Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Chess Sets of All Shapes and Sizes

Chess sets – or chessmen – come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. Their function in the game all stays the same, but their appearances can be radically different. All chess sets include 32 pieces – 16 Pawns, 4 Rooks, 4 Knights, 4 Bishops, 2 Queens, and last, but not least, 2 Kings. An array of materials and techniques are used in order to make chess sets unique pieces of art.

• Material 

Chessmen can be made from wood, marble, stone, bone, glass, plastic, or even carbon fiber. These are among some of the more popular materials used today. Chess sets can be either hand-made or machine manufactured out of raw materials.

Wood is one of the more popular materials used in making quality chess sets. Ebony and Rosewood are types of wood that are used in many high-end, handmade chess sets. These types of wood are very dense so they take more times to construct the pieces. Maple, palm, and cedar are some of the other wood used to make chess sets as well. They are not as difficult to work with as Ebony or Rosewood, but they still make for great chess sets. Wood offers versatility in style, which is why it is a common material.

• Style 

Chess sets vary in style as well. The most common of the styles is the Staunton chess set. Staunton chess sets are the style recognized and exclusively used for competitions. Nathaniel Cook made the first Staunton chess sets in 1849. He then asked Howard Staunton – a prominent chess player and chess columnist – to promote the style of chessmen in his column. After that, they become known as the Staunton chess set.

By design, Staunton chessmen have wide molded bases. The knights always have the shaped head and neck of a horse, but they can stylistically vary in appearance. The king, queen, bishop, and pawn all have “collars” separating the head of the piece from the body. Most importantly, kings are the biggest pieces and pawns are the smallest – which represents the hierarchy within the game.

Staunton chessmen are among the most common style of pieces, but they are most definitely not the only pieces. There are classes of chess sets from thematic, artistic, contemporary, etc. There are also chess set design differences – Lessing, Broadbent, Anderssen, and Morphy – to name a few. Each set has specific nuances and functions.


• Technique 

There are different techniques to making chess sets as well. The two most common are handcrafted and machine manufactured sets. Hand crafted sets are mostly made of wood, bone, and stone. Wood pieces have hand carved tops and the rest of the piece is normally done on a lathe. Bone and stone chessmen are all hand carved by skilled craftsmen. These types of chess sets are weighted at the bottom and then covered with felt to help the pieces glide across the board.

Manufactured chess sets are mostly made of plastic and metal. Molds are created and the molten metal or plastic is poured into a mold. The pieces are then cleaned up and ready for use.


 There is a lot of hard work, thought, and craftsmanship that goes into any chess set you may come across. The sets are almost as intricate as the game of chess is – and for good reason. Chess got its start as a game of nobility and it has kept the look to go with it. Next time you sit down to play chess, take some time to admire all the hard work that goes into making each piece.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Playing With the Greats

Chess is one of the few intellectual pursuits that can be fairly compared to major sports like basketball, soccer, football, and boxing – in fact, especially boxing. In boxing, you have two individuals enter the ring with considerable hype built up before hand, at which point all bets are off – each individual is left only with their skill and the training they have acquired up to that moment, and it must be tested against each other. For a brief time, the two boxers are the center of the universe. This is not unlike chess.

Of course, in chess you don’t have to struggle with hitting the right weight class or exercise obsessively or get your brain pummeled in and out of the ring. Instead, you spend considerable time learning the game, learning the strategies, learning your opponent’s proclivities, and focusing your attention and concentration inwards. You sharpen your skills and knowledge and then apply them to the game at hand. The greatest chess players, much as in boxing, are the ones who accomplish all of this again and again. A win here and there is fine; winning consistently is what it takes to be the best.

Kasparov and Karpov 

When we talk about the best in chess, we are talking about Garry Kasparov. Born in 1963, he retired in 2005, and no other chess player in the history of the game has dominated the game for as long or as successfully as Kasparov. At the age of 22, he was the youngest undisputed World Champion ever in 1985, a distinction he held until 1993 when a dispute with FIDE led him to technically lose the World Title. He did not experience another loss until 2000, against Kramnik.

Kasparov began his career in chess by training at Mikhail Botvinnik’s chess school at the age of 10, and in 1979, he entered a professional tournament (accidentally, no less!) and won. While he managed to challenge Karpov for the World Championship in 1984, after a 48 game match, he lost. The following year, of course, he succeeded in winning the world championship, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Up until Kasparov’s domination of chess, however, it was Anatoly Karpov who was considered the great chess player of his time. Born in 1951, Karpov was World Champion from 1975 until 1985 (when he was, as mentioned, finally defeated by Kasparov). With over 160 first place tournament finishes under his belt, Karpov is certainly one of the greatest chess grandmasters in history.

