How to Choose the Perfect Chess Set; The Complete Guide

Have you ever been in a store and seen an amazing chess set and thought, “wow, that would be perfect”? The problem is that there are so many choices out there. You can’t just go for any chess set – it takes research to find the best one. That’s why we compiled all the information you need to know when buying a chess set.

What Chess Set Should I Buy? 

Buying a chess set isn’t easy. There are so many options out there, from wooden sets to electronic ones. It’s important to consider what features you want in a chess set before making your final choice and of course, let’s address is the chess board for yourself, or are you considering a gift for a loved one or friend?

For the purpose of this article, I am going to presume you are looking for ideas on how to choose a chess set for yourself. The basic elements can be applied to choosing for a friend, but let me give you one quick warning.

I have owned scores of chess boards and chessmen, especially when I was younger and I collected them to an extent. I can honestly say the gifted chess sets I received, with the exception of 1, which is actually the one I use at home today, were all far inferior to the ones I selected for myself.

So just be super sure you know what is the preferences of whoever it is you are intending to buy a chess set for.

With that out of the way let’s take a look at everything to consider

Questions You Need to Consider before Buying

When choosing a chess set, you need to consider a number of factors.

  • Size
  • Pieces and Materials
  • The Chess Board
  • Cost
  • Style and Theme
  • Accessories – Clocks, Tables etc

Let’s take a look at each one individually and briefly so that you can find the perfect set for your needs.

For more details on each of these factors scroll down, where I offer much more in-depth information.

The first thing you should consider is the size of your chess set. Chess sets come in a variety of sizes, ranging from smaller travel versions to life-sized tournament pieces. Ask yourself how big you want your chess set to be and what it will be used for before making this decision.

Next, consider the material that each piece is made out of – wood or plastic? Wood looks aesthetically pleasing in almost any setting while plastics are often cheaper yet durable.

Consider what the chess board itself is made out of. Boards can be made out of a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, marble, and even glass.

Finally, think about how much you’re willing to spend on your chess set. Sets range in price from $15 to $2000! Consider what features are important to you and then find the best set that fits your budget.

The next question to ask yourself is which pieces come with the set. Most sets include the traditional white and black pieces, but there are variations available with different colors or themes. If you have children, consider purchasing a themed set like Disney’s Frozen or Cars.

Beyond this, we are moving into luxury accessories such as chess clocks for time-controlled games, or a beautiful chess table that can be used as the perfect display, o as a functional piece of furniture to play chess at.

Once you’ve considered all these factors in-depth, it’s time to make a decision! 

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What Size Chess Set Should