From the ring to the board

Howard Goldberg with chess players from some of the schools he teaches.

World Boxing Union president Howard Goldberg, of Milnerton, can’t get to boxing engagements in Africa, Europe and South America, because of Covid-19, but he says he’s okay with that because he can play more chess.

The 63-year-old former world-class referee and judge normally travels abroad every two weeks, but the pandemic has clipped his wings, so he’s spending the time pursuing the ancient game of kings his mother taught him when he was 5.

It was through playing chess that he was thrust into professional boxing.

Simmy Lewis, the one-time president of the Cape Town Chess Club, was Howard’s neighbour for many years and became a great friend and mentor. But Simmy was also one of the best boxing statisticians of all time.

“We used to play, and one day he couldn’t play because he was going to boxing so he invited me to come with him and that’s actually how I got into boxing.”

Simmy, who died in 2014 at the age of 97, was the one who advised Howard to get involved with boxing as a referee and judge.

Before that Simmy had helped Howard become a decorated chess player with many championship titles under his belt.

Howard plays chess just for the fun of it these days, but he also teaches the game to children from poor neighbourhoods in his spare time.

“Anyone of any age or any level interested in learning chess can make contact with me. I am ready to rumble,” he says.

He has passed on his knowledge of the game to pupils at schools in Retreat, Vredehoek, Maitland, Sunningdale, Constantia, Kensington, Hanover Park, Table View and Highlands Estate.

His face lights up when he describes how children get to grips with chess.

“They are very excited; we train over computer, Skype, webcam and at times we meet in person and the enthusiasm is infectious.”

Chess is very good for children, says Howard, because it teaches them to concentrate and think strategically quickly – skills not unlike those needed by a champion boxer.

Goldberg – who has officiated in more than 100 world championship fights and about 40 South African title fights, isn’t the only one who has, somewhat paradoxically, blended boxing and boardgames: British pugilist Lennox Lewis and the fighting pride of Ukraine, the Klitschko brothers Vitaly and Vladimir, are also good chess players, he says.