Online chess playing

Despite it’s deeply traditional beginnings chess is rapidly becoming a game of the web with thousands of people playing against each other online. Web 2.0 makes it easy for people to play live games of chess while seated in different corners of the globe. Indeed those brave enough can even play for money should they so wish. A chance for the highly talented players to earn some serious money should they wish to do so.

Another increasingly popular chess medium is online chess software. Chess Boss for example offer a free chess download that allows you to play online chess against software. It seems the old days of two players sat opposite each other with a wooden chess board are changing rapidly. If this trend continues it will only be good for chess, we can watch the chess players of the world flexing their chess muscles more often and with more opponents. A sure sign of good things to come.

Buying a chess set direct from India


You have probably seen the many listings on ebay for elaborate and seemingly high quality chess sets at an amazingly cheap price. More often than not these sets are in India or China waiting to be posted to you for a fraction of the cost of buying the same set in the UK. There is however a catch, well more than one actually, that you need to be aware of.

Firstly there is the postage fees. It goes without saying that buying your chess set from the far east is going to cost a lot in postage. It’s very common for a seller to advertise the set for pennies or just a few pounds and then make their real profit on the postage costs. This is all well and good until you receive the goods and they were not what you expected. The seller will happily refund your pennies, but will regard the pounds already spent on ‘postage’ as non refundable.

Then there’s the quality It’s a well known fact that India produces some of the worlds finest chess sets, there is a vast number of chess manufacturers and artisans working there to produce chess sets, in some cases for quite prestigious names in Chess. The market over there is vast and it seems anyone and everyone wants a look in. It’s easy for an ebay trader to buy a few sets from a local chess makers. A few rupees will buy them the pile of rejects that a supplier has weeded out from their stock thats intended for export. It’s all too easy for them to find their way onto ebay at tiny starting prices.

While buying from an Indian ebay seller might seem like a great way to save a few pounds it’s seldom worth it. All the proper producers of chess are too busy dealing with their real export customers to worry about ebaying off a few sets here and there so you can be sure that the set isn’t coming from them. Expect massive shipping times and a level of customer service that’s typical of a company 6000 miles away.

Remember that UK chess suppliers are governed by strict trading standards regulations whereas a small time ebayer in India or China is answerable to no one should your transaction turn sour.

Chess sets & the credit crunch – how they are affected

The current economic situation seems to be turning from a credit crunch into a world economic crisis it seems. With the US government in turmoil over a multi billion dollar rescue package and both the US and UK economies suffering downturns. It seems focus has been taken off our own government in the blame game for the crisis as the whole world begins to suffer the effects of the crisis.

Chess sets might not be the first thing you associate with a financial crisis but the market for chess products is sure to be affected by the current situation. The vast majority of chess sets are imported, usually from places like India, China, Poland and Taiwan. While the pound and dollar were strong it was very cost effective to buy chess products from these countries. But with a weakening of both currencies it’s certain that the landed cost price of the sets coming into the country will have to rise.

Because cheap chess sets are often sold by small businesses or enthusiasts we can expect to see a number of retailers go under during the crisis. For those who set themselves up in times of economic boom when spending power was powerful things are going to become extremely tough. Not only will their costs increase but their selling prices may fall as demand slows and sales fall.

Chess however is one of those things that is not a fad, a passing phase or a seasonal game. It’s so well established as a game that it’s popularity has survived all manor of changes in society and it’s showing no signs of going away any time soon. It will be this that keeps the chess market going through these hard times.

Chess boards, the solid vs veneer debate

chess board

I was interested to read two very different policies from two rival chess retailing websites recently. It was in relation to the kind of boards they stocked. The first retailer makes quite a big deal about how all of their chess boards are made out of solid wood, no veneers present! They point out the benefits of having a solid board as opposed to a veneer one as being quite significant.

The other retailer stocks only veneer boards and makes a point about how they do this to help protect the environment. I am not going to conduct any research into the carbon footprint of a veneer board over a solid one. However given that the said retailer has piles of stock air frighted over every month I doubt that saving the planet is their true reason behind their stock of veneer chess boards.

In case you were wondering, a veneer chess board is constructed using a center slab of wood to which thin layers of wood are glued to each edge in order to give the board the appearance of being made using the layer wood, as opposed to the wood or material thats hiding inside. One benefit to this method is that a center core can be used that is 100% stable. MDF or ply wood wont bend or crack or move in different temperatures so using these for chess boards can make someones life much easier.

