already during matches, and she often has blood flowing through her nose during physical stress, yet she is adamant to continue,” Golapi Jha, a domestic worker, says.

Chess boxing was invented by Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh in 2003; it combines the intellectual skills required to win a chess match with the physical strength needed to defeat an opponent in the boxing ring. Players face off in 11 alternating bouts of chess and boxing until one of them is either outwitted on the board or knocked out in the ring.

Much to the surprise of its pioneers, this new sport is transforming the lives of a group of Indian girls.

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