NOJ's Tal Set--"An Anthem to the Reproduction of Chess Pieces"

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Three years, ago, now, I became interested in Soviet chess pieces. Having first learned chess in the era of Botvinnik, Petrosian, Smyslov, Tal, and, of course, Bobby Fischer, I'd always felt the allure of Soviet Chess. But it wasn't until more than thirty years later, after watching Arlindo Vieria's magnificent video on Soviet chess pieces, which any lover of chess should watch again, and again, and again, that my passion for Soviet chess pieces was awakened. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXTwxG4N62Y

As I discussed Arlindo's work with my good friend Phil Pajakowski, Phil told me how much he loved the set on the cover of Tal's book, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. We pulled it out and admired the set. 

But except for a handful of pictures, the set was nowhere to be found. So began the quest for these beautiful pieces. 

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So over the next two years, we collected every picture we could find of these pieces, and involved others in the search. And we kept an eye out for the set on every auction site we could find.

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Tal, Stein, Smyslov, Petrosian--all played with these pieces.

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The set was used in the 1961 Soviet Men's Championship, and then seems to have been "passed down" to be used in Women's Tournaments...

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Even Americans played with them...

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But what to do? the set was nowhere to be found. Then one night, I was walking into the Currier Museum Art School, where my German class met. It dawned on me that I was surrounded by artists. Why couldn't we find a graphic designer to take the pictures and draft some shop drawings of the pieces from which they could be reproduced. We got in contact with the graphic design department head of a local community college, who put us in contact with a graduate graphic designer in New York. He took the pictures and with several weeks of back and forth developed some good shop drawings. Tal's set was coming back to life. Here's one of the interim drafts of the drawings...

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Armed with the shop drawings, we approached Gregor Novak of NOJ Slovenia, to see if NOJ would be interested in reproducing Tal's set. Between us, we owned two NOJ BCE sets, a Dubro 1950, and a Dubro II, all exquisitely crafted, and the last two excellent reproductions. Much to our delight, NOJ agreed, and we entered a period of development that lasted months, and generated hundreds of blanks as NOJ perfected the design. Gregor told us it was the most intensive and longest development period they'd experienced in developing a chess set. It's hard enough to reproduce a chess set when you have a physical expemplar you can measure and hold in your hand as you copy it. It's a much bigger problem to work from a handful of photos and some shop drawings when you don't have an original to work from.

Here are just a few of the blanks NOJ turned and carved in perfecting the reproduction...

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Finally, the first two sets arrived. By way of full disclosure, while I have no financial interest in NOJ sales, having worked so closely with Gregor Novak to bring the Tal set back to life, I am biased as hell. If you want an unbiased review, look elsewhere.

These pieces are excellent reproductions, as the pictures attest (the dust shown in the pictures is a result of my having not wiped them down after taking them from the box, and the black pieces show some residuals from the packing materials). Arlindo Vieria has called this set "an anthem to the reproduction of chess pieces." They are exquisitely turned, carved, and finished. They are reasonably weighted, and extremely well-balanced. Every piece we tilted to 45 degrees returned to its upright position. They feel good in your hand, and are a real joy to play with.

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