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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soccer Chess Upsets the Form Book




Temirzhan Abishev wants to bring football to the English.


In 1992, the Kazakh construction designer and Spartak Moscow fan woke up with a dream. He liked soccer and he liked chess - so why not combine the two?


Eight years later, Abishev believes the whole world is about to play his board game, "New Football."


Tucked away in the corner at Football Market 2000, an industry trade fair held at the Kremlin Palace this week, Abishev and his wife Irina's stand was lined up against the big guns of Hummel and Kappa, but Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and UEFA President Lennart Johannson hovered around New Football - looking interested.


Luzhkov slipped Abishev's business card into his top pocket. Johannson will meet with Abishev later to accept a special $1,000 edition of the game, a present from Abishev.


Having given up his career as a designer in Almaty, Kazakhstan and invested more than $200,000 in the game, Abishev is living his dream right now.


New Football, the ordinary version of which costs $10, looks like a misshapen chessboard scattered with some Subbuteo pieces. Like real soccer, each game of New Football starts with 11 players on each side, although they are set in a rather tactically naive 4-2-4 formation. (Abishev says there may be a chance to switch to 4-4-2 or 5-3-1 later, but he's sticking to these rules for now.)


On a pitch just over 1 1/2 times the size of a chessboard, each side can move their players in any direction, for a maximum of five squares and five moves at a time. It's a fairly simple game. Abishev explains it well, and anyone with a few minutes - even a Moscow mayor - can pick it up. It has the sophistication of chess, and players are instantly caught up in the game. It even has offside and corners. The same rules apply for offside, although it's somewhat easier to tell if players are offside as they are a tad slower than on a real pitch.


"I think it came from my love of football," said Abishev in explanation as he sipped a beer during a break from explaining the rules to passers-by who wandered in from the artificial turf display.


Sports fans in Soviet Kazakhstan - a soccer desert - had no opportunity to watch foreign games, and Kazakh teams were never a mighty force in the Soviet league.


The only oasis in Soviet Kazakhstan for soccer lovers was the World Cup or the European Championships, which were shown on state television. Abishev says he and the other fans lived from one international tournament to the next.


"We'd discuss a great game for years," he said.


Nowadays, such privations are a thing of the past. Abishev said that, since he invented the game to compensate for the lack of soccer on television, he probably wouldn't have invented it if matches were as oft-broadcast during the Soviet era as they are today.


His game has received wonderful reviews from former FIFA President Joao Havelange and present FIFA PresidentSepp Blatter, but it's not been easy for Abishev, especially in his hometown of Almaty.


"It was difficult to convince people at first," he said. "They said, 'What do people need it for?' They laughed at me and said we've hardly got any food. Why do we need such a game?"


The Kazakh press has also criticized Abishev - for naming the game in English and not Kazakh.


"I said it's because I want to sell it all over the world," he said. "If it was called Kazakh Football, no one would be interested."


"It took me longer to think of the name than it did the game," said Abishev, who once met Bobby Charlton, but unfortunately didn't have the game with him at the time. Since Abishev doesn't speak English, Bobby doesn't even know New Football exists.


"I'll bring the game to England," Abishev said. "I'm certain that I can sell a million copies."