Thursday, June 30, 2022 10:17

Tools of the Trade, Part 1

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. Eventually this series will have posts about the following: Chess set, board, tournament bag, score pad, clock, database program, playing/analysis program, beginning books, and any other things I can think of helpful to the beginning or novice player. (My first idea here is to present the different database programs available… but I’m going to hold off on that a little bit.)

So, let’s talk chess sets. (A ‘set’ in this context means the pieces only – not a board, clock, or anything else.) While some tournament venues supply equipment (our local Scholastic Chess association does, and tournaments at our local cafe/club do,) most do not. So it pays to be prepared.

First, bar none: Staunton pieces. The Staunton design is the officially recognized piece pattern of the United States Chess Federation. It’s actually in the rulebook that way (rule 40C, page 255, 5th Edition.) If you want to learn more about the Staunton pattern, try here.

The rulebook also specifies the following rules for standard equipment for tournament play:

* Pieces to be made of plastic, wood, or material similar in appearance.
* King height should be 3 3/8 – 4 1/2 inches. Cross or finial to be not more than 20% of total King height. Diameter of base to be 40-50 percent of total height.
* Other pieces are to be of proportional height and form.
* King and Queen must have different tops.
* Bishop may have angled groove in top.
* Pieces are to be colored of naturally light and dark wood, or approximations. (White and Black are OK. No specific allowance of White and Red, but not specifically proscribed, either.)

So, head swimming yet? Let’s talk one more factor, first. Pieces can be “weighted.” Weighting means that the base of the piece has been intentionally weighted so that it isn’t easy to tip over.

You may read, as you browse pieces, terms such as “unweighted,” “single weighted,” “double weighted,” “triple weighted,” or now, “quadruple weighted.” This refers to how much proportional weighting has been put into the base. “Triple weighted” pieces are very stable. But they are also very heavy in the base – if you play a lot of rapid chess, they may not be the best choice. “Unweighted” pieces are very prone to being knocked over – again not the best choice.

Last factor: How much money do you want to pay for a set you’ll play with? Pieces can (and do!) get knocked over, dropped off the table, knocked into each other, slammed down by players, share a bag/box/etc., and finials (the King’s cross, for example) can get broken. You can spend over $10,000.00 on a premium quality wood chess set. (No kidding!) I can’t afford one – donations gladly taken, though!

If you want wood, expect to spend no less than $50.00. A ‘really good’ wood set is in the neighborhood of $200.00. (And I wouldn’t want to take a $200.00 set to tournaments.)

I’ll sum up by simply showing what I use. Awhile back the owner of the cafe I play at was stocking a very reliable quadruple-weighted plastic set, manufactured by the House of Staunton. This set can be bought here. I haven’t regretted it since.

I chose my colors in Red and White. (See! There’s a reason my diagrams on this blog and on my database are Red/White pieces!) You should know that since Red and White aren’t specifically prescribed as allowable, some players may make a stink about that. You’re just as good off choosing the tan/black combination. (I just like Red pieces for “Black.”)

If you’re the parent of a scholastic player, you may want to have a smaller set (for smaller hands.) Keeping in mind the above restriction for what constitutes a tournament set, you might be able to “neck down” a little bit and still be OK. However, at a tournament the decision of the Tournament Director (guided by the Rulebook,) is what will determine if your equipment is considered within regulation for play – or not.

The set I have, though, is one I that I expect to use for the remainder of my life, barring upgrades (and getting the same pattern and weight in wood.) And for $24.95 plus S/H, a set that can last the rest of one’s life is well worth the expense. :)

Next time in this series… Boards!

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