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Posts Tagged ‘Equipment’

Tools of the Trade, Part 3 (Bags)

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

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 Parts 1 and 2 of this series we discussed chess sets and boards. Once you have both of them, if you intend to take them with you, you need something to carry them around in. (Unless you intend to never take your set and board anywhere…)

Your final answer will, of course, depend on what you have selected for your equipment. I’ll begin by assuming you bought a regulation-size set and vinyl board. (If you have a wood board, the USCF ‘bags’ link below does have padded board carry cases, also.)

There are a couple of very good commercial solutions. The “Deluxe Chess Bag” and “Ultimate Chess Bag” from USCF fill these needs quite adequately. They are available by clicking on their names. There are also other fine – and more deluxe – choices available at the USCF’s Tournament Bags page.

Ideal choices will provide for the following items: Piece set, board, scorsheet, clock, and pens/pencils. Additional storage may be desirable, for books and magazines, cell phones (turn them off in the playing room!), drink bottle, MP3 player and phones, etc.

Back when I was setting out my initial set, I decided to go, “old school.” My ‘bag’ is actually a case:

My Chess "Bag"

It’s fun, because I have been asked by many scholastic players what “instrument” I’m carrying in the case. :) It’s had it’s share of problems (witness the electrical tape on the inside case lid – patching up a fracture in the case lid. Gorilla Glue is wonderful stuff, though. And it is ‘stuffed’ when I try to fit my scorepad inside it.) But it’s worth it. There have been many chess cases made over the years like this one… but this one is mine! ;)

Sadly, I can’t seem to find it available anywhere online. Which means I have to take *good* care of it, now.

There’s one other avenue a new player can explore in bags… You may have noticed in the picture above my “pencil case.”
My "pencil case"  :)
Yes, it is two prescription bottles “welded together” with Gorilla Glue. It actually does work very well, and better than any other ‘inexpensive’ pencil case I’ve ever seen – and fits very nicely into my equipment case. Anyway, I do believe in “homebrewing” gear and making one’s own solutions. Plus, there are still a couple of ‘essentials’ left to purchase – a clock and scorepad, at minimum.

If you’re on a *really* tight budget, consider that one can store a vinyl board in a lightweight ‘shipping tube,’ you can get a bag for your pieces for only $5.95 at USCF Sales (or make your own!). Some clocks come with their own storage bags (my Chronos did when I bought it,) or again you can find one cheaply. Add a pencil box and a cloth “shopping bag,” and you’re ready to go! It may not be very ‘stylish’ at all, but are you trying to impress with your equipment bag or just carry your equipment?

If it were a choice between purchasing a bag for what you already have, or purchasing a clock and ‘homebrewing’ a bag, I’d go with the latter, personally. That said, the ‘deluxe tournament bag’ at $14.95 is pretty hard to beat in terms of price to value.

But if you can find the bag that works for you, fits your style, and one you can proudly say, “This one is mine!” then you’ve done well.

Enjoy your chess!

Tools of the Trade, Part 2 (Boards)

Monday, November 30th, 2009

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!

Tools of the Trade, Part 1

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

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!