Beyond Russia

Turning from Russia, we come to Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest chess masters of all time and one who often faced his greatest enemy in himself. A prodigy who won eight US championships beginning at the age of 14, Fischer was the youngest Grandmaster at the age of 15 and the youngest ever candidate for the World Championship. By the time the 1970s rolled around, he dominated in the chess world, winning 20 consecutive matches at the 1970 Interzonal and, by 1972, winning the World Championship from Boris Spassky. By 1975, however, he had retired from professional chess due to a conflict with FIDE, the International Chess Federation.

Fischer later ran into a variety of political troubles, with his passport revoked, being held in Japan for several months, and finally being allowed to live – and a few years later, die – in Iceland. Were it not for his many conflicts with FIDE and problems with playing conditions and money received for playing, he might well have been the number one ranked chess player in the world. Sadly, we will never get the chance to know, as he passed away in 2008.

The Spirit of the Game


Chess is definitely a game that has had its share of big personalities, from Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov to Mikhail Botvinnik and Jose Capablanca. Of course, the future of chess has been thrown into question with the development of Deep Blue, the computer that managed to defeat World Champion Kasparov. Playing chess has never been about being the best possible player, however; it is about matching wits with another human being. That a computer can do something is all well and good, but nothing can replace the spirit of intellectual competition that chess continues to embody.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Chess Changes When You Choose a Strategy

In general terms, the differences between tactics and strategy amounts to a difference of perspective. Tactics, ultimately, are the immediate decisions made to accomplish short-term goals. Strategy, on the other hand, is concerned with the long-term – your broader strategy over the course of the entire game, from beginning to end. By game, of course, we mean chess – is there really any other game? Understanding the differences between chess tactics and chess strategies will help you to become a better, more competitive player.

Brass Tacks 

When choosing or even developing your own strategy, you must first define what the purpose of the strategy is. Identify the broad goals that will advance your board-state toward victory, as well as what resources you will need to get there; some pieces are more important in certain strategies than others, for example, while it is sometimes more important to eliminate certain pieces belonging to your opponent depending on the strategy you are executing.

Tactics then help you accomplish those goals from move to move. Deciding which resources to use to move from point A to point B, from B to C, from C to D, and so on, is an important part of advancing your strategy. While a strategy can offer a way to win, tactics are ultimately the way your strategy adapts to your opponent’s own attempts to win. Seeing the combination of moves you need to make to obtain an advantage on the board is an essential part of any strategy, and can’t be specifically made part of the strategy (for the most part) because you can’t always foresee what your opponent will do. (Although you can make a very educated guess, of course)

The Beginnings of a Chess Strategy 

Every chess strategy begins with its opening. The opening consists of the initial moves of the game using sequences of moves that are collectively referred to as “openings”. They are typically given names like “the Sicilian Defense,” and you can read all about them in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. Generally speaking, your openings will be, in part, reactions to what your opponent is doing; it is best to fall open standard openings, rather than try to invent a new variation, as these openings provide consistent defenses against your opponent’s strategy.

There are four different elements of opening moves to consider. First, there is the development of the overall game; by placing your pieces on useful squares, they can impact the game for some time to come. Then, there is the goal of controlling the center: control of the center of the board allows you to easily move pieces across the board, while also making it difficult for your opponent to move their pieces. Then there is the goal of ensuring your king’s safety (timely castling can help), and finally, structuring your pawns correctly to avoid weaknesses.

The Middlegame of a Chess 

Strategy The middlegame of chess strategy comes when most of the game pieces have been developed – as in, they are in useful places and tactics can begin to come into play. At this point, you will assess the board and the pieces on it, and form plans based on those positions. At this point, you need to begin to anticipate what your opponent is going to do.

The ultimate goal of the middlegame is to simplify the board to the point that you can enter the endgame. This typically happens when the board is so wrecked that many pieces will have a hard time interacting with each other, allowing some pieces to pass across the board and toward the king.

The Endgame of a Chess Strategy

Chess Proficiency
by VizualStatistix.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

A chess strategy’s endgame comes when there are few pieces remaining on the board. Generally speaking, there are three differences between the rest of the game and this final stage: pawns are more important, the king becomes a stronger piece, and the disadvantage of being forced to make a move – as a rule of the game – all comes into play at this point.

