Buy Traditional Wooden Chess Sets

Chess is a game enjoyed by people of all ages and types and finding the right set to suit your personality is important as, hopefully, it’s going to be in the family for years to come and used on a regular basis. You can buy quality products from any chess specialist store, in many department stores or online where you’ll find a wide range of choice.

Chess boards are made from a variety of materials including marble, plastic, veneer and glass. For many players wood is the first choice due to its durability and beauty, even if just used for display purposes sets carved from sandalwood, ebony, walnut, maple, boxwood or rosewood when polished and varnished to bring out the grain of the wood are beautiful items to be admired.

Wooden chess sets come in all shapes and sizes and you can buy them in very plain designs, with elaborate etchings, or carved in exquisite detail with moulded edgings. Some sets have wooden boards with the pieces manufactured from a different material such as steel or marble for an interesting contrast, whilst others use the same material throughout to complement each other.

Wooden boards vary in size, buy a miniature folding board convenient for taking on holiday or your travels, you can even play in the car if you opt for a magnetic board.  A large 21 inch tournament standard sized board is recommended if you’re a serious player, or for kids a 16 inch junior board is made specifically to accommodate their shorter arm length.

Prices start from under £10 to over £1000, and then some more! Obviously it all depends on the material and amount of craftsmanship that has gone into every chess piece. Wood is the traditional material to produce a quality chess set and you will find some that date back centuries still in existence and a testament to their durability. Whilst many are mass produced others have been lovingly carved by craftsmen and are very detailed in their design.

Luxury products come from all over the world and made by the finest chessmakers in Italy, Spain, Poland, Holland, Germany, India and the USA.

You can buy a chess set in a combination of ways, either buy the board and pieces together as a set, or buy a board and then the pieces as a separate purchase, the choice is yours really. There are plenty of places that sell boards and pieces separately and the mix and match can give it a totally unique look.

Before you decide to buy consider the following questions; where you will be playing – at home or whilst travelling around the country; the ability of the player – are they beginners or seasoned players; and your budget. If you are looking for a set for children who haven’t played before then investing in a simple lower-priced set makes more sense as they may lose interest in a few weeks. However if you are skilled and keen to play regularly then go ahead and spend more on a quality product, the amount of detail in the workmanship, the type of wood it’s made from and the size will all have an effect on the total cost.

Of course, when it comes to playing a game of chess it really isn’t important how much your chess set cost or how detailed the pieces are or what your chess board is made from! Chess is an academic game and what is important is acquiring the skills and knowledge required to win your opponent.

A beautifully finished, handcrafted chess set can make a stunning gift for a good friend, member of the family or even for you. As well as entertaining you for hours a quality piece of merchandise can also make a bold and elegant statement in your home – invest in a luxury item today and it will last you a lifetime.

Chess Sets Shopping – Christmas 2010, Here It Comes!

Unbelievable as it seems, Christmas is almost upon us again. It’s been a fast and eventful year in the chess business and it seems the silly season of selling comes around faster and faster every year. The Christmas present market is essentially what keeps most chess retailers in business. Without this intense period of sales it would become a very hard industry to survive in.

I think Christmas 2010 will see plenty of bargains made available in the chess set market. As competition becomes fierce between rival retailers who battle it out to win over the Christmas shoppers. Just when we thought things were improving in terms of product quality, it seems the drive for cheaper than cheap sets has left certain retailers relying heavily on cheap far eastern sets of highly questionable quality.

Remember, a chess set isn’t just for Christmas! You will most certainly get what you pay for & be sure you avoid the cheap nasty sets from retailers who are obsessed with price and nothing else!

Merry Christmas!

Online Chess Shops, The Reality

When trying to buy a decent quality chess set it’s virtually impossible to find a high street shop that stocks more than ten or twelve modest sets. If you are looking to spend a medium to high amount of money on a chess set there is really only one shopping mall to consider, the Internet!

A quick look on any search engine will reveal a good couple of handfuls of online shops who claim to be selling the best chess sets, at the best prices. The fact of the matter is that all but a couple of these online shops are very small home run businesses with a bedroom style office and stock piled up in the garage. Indeed one such retailer was so dishonest he stole an image of a huge computer game distribution warehouse and published it on his amateur chess retail site in an attempt to fool buyers into thinking he was a proper legitimate company!