Of course no one would buy an MDF chess board, however cover it in a veneer of mahogany or maple and all of a sudden you have a decent looking chess board. While there is nothing wrong with this method the appeal of a board thats solid throughout is far greater. It almost seems less fake to have a solid board, it’s not pretending to be something it isn’t.

If you have ever bought a cheap chopping board thats made from wood you will understand what can happen to a piece of solid wood. Sometimes is just naturally wants to bend like a banana. The production of solid wooden chess boards would suffer the same fate if it were not for expert selection, seasoning and crafting of these boards. You can begin to see why they cost more than their veneered cousins.

There is also the subject of age to consider. While a veneer board might look great when it’s new can we expect it to fair so well after 20 years of use and the occasional meeting between a stone floor and it’s corners? A solid board is going to age gracefully and wear it’s knocks with pride while a veneer board is going to need plastic surgery and a helping of super glue to remain looking good into old age.

Weighted chess pieces

The mystery of weighted chess pieces is often a subject of great interest among chess enthusiasts. There is no doubt that a triple weighted king feels fantastic in the hands. Pick up the same chess piece in an unweighted version and you instantly notice a sense of inferiority. Even the best bud rosewood chess sets can feel cheap when they are lacking the weight.

The method that was traditionally used was to drill out channels in the base of the pieces and pour in molten lead. The lead would set solid then a leather or felt disc would be glued onto the base of the chess piece to cover the dual function of covering up the unsightly lead and also giving the pieces a nice soft base.

More recently however the process has been forced to change. Some purists might disagree with the current method but there are a number of good reasons why it’s done differently now. The main one being the huge increase in the cost of lead. The price has gone up significantly making it very expensive for chess set artisans to purchase it.

The other factor is the safety. Lead is very poisonous and the governments of developed countries won’t permit the import of products that contain lead, especially products that are toys or games and likely to come into contact with children.

Therefore the chess set makers have devised a simpler method which involves drilling circular channels and inserting rods of steel inside. They then have to pour glue inside to secure the steel inside the wood. Rattling chess pieces would certainly not be acceptable. The rods will perform an effective job at weighting the chess set. However steel is not as heavy as lead, therefore more will be required meaning more wood need to be drilled out.

The end result of this is that the old lead filled chess pieces are now a thing of the past. Like the sets made from illegal and endangered woods they may well become more valuable and collectible in the years to come.

Buying a chess set online


The explosion in online shopping has enveloped the chess set market and the internet is now the place to visit for the biggest selection of chess products available. The vast selection is not without it’s problems, how is one to know what to buy, or who to buy it from? The large players like Amazon and ebay are in on the act as well as a number of other huge online shopping portals. Then there is the minefield of independent e stores offering a vast array of products and service levels.

With 1000s of different chess products it’s difficult to gauge if the set you are looking at is indeed worth the money. Cautious buyers often stick to well known brands such as Jaques, Gibson and House of Staunton. This can limit ones choice somewhat and is not the best way to bag a good value bargain.

An online chess retailer should be upfront about the products they are selling, giving the full details of where the product is made and how much it weighs. Both of these factors are paramount in determining how good a set is. Look for security certificates and membership seals on the sellers home page, check their authenticity. It’s too easy for a rouge seller to launch a retail store for the sole purpose of liquidating a load of bad stock. If the site doesn’t give the ‘trust’ feeling move along to the next one.

The old saying ‘The camera never lies’ goes out the window when it comes to buying chess sets online. A competent studio photographer can make even the cheapest set look good online. A certain importer of cheap Chinese goods has been known to supply product images of genuine European versions of their cheap copies in order to boost sales of their chess boards and pieces.

If buying an expensive set make sure the seller offers an excellent returns policy, if the photos and description have mislead you use their returns policy to get the set back to them in exchange for a full refund. Compare their products to those from another site, with all the smoke and mirrors it’s easy for a seller to dress up a budget set to look like it’s worth more.

Remember that paying by credit card offers excellent protection, if everything goes wrong use your rights under the consumer credit Act to get your money refunded. This safety net allows you to take full advantage of the vast selection of lovely chess products available on the internet.

The growth in global trade means that many of the smaller online chess retailers buy their stock abroad, sometimes from brokers who source stock from artisans in remote parts of the world. Some online stores will import limited quantities of highly crafted sets which means you can buy a unique or rare chess set without having to pay an astronomical price for it.

Finally, don’t be scared of ordering your chess product online. There is an increasing amount of excellent stock out there thats not to be missed, just go careful, use your head and remember…. if it’s too good to be true it probably isn’t true.

Chess sets, where in the world do they all come from?