Many different endgame board-states exist, and at this point, a new strategy must be formulated: are you going for basic checkmate? What pieces do you have to work with, and what pieces do they have to work with? If your strategies have been successful up to this point, you will be in an advantageous position here. That is why strategy is so important – because without it, you aren’t looking ahead far enough to have any real control over what the endgame looks like. Then it’s just all move and countermove, and if your opponent is deftly executing their own strategy, you won’t like what the endgame looks like!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Taking Chess Seriously

For many, chess is just a hobby, something to pass the time between classes or during lunch. The more you play chess, though – especially the more you play it with skilled and experienced players – the more you realize that it is a game with a lot of depth, depth that you can begin to explore if you so choose. You’ll find that chess isn’t just a game of move and countermove, but rather, it is played several turns beyond the first initial moves, a game wherein strategies have been developed, tested, and refined over hundreds of years.

Chess By The Numbers

At first, all you need is your chessboard and pieces, but you’ll probably soon realize that your opponents are doing more than just playing lots of chess – they’re reading, the villains! Volume after volume of chess strategy and analysis can be found at your library, at bookstores, and online at chess blogs. Videos of matches, great and small, can be found online or at other archives. All of these resources provide opportunities for study that can’t be ignored if you intend to improve your game.

Once you have really taken the dive into chess, you will find that your simple chess set – cardboard and plastic, in all likelihood – just doesn’t cut it. True devotees to the game tend to invest in a set that either has some meaning to them or which they simply really enjoy the look of. At The Chess Store, a wide variety of styles are available, made from many different materials, painted and unpainted. Regardless of your tastes, the chess set for you can be found with us.

The Wood Option

You can never go wrong with the classics, which is why wood chess sets are among the most popular chess sets for players who are getting serious about chess – or their loved ones who are simply looking for a great gift. Wood chess sets come in two varieties: natural, and stained. Obviously, the wood used varies; maple, elm, ebony, rosewood, and ebony are just some of the types of wood frequently used to craft these works of art. Staining creates even more variety among sets, rendering them darker or lighter, and adding a smoother finish to the board and its pieces.

If you’re looking for something a bit more on the rustic side, an unstained set is probably for you. If you prefer a more refined and practiced look, a stained set will give you exactly what you want. Regardless of the material and staining – or lack thereof – you can trust that these pieces are sturdy. Only the finest wood is used in the chess sets offered by The Chess Store, and this is a set you can use for decades to come. You may even end up giving it to a child or grandchild, continuing the tradition of chess in your family with what has become an antique.

The Metal Option

Of course, for lasting power, nothing quite beats metal. A variety of materials, from brass to nickel to silver, are available; all of them finished beautifully. Some pieces offer a blend of metals, and others are even a blend of metal and wood for those interested in both materials for their set. Metal pieces can also be treated to look “aged”, giving them that green tint that old copper – like the Statue of Liberty – has to it. If you’ve ever wanted to play with a chess set that seems like medieval kings also had a crack at it, a metal set may be for you!

Themed metal sets are also available, with some of them harkening back to the Middle Ages in Europe, and others attempting to call up figures of Greco-Roman mythology. All of the pieces are finely articulated, however, with some surprisingly in-depth and detailed metalwork. When combined with a metal chessboard, the whole set can look incredibly beautiful, as well as somewhat foreboding!

Regardless of whether you choose metal or wood, you can trust that the detail and durability of your set is of the highest caliber when you’re buying from The Chess Store. Whether you’re an enthusiast, a professional, or just getting into the game, the chess boards, pieces, sets, and cases we offer are of the highest quality and used around the world. Once you play with our chess sets, you’ll never want to use another set again!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unfinished Chess Sets

Is anyone out there looking for unfinished wood chess sets?
Unfinished Chess Sets

Since our beginning we’ve always received a lot of calls from people asking if we carry unfinished chess sets so they could finish the sets themselves. Up until now, the answer has always been no… but maybe some day. It’s taken a while, but after 13 years we finally have unfinished chess sets, so let the orders come in!

We’re starting small to see just how much interest there is now that we actually have them. We’re starting with our most popular and best selling chess set of all time – the good old German Knight Staunton, and in the same 3 sizes we offer our finished chess sets.

The best wood for staining or painting is boxwood because it has a light, consistent color and a nice tight grain. Boxwood is the wood that we use for the white pieces on all of our wood chess sets. The downside to boxwood is that it’s more expensive than a wood such as golden rosewood. But to get the right look and consistent texture, we believe using all boxwood pieces is important.