It’s very easy for a budding chess retailer to get started selling online, mainly because most chess wholesalers will supply in very low minimum order quantities. There is certainly nothing wrong with buying from the underdog with a garage full of boxes. But remember that the small one man band won’t be able to offer you the same level of service and backup as a dedicated retail company.

These days it’s all too easy to buy extremely cheap imported chess sets from abroad and sell them online using images copied from a genuine retailers website. The professionals in the market place will have dedicated retail showrooms where they are happy to show off their stock in it’s physical form, not just from a load of carefully adjusted images.

If you want to buy the cheapest set possible and are not fussed about the quality, delivery time or back up service then the Internet is your oyster! If you care about what you buy, and you should, then stick to the professionals and remember that you will get what you pay for.

Metal Chess Set

A metal chess set is a great way to be different. There is little doubt that the vast majority of chess sets sold are wooden or plastic. This means owning a metal set will set you apart from the crowd. One issue with metal sets is that by their very nature they are much more expensive to produce than wooden ones. There are essentially two methods to making a metal chess set. The first being to cast them from a mould. This method usually results in a mould line that runs around each chess piece. Even quite expensive metal chessmen will still exhibit this line.

If you insist upon the best you should opt for turned metal chessmen. These are made on a metal working lathe instead of moulded. The finish and quality is immediately visible as being far superior to the moulded metal sets.  Turned metal chess pieces also exhibit the lathe lines, which are seen as a desirable feature.

All metal chessmen are usually solid metal and therefore extremely heavy. There are now many excellent designs to choose from, many of which are made in Europe.

The Regency Collection, A Very Special Selection of Chess Sets

A recent development in the world of luxury chess pieces is The Regency Collection, a range of fine luxury chess pieces that is being made available by The Regency Chess Company, England. The range contains a small selection of very luxury chessmen priced from around £200 to over £1000.  All of the sets in the collection are Staunton with some variations on the design, but not any huge departures from it.

So what makes this collection so special? The first thing is the design of the chessmen, they are by far some of the most elegant and beautiful chess pieces available on the market today. The second thing is the quality of the chessmen. We are told that they are all sourced from the worlds finest manufacturers of chess pieces, the same people responsible for the range that made House of Staunton a household name and the same people who manufacture the Jacques reproduction Staunton chessmen.

Chess sets in the collection are not made in huge quantities, all are limited editions and certified as such.  If you are looking for something really special then The Regency Collection should be your only choice.

Chess Clocks, why should I use one?

Why use a chess clock? Surely they are only for the totally serious chess fanatic and not useful for my games of chess? However it’s likely that even the beginners among us in the chess world would benefit from having a clock present during our chess games. When the clocks ticking time between moves is measured and limited. Instead of those Sunday afternoon epic games that never seem to end before dinner you get competition style chess where a winner is certain, even if it isn’t you!

If you head into most town centers looking for buy a chess clock you will hopefully have some good walking boots and plentiful provisions. Essentially they have become specialist items and the only place to buy them now is chess specialists, which usually limits your shopping experience to the Internet. There are some key brands in the chess clock market, mostly European companies who have an interest in chess strategy and advanced tournament play.

DGT have emerged as the leaders in the digital chess clock arena whereas the German company Garde still represent some of the best analogue clocks (as well as digital) available. Of course there are plenty of generic clocks on the market, many will be hastily branded accordingly for the retailer selling them. Then there are the many Chinese cheap  chess clocks that are great for bulk school purchases, just don’t expect them to last as long as their European counterparts.

A good quality chess clock shouldn’t be expensive, expect to be able to buy something good for well under £80, remember that these things are not produced in mass quantities like cheap sunglasses and razor blades, so don’t expect anything too cheap!

Caring for your chess set part two (Boards)

Care for your chess board is very much different from chess pieces. There are a few different types of chess boards out there. Below I will list the various types and explain how best to clean and generally look after each one. Remember that a good quality chess board should last a lifetime, or longer!

Satin or matte veneer boards

If your chess board is made from veneers of wood and finished in a light sealing coat of satin varnish then it important that you don’t use any abrasive polishes or thick waxes on the finish. Essentially any cleaning can be done with a clean damp cloth, but not a wringing wet one. Bear in mind that any exposure to water can result in the veneers coming away from the inner core of the board so the board must essentially stay totally dry at all times. If the board becomes scratched there is not much that will remedy it, there is no thick lacquer to polish marks out of so it’s important to look after the finish on these boards, they don’t take repairs well!

