Thursday, June 30, 2022 09:55

Tools of the Trade, Part 2 (Boards)

These series of posts are geared at providing players (or parents) new to the game with some of the things a new player should consider having.

In Part 1 I shared some thoughts about chess sets. Now I’ll talk boards, and hopefully not be too board-ing about it. :)

There are five questions to ask about any board you might consider purchasing:

* What is the size of each individual square?
* What are the colors of the dark and light squares?
* Does it have algebraic coordinates on it?
* What material is it made of?
* What is the price?

*Size of individual squares: This is actually a big one. Whatever piece set you decide on purchasing, it should look “comfortable” on the squares. Not too crowded, not too loose. My first (and only regulation) board that I’ve owned was way too big for the first set I purchased for it.

The USCF Rulebook offers some general rules of thumb on pages 226 and 227. Squares should be 2 to 2 1/2 inches square, and it also recommends the King should occupy around 78% of the square. (The rulebook also suggests dividing the King diameter by .78 to get the proper size.) 2 1/4 inch or 2 3/8 inch are pretty standard. The board I use with my set is 2 1/4 inch, and is a good fit.

By the way, in many “good” boards, the squares aren’t exactly “square.” Confused? The reason is that squares that are just a ‘squidge’ longer then they are wide appear absolutely square when your eyes act together in viewing a whole chessboard. The technical term for this is forced perspective. But just take it for granted – slightly longer lengths make for “squarer” squares. :)

*Board Color: Another biggie! First, Red/Black squares (checker board) is specifically disallowed by the rulebook. Beyond that, you want colors that both contrast slightly and yet complement your piece colors. You want the pieces to stand out from the squares they are on, but the contrast shouldn’t be so jarring that you find concentration difficult.

Black and White are OK, but not very popular. Stark white can get glaring after awhile, and you want a board that you can stare at for extended periods of time. Green and Buff in vinyl are fine for a lot of sets, as are light wood/dark wood in various shades.

I have little sense of style in color. Many sites that sell boards will make recommendations for various piece colorations. The darndest thing is that we all know photos can deceive – what looks great in a picture doesn’t always look as nice as when you actually get it. But, with a bit of research, you can find a coloration pattern that will last a long time.

The best recommendation I can offer: Until you have looked at what others use, and find a good complement that way, first purchase inexpensive boards. Many players love to show off their set/board combinations – you can learn a lot just by asking others!

*Algebraic Coordinates: A stark board can look lovely. But if it’s a board you will play regularly on, ask yourself how comfortable you are taking notation without the square references. And, if you don’t currently take notation, there are places where you can easily learn how. You really should learn!!! OK, enough ranting about that!

You could, at least in theory, by some dry transfer letters and some Elmer’s glue, and modify a board to add in the coordinates. If I ever actually try that, I’ll blog about it! :)

There is one downside to this: When you set up your board, you have to be sure that you have the board set up correctly to the coordinates. (I’ve made the mistake of playing with coordinates reversed. My score sheet was, um, interesting to try and decipher later!) Whether you want a board with the ranks and files numbered on their edges is your choice.

*Material: The choices are endless. Metal, wood, wood boards that fold in half, vinyl, marble, cardboard, and leather are ones that I have seen. A big factor here is how you intend to use that board. Marble boards are absolutely beautiful. But have you ever tried lugging one to the club or a tournament? The same is true in lesser degree for a full-size wood board – if you’re going to do that, you almost certainly should invest in a padded board protection bag.

En passant, I’ll mention that you should also pay attention to the borders of the board – do you want a wide, narrow, or no margin? (Also consider where you might be playing with the board – in many smaller tournaments, you don’t have a lot of elbow (or border) room.)

But choice of material leads naturally into the last factor:

*Price: Like sets, how much can you afford? And, if you’re just starting out, how much do you want to spend? The price goes from *very* cheap to *very* expensive. For a wood board, entry level is around $100.00 – $120.00 for a decent board, without board bag. A later post in this series will detail the DGT electronic chessboard – an excellent choice if you have between $800.00 and $1,100.00 to spend on a set, board, and clock.

Fortunately, for those of use who don’t have $100.00 in disposable income (almost ever!), the simplest vinyl tournament board is an order of magnitude cheaper and will allow you to play the same great chess on it! And bonus: It rolls up – easy to carry in my tournament bag.

Just about every semi-serious player I know owns at least one vinyl (or similar material) board. In fact, one can be seen as being smarter carrying a vinyl board than lugging around a wood board.

* My board: Someday I hope to afford a wood board. I don’t really need one at the moment – I don’t have the space for it, and where I play has some very nice chess tables and sets already.

Back in about 1998 I bought my vinyl board from the USCF. They are still available here. Cost: $4.79. I bought green-and-buff. Very popular! But with my red-and-white pieces today I would now have bought burgundy-and-buff. (In fact, I may still do that. How can one go wrong at $4.79?)

I have owned smaller boards for analysis, cardboard boards which I hated, and tiny analysis sets (yet another topic for discussion!) I’m very satisfied with what I have now, even though I also think about what I could get in the future.

As I mentioned earlier, I do still wish to purchase a wood board someday. The three candidates I would consider purchasing today for my red/white set are this Drueke board at $119.00, this Teak and Bird’s Eye at $99.00, or this Redwood and Bird’s Eye at $109.00.

Ultimately, what you choose for your board is a personal decision. Find a combination of size, color, coordinates, material, and price that works for you, though, and you will not go wrong.

Enjoy your chess!

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