The origin of a chess set is an important factor when choosing which one to buy. Ultimately the set is as good as the people that made it and the materials they used. Indeed why should it’s location have an effect on it’s quality? Most of us know that when it comes to consumer goods a little bit of discrimination is required if we are going to buy the best we can find.

Most chess sets available in Britain are imported, very few sets are actually made here and those that are tend to be very expensive. Firstly lets look at India, thought to be the home of chess India has a deep history of making chess sets. A country rich in natural resources and high quality timbers that are ideal for making chess sets. The chess manufacturing in India is established and developed, many factories exist making chess sets and experienced carvers create some beautiful chess pieces from inside their own homes.

The internet has helped to make Indian chess sets readily available by establishing good long distance relations with UK chess sellers and Indian brokers of chess products.

Next on our list is Poland, well not just Poland but other places in Eastern Europe as well, now part of the EU. The Polish have a history of craft manufacturer and are well known for making some unique and very ornate chess sets. They use decorative wood burning and staining to enhance the look of their sets. In past decades the Eastern European sets were often seen as a cheap alternative to British or Western European made products. The goal posts in quality moved when a new force in mass production came along in the form of Chinese production.

The Chinese manufactures were good at copying the designs from India and Europe. With rock bottom labour rates and raw materials the Chinese manufacturers offered excellent prices. They aimed their products at the customers who had previously imported from the eastern sides of Europe. Evidence can be seen of this in the form of Chinese versions of classic Polish chess sets. With fast production times and low prices the Chinese began churning out chess products at a rate of knots.

While things may have appeared grim for the Polish suppliers, their designs being mass produced for a fraction of the cost there was one factor the economists had not foreseen. Quality was slipping in the Chinese quarters often with some diabolical results. All of a sudden the market was awash with 1000s of cheap chess sets. The growing internet shopping culture made them easy to sell, the less honest sellers often posting up photos of the original Polish set while shipping the Chinese version.

Large department stores stocked 1000s of sets bought for a couple of pounds and sold for a couple more. It seemed the chess market was in trouble, with intense pressure on price and what seemed like a never ending source from China. Speculation was abound about the effects that rising quality standards in China might have on the Polish and Indian sets.

It seems the birth of the mass produced copy did not spell the death for the older industries. Quite the reverse in fact. While the cheap Chinese copies flooded ebay and the bargain basements the discerning among us sought out the genuine article, the very products that had been copied to death by the Chinese. What had previously been considered the budget sets from the poorer side of Europe were now considered the genuine article.

The ‘Made in China’ badge became something of a stigma and best avoided if at all possible, while a set made in the new Europe gained a new set of credentials. It seems there will always remain a home for the cheap Chinese produced chess set. Yet the demise of the quality crafts from other parts of the world was not to be.

Chess Set customers need do to some weight training

weight lifting a chess piece

When you are in the market for a chess set weight is an important factor to consider. Whether you are buying a small travel set or an ornamental set of pieces, the weight of the board and pieces can be a significant indicator of the quality of the set and how valuable it really is.

Lets look at wooden chess sets firstly. Wood comes in a number of varieties, dark wood, light wood, hard wood and soft wood, nice looking wood and ugly wood. One thing you can however rely on is that the heavier the wood the harder and stronger it will be. It’s all to do with density and the harder and denser the wood the nicer it will look and better it will wear.

Hard wooden chess sets will stand the test of time and suffer knocks and abuse much better than a soft wood set. If you have ever tried digging your fingernail into a piece of wood you will understand the difference between soft wood and hard wood.

Weighted Chess Pieces

The pieces within a chess set will sometimes be weighted. Generally speaking a cheap chess set will have solid wooden pieces with no weighting inside. More mid range and luxury sets will be weighted. The weighting of chess pieces is done in a number of ways. The traditional way involves partial hollowing out of the chess piece from the base end and then filling the cavity with molten lead. A leather circle is then fixed on the bottom of the piece to hide the unsightly area. More modern methods involve drilling holes and inserting rods of metal or lead into them, then covering up the end with a leather or cloth circle.

Buying online is becoming an increasingly popular way to buy chess sets. indeed it is becoming harder and harder to find a good enough selection on the high street. Most online shopping systems will list the weight of the product. When shopping for chess sets this must be an important factor in the decision making process. A 14″ folding chess set with chess men should weigh in at over 2.5 kg if quality materials have been used. Size matters, don’t discredit a set for being only 500 grams if it is only 7 inches wide!

Holding a heavy chess set in your hands gives an instant sense of a quality product. Think back to your birthday when you are opening your presents, usually it’s the heaviest of the parcels that conceal the most mystery.

