Choosing an heirloom chess set

May 15, 2013, 8:42 AM |

For years I've been playing on roll-up boards and plastic club pieces. I decided it was long past due that I invest in a serious wooden set that any master would be pleased to play on in a high-stakes game.

First was the issue of pieces. There are countless themes to choose from, but any serious player wants a general "Staunton" design that would easily pass tournament regulations. Even the Staunton design itself has countless variations, so I set about browsing the internet for a few days to find the one design that piqued my interest. This would end up being a set listed online at "The Chess Store" and is their 4-inch king "Fierce Knight" theme offered in solid ebony and boxwood for $280. I chose ebony for the black pieces as this gave me more freedom in which boards I could choose from. If I had picked something like Blood Rosewood, then certain board woods like walnut would clash with the color scheme.

Below are the ebony versions of the pieces I chose:

Next, I needed a board to go with the set. Since I've chosen a neutral color scheme of ebony and boxwood, this cut out a lot of issues with which boards would look best. Basically any good board will work in terms of color with ebony pieces. However, board size is a very tricky issue. You want the squares to not be too big and not too small either. The general guideline for tournament specification is to use the diameter of the king's base as a percentage of the board's square size. The target result is about 78% the width of the board square. One key trick to determining if your board is the correct size for your pieces is to place a king on d5 and a queen on e4. Then you take a bishop from the same set and slide it diagonally from d4 to e5. If the bishop slides freely between the king and queen along that diagonal without touching them, then you know your board is at least not too small. There should be just enough room for the bishop to clearly pass, but not too much.
At any rate, one board that always caught my eye whenever I saw one was the Drueke 23-inch Grandmaster chess board with 2.25 inch squares. They are a stunning walnut and aspen combination, and not just a veneer either. These are solid blocks of wood at .75 inches thick. The 2.25 inch squares would be absolutely perfect for my chess set, giving me the target 78% as mentioned before for the king-base-to-board-square ratio. Unfortunately, Drueke discontinued most of their product line, and these chess boards are just about extinct now. Indeed, when I started shopping around on the net, just about every online chess equipment shop I inquired with either no longer carried the boards, or had to admit they ran out of stock when the site still claimed they had them.
Enter "Your Move Chess & Games" online shop based in New York:
As luck would have it, I found the above shop online and discovered they indeed has some Drueke 23-inch boards listed. I emailed them to get the details. It turns out these boards were actually historical! The lot of 35 of them were used only once in the 1986 New York Chess Open. Since then, they had remained in storage until the tournament director, Jose Cuchi, needed to move from his home. I was thrilled to hear this, as this meant these boards has been played on by such legends as GMs Pal Benko and Bent Larsen. That same tournament was also the big splash appearance of Judit Polgar, the strongest female player to have ever played the game. She was all of 9 years old at the time, and won the unrated section.
Needless to say, I was ready to buy one on the spot. The person handling my inquiries was kind enough to take pictures of several of the boards and let me pick my favorite of the lot for $250.
Below is my new-found historical chess board:
It hasn't aged a day in over 27 years!
Now that I had the wood scheme for the board as walnut, I went ahead and added to my order over at The Chess Store a nice walnut storage box for the chess pieces.
Price list (not counting shipping):
Pieces - $280
Walnut box - $50
Walnut chess board - $250
Total - $580
I can hardly wait for everything to arrive in the mail on Monday. I'll post a picture of the board and set together at that point.