One thing you’ll notice right off is that unfinished chess sets aren’t a whole lot less expensive than the finished ones. The reason being that nearly all of the work and cost of making the chess set is already done, even though the pieces aren’t finished (weighted and polished). When you think about it, thirty-two pieces of wood had to be cut to the right size from a big log, the wood pieces were then individually chucked up on a lathe and carefully turned to rather precise specifications, and then sanded nice and smooth. Plus, the 4 knights were hand carved one at a time. The pieces were then packaged, crated, and shipped. All in all, making an unfinished chess set is still a heck of a lot of hard, time consuming work.

But the main reason people are looking for an unfinished chess set isn’t to save money anyway. The real reason is that they want to finish the chess set in their own unique and creative way and have fun doing it. There’s definitely satisfaction in taking a plain unfinished chess set and making a beautiful piece of art out of it.

For the purpose of providing some samples to share with people of what can be done we bought a few cans of metallic spray paint at the local hardware store and went to town on some pieces. We found it amazingly easy and fun to create some pretty darn cool looking chess sets. It’s hard to tell the painted wood pieces from real copper, silver, gold, brass, and nickel. We also stained a few sets several bright colors and created some pretty nifty looking chess sets where you can see the grain of the wood. We finished these sets with semi-gloss polyurethane and they turned out amazingly beautiful.

Jerri Koos, our director of marketing who is also a pretty talented craft lady, just for fun took some paints and a brush and created a truly elegant and colorful chess set. In fact, here in the next day or two we’ll get some pictures taken of all of the other ones and get them posted to this blog and Pinterest. The colors, patterns, designs that you can create are endless.

If you decide to stain, here’s something you’ll want to keep in mind.  Because boxwood is so hard and has such a tight grain it does not accept some stains very well. We recommend water based dye such as J.E. Moser’s Aniline Dye. These dyes are cheap, easy to mix, and come in just about any color you might want. This dye easily penetrates the wood and with the different grain direction you find on the pieces, the dye creates some unique looking patterns and different intensity of colors.

A couple of more things worth mentioning, these chess sets are not weighted but can be weighted with a little extra work. For the handyman, all you need is a drill press and some lead or steel plugs you can use as weight. It’s a little bit of work but if weight is important, it can be done. The last item is the pads on the bottom. It’s as simple as running down to your local fabric store for some felt. Then it’s just a matter of cutting out some round pieces and gluing them on. FYI, we’ll soon have full sets of cutout felt pads with PSA on one side. Just peel and stick.

We hope that both chess players and crafts people alike will find these unfinished chess sets a lot of fun and a rewarding project. We would love to have you send us pictures of your chess set if you buy one and finish it and we hope to make a page on our web site for posting everyone’s work of art. Paint away!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chess Pieces, Chessmen or Chess Set.

 That is the question.

From time to time we’ll receive a call from a customer that purchased a chess set and to their surprise and disappointment they did not receive a chess board with it. While we try our best to make it perfectly clear, whether it is just a chess set or if it also includes a chess board, there is that rare occasion when what our customer really wanted simply got lost in translation.

What it really boils down to is what "chess pieces" or "chessmen" might be to one person will be a "chess set" to another. Here at The Chess Store we define “chess set” as a set of 32 or 34 (when 2 spare queens are included) individual chessmen. However, some people define a chess set as a set of chess pieces or chessmen with a chess board. Not an unreasonable use or meaning of the two words and it can go either way but we have chosen the "chess set" road.

From our perspective, a chess set is a chess set and a chess board is a chess board. One does not necessarily imply the inclusion of the other. When we purchase chess sets from our suppliers, our purchase orders state “chess sets” and the items on the invoices we receive are described as “chess sets”. We purchase complete chess sets, not chess pieces.

The term “chess pieces” could be used to describe 2 chess pieces or a million chess pieces, regardless of whether they make a complete and cohesive chess set or not. When you say chess piece you are referring to a single chess piece and the plural form of the word only implies more than one and not necessarily 32. When you use the phrase "chess set", it’s exclusively is in reference to a set of 32 or 34 chess pieces.

It seems to be evenly divided between the stores that use the phrase “chess set” and “chess pieces” to describe a complete set of pieces. For the time being, we’re going to stick with the more traditional use of the word “chess set”. But, someday we might find that we need to convert for consistency sake and use the terms most shoppers have in mind when they think of a chess set.