“Just take a complimentary towel and head down the stairs.”
It turns out to be very easy to enter the Diving Chess World Championship.
On entering the changing room, I discover I'm one of only six contestants. The entire competition fits within a single lane of the small swimming pool.
Diving Chess is for those who believe chess is better played in a swimming pool and with limited oxygen. The boards are sunk to the bottom and players dive down to make their move. You have as long to think as you can hold your breath. Come up for air without making a move and you get a warning. Do it again and you forfeit the game.
I shake hands with my first opponent and plunge. It's not long before I'm exhausted. The time at the surface while my opponent moves is always too brief to properly recover. I'm beaten after a game which feels like it's lasted forever but has actually taken just half an hour.
During my second game, I learn that this isn't a sport for the indecisive. I peer at the board from just under the surface, decide on my move and dive down to make it. On reaching the bottom, I realise I’m about to make a mistake. As the seconds pass, it gets harder to calmly consider my options. I realise I've run out time when my eyes start struggling to focus on the board.
I am the worst chess player by some distance. My fellow contestants, however, show no disdain for my uselessness and are politeness personified. The undeserved compliments I receive include “well done, you battled hard” and “that was a really interesting game.” One opponent recommends that I try the Italian game as an opening and is then kind enough to pretend not to notice my blank expression
Game three and I'm now shivering. Rather unsurprisingly, remaining fairly still in a chilly pool has left me and the other contestants freezing. We are all jealous of Etan, the sport's founder and the tournament organizer, who has wisely chosen to wear a wetsuit.
With all the action taking place underwater, diving chess is not a natural spectacle. Yet in spite of this, we have a crowd of sorts. A few intent spectators watch with keen interest, determined to work out what exactly is going on. There are many curious passers-by on their way to or from the gym who watch for a moment before wandering off perplexed.
With all the games completed, it's time to consult the very soggy sheet of paper with the results on and work out who is the world champion. Having lost all my games, I play no part in the poolside medal presentation. I do, however, retreat to the showers as the new world number six.
Chess boxing has proved that improbable chess hybrids can take off. Diving Chess may not have the same drama but it's hard not to be intrigued by a sport that takes place at the bottom of a swimming pool and requires competitors to make tricky calculations while they run out of air. It's also a far better option for those who dislike being punched in the face. At the very least, I hope next year’s tournament will take over an entire pool.