Gloss lacquered chess boards

If your board has been lacquered to a high gloss it will have a fairly thick coat of lacquer applied to it. You can be sure of this because when lacquering wood the grain needs to be filled with the first few coats, and further coats built on top of this to allow polishing back to a glass like finish.

Lacquer does look great when it’s done right but it’s easily scratched or chipped. If your board suffers minor scratches or begins to loose it’s shine you can easily remedy this by re polishing the surface using a product called Scratch X. This product is primarily sold for car paint finishes, however it is extremely gentle and has a progressive action. It will remove light scratches and marks and leave a rich gloss once it’s polished off. Avoid cheaper products that contain ammonia and other chemical abrasives. Do a web search for scratch X, a tube of this will last for ages if all you use it for is your board.

Freshly polished boards can then be further shined and protected using a wax based polish, either a furniture polish or car wax if you want to. Remember that the lacquer on your board is not so different from the lacquer applied to car finishes. Therefore there is no problem in using very high quality car products on your board if needs be.

Natural wax polished chess boards

Some hand made boards are sanded to a very smooth finish then polished with a natural wax. This leaves the most natural finish and looks fantastic. It’s vitally important that during cleaning of these boards you do not strip the wax from the wood. If you do the board will become dull and lose it’s sheen and also become at risk from the elements. The best option here is to ask the manufacturer exactly which wax was used to finish the board, then use a compatible or similar wax cleaner / polish to maintain the board. Avoid any solvents or thin wax cleaners that may strip the original wax.

Caring for your chess set

So you have bought a lovely new chess set, maybe something a bit special or expensive, or just functional. Either way you are going to want it to last a long time. In fact there is no reason why a good quality set shouldn’t last for years and decades if it’s looked after properly.

Lets start by looking at the chess pieces. The chessmen have one arch enemy, and I don’t mean their opposing colour, that enemy is dust. A high quality chess set is the perfect ornament, the finest showpiece. But leaving it out means dust will gather on the pieces. Of course one way to stop this happening is to play chess with it every day, which we highly reccomend!

Another factor that will affect chess pieces is ultra violet light and heat. The light will darken the boxwood over the years, in some cases quite drastically. Extremes of temperature can also affect the chessmen and in some cases cause cracking. So essentially try to avoid exposing the pieces to either of these things.

Cleaning the chess pieces needs to be done carefully. Firstly it’s important to know how a chess piece if finished. The wood is polished with a very hard wax that softens when heated, this wax becomes impregnated in the surface fibers of the wood and with extensive polishing gives off the impression that the wood itself is actually shiny. It’s important to maintain this wax surface on the chess piece so do not use any solvent based cleaners or wax stripping substances. In fact the safest way to clean them is simply with a very soft cloth, just to remove finger marks, anything more than this and you risk damaging the finish.

The best method for storage of the chessmen is inside a wooden box, or if you want to display them for all to see, a glass cabinet.

Next week we will post about how to care for the various types of chess board. Watch this space!

The Sicilian Series Chess Set – Product Review

The Sicilian series chessmen with Rosewood board that has been presented to me for review has been done so extremely well. The chessmen come in a white box with the recognisable branding on the front. There is no doubt that this is a Regency Chess Company product. The Rosewood board is also presented very nicely in it’s branded white card packaging.

The Chessmen themselves have been made from rosewood and boxwood, one of the first things that strikes me is just how good quality the wood is. The boxwood is all clean and free of dirty grey blemishes and the rosewood is rich in grain and uniform in shade. Naturally my attention is drawn straight to the Knights and I was pleased to see that both halves are well matched in colour and grain.

The design of these chessmen is classic Staunton. Make no mistake, we are not looking at a direct replica of a set from the 1800s but instead a modern interpretation that takes the design to a new level of beauty. The proportions of the set are excellent, there is no doubt that they have been designed with active chess playing in mind. The chess pieces are chunky around their bases, and very bottom heavy with a very good balance and center of gravity.

The King

The King encompasses all of the classic Staunton design elements. I am pleased to say that there are no ornate or strange aspects to him, just smooth curves and classic lines. He feels heavy and solid with a great finish.