How green can a chess set actually get?

chess set world

Over the last few years the developed world has become obsessed with environmental issues. Not a day passes without something coming on the TV or radio about global warming and the effects it is having. The whole carbon output debate rages on but while the scientists search for definitive answers the rest of us seem to be keen to ‘do our bit’ to help our planet.

Why are we even talking about this on a bog about chess sets? That’s a good question, slide back in time a decade and the two subjects would have seemed totally irrelevant. But the world is changing, while large supermarket chains spend millions telling us how much carbon has been produced in exchange for our loaf of bread the consumer is aiming their dollar at the most environmentally friendly outlet.

Like it or lump it, the business world has to accept that in the near future it’s green credentials are going to affect it’s profit in a more direct and obvious way. With an increasing number of products containing a ‘carbon label’ how long will it be before chess set buyers are asking questions like ‘was this product flown in or sent sea freight?’

Indeed how can one begin to assess the environmental affects of a chess set? What wood is it made from? how many miles has it traveled to get into my hands? The issue of the wood used is one point in case. Ebony chess pieces for example, are these really going to have much of an environmental impact? Greenpeace have a website dedicated to endangered woods that lists the types of wood used a lot in the production of musical instruments, in particular stringed instruments like guitars. They list ebony and rosewood as two of their endangered woods. They even point out that india, where many of the worlds best chess sets come from, has having seriously depleted it’s stocks of ebony.

Lets be reasonable though, one has to bear in mind that many fine chess pieces are hand carved over a period of hours and days. The price indeed reflects this. By it’s very nature chess piece and board making does not lend itself well to huge scale mass production. While most of the chess products continue to be hand made the constraints on output will remain.

Already the guitar collecting fraternity have started to pin high price tags on certain models that were made in times before certain woods became endangered and prohibition was put on it’s harvest. One notable case being the use of Brazilian rosewood on the fingerboards of guitars, great for tone, not for the planet according to some. Lets hope none of the guitars at the live earth concert had ebony or rosewood fingerboards, can’t teach the world to sing on a guitar made from endangered wood now can we?

We also have the issue of transportation to think about. Most of the best chess sets come from India, with such a vast array of importers and retailers and indeed some chess retailers importing their own stock many of the imports are flown in as opposed to sea freighted. The retail prices of the chess sets in developed western countries more than covers the air fair. How much of the price you pay is in fact it’s air ticket?

So what will the future hold for chess set production and the kinds of woods we can expect to see our pieces made from? Will the day come when the value of ebony chess pieces follows the plight of the vintage guitars? Will we see a carbon sticker on the packaging of imported chess sets? Only time will tell.

A Genuine Staunton chess set please?

staunton chess set

There is a common misconception among many people that you can buy a genuine Staunton chess set. Indeed it’s not uncommon for people to think that there is a chess manufacturer called Staunton who make and sell chess sets. The reality is quite different. Back in the 1800s there was a problem emerging among chess players. The problem was caused by a huge variety in the styles of chess pieces. It meant that a Russian player facing an English opponent might become confused if he cant tell the difference between the pieces. Indeed it was becoming such a problem that the style of set used could affect the outcome of the game.

There was one man, Howard Staunton, who decided enough was enough and that a standardization of chess pieces was needed if the world was going to compete at chess. Staunton was an amazing chess player of his time, indeed between 1843 and 1851 he was considered he finest chess player in the world. Many people believe that Howard Staunton designed the set himself, in fact he must have spent his time improving his chess moves instead.

He did favor one particular set however, which had been designed by Nathaniel Cook, the brother in law of the owner of Jacques of London, a prominent chess manufacturer of the time. Jacques produced the set that Cook designed and it was this set that Staunton so loved. He endorsed this style of set as the standard by which all chess sets should be made in the future. The familiar pieces that we now take for granted as the typical chess set was now set in stone it seemed.

There are still chess sets being made in other ornate styles that bear no resemblance to Cooks design, indeed when one looks at them it easy to get confused about which pieces are which. No such confusion exists when one sees a Staunton chess set. Even a non chess player instantly knows which piece is which.

Jacques of london still make chess sets today, so one could argue that if there is a Staunton company then they are the closest thing to it. Since then many other companies have created amazing versions of Staunton chess pieces. In some cases costing thousands of dollars a set.

There is no doubt that Howard Staunton would be delighted to see what his endorsement has brought about. It seems to be the case that forever more this classic design will remain the standard which we all associate with a proper chess set.