The Queen

Like the king she has all the classic Staunton design elements, a slightly thicker shank relative to the rest of her but a very open crown, like a flower in full bloom. The ball on the top is very well detailed indeed, It’s been turned with such a fine tolerance as to potentially make this part of her quite fragile. Thankfully in my review set a total of four queens were included. I might be needing them!

The Rook

This is the piece that in lower quality sets one expects to see the production issues. Thankfully there are no problems here. The lines and recesses are perfect. It begs the question ‘Just how many of these did they have to throw away to get each one so perfect?’ The size of the rook is quite large in scale to the rest of the set but not enough to raise any eyebrows. There are authentic castle slanting bevels which add a very nice touch indeed.

The Bishop

The bishop is fairly plain and functional, the slot in it’s hat is a plain cut with no advanced bevelling, I guess that would be just too much to ask for the price! Very well proportioned and with a lovely deep curve to it’s shank.

The Pawn

When reviewing pawns I like to line up all 8 of a colour and check for uniformity. These are all completely identical in height, width and proportion. They have very round balls that have been finished perfectly. They are clearly very functional in that the shank is quite thick, which means snapping the balls off won’t be easy.

The Knight

Saving the best til last of course, the Knights are excellent, some of the best I have ever seen on a set in this price bracket. We are looking at a well toned horse here with good muscle definition. Each tooth is carved to perfection, we have deep nostrils and a very good sense of character. Being the hardest piece to keep consistent I am pleased to say I didn’t notice any differences among the four Knights in this set.

The Board

The chessmen can be bought alone or as a set with a rosewood veneer board. I reviewed the whole set and while the board is nothing spectacular to look at it is very well made, has a zero defect level and uses very fine materials indeed. It’s an ideal partner for these fine chess pieces and makes for a lovely set. You could opt for a more expensive solid board but I personally wouldn’t.

Find The Regency Chess Company at the FSB

Finding The Right Chess Board

How hard can it be? Essentially a chess board is a large square with squares on it. Of course it’s way more complicated than that. Before the Far Eastern mass produced boards came along choosing was pretty much without risk. These days you have to be careful and choose wisely to make sure you buy the right chess board making sure you avoid cheap nasty boards from retailers who only care about profit.

One huge factor to consider when you choose a board is if you would like a solid wooden board or a veneer one. Some people will refuse to entertain the idea of a veneer board, assuming that they are somehow inferior. There are however plenty of advantages to veneer boards. Firstly they tend to be extremely consistent, in a batch of 50 boards you can expect each one to be almost identical. Because they are more ‘manufactured’ than their solid wooden counterparts they should be without flaw, precise and very clean.

Veneer boards are also a lot less expensive than solid wooden boards. If you desire a luxury hardwood such as ebony you will pay huge sums for a solid ebony board whereas a veneer version might be one third of the price. The solid ‘board snobs’ should certainly take a few moments to check out some really high quality veneer boards. They may well be pleasantly surprised!

Solid boards, while a lot more expensive are not to everyone tastes. Because each one has to be completely hand made there are plenty of inconsistencies. I like to think of solid wood boards as being something you would expect to find in an antique shop in years to come, whereas a veneer board would sit better in an ultra modern designer home.

Due to the nature of their construction solid wooden boards will certainly age better. Over the years we can expect our chess board to receive the odd dent or knock, of course no chess board is immune to this (apart from maybe a plastic one) but dents in solid wood certainly look a lot nicer than they do in veneered wood.

Another factor is that solid wooden chess boards are a lot thicker and heavier than veneer boards. A veneer board might only be 10 or 12mm thick compared to 25mm on a solid board.

What about the finish? Veneer boards are often finished in thin satin varnishes with the wood grain left open. This gives off a nice natural look and feels good to the fingers. It’s also easy to maintain as it does not require polishing. Solid boards however tend to be lacquered to quite a fine gloss finish. Which does look very elegant, especially when the reflections of the fine chessmen can be seen in the board. It does however require plenty of polishing and will pick up finger prints like you wont believe!

But lets not get too hot under the collar about chess boards. After all, if you choose the wrong one and you have bought online you are within your rights to send it back and exchange it for another type. Of course make sure you try to avoid those retailers selling cheap Chinese chess boards. Instead stick to reputable sellers who import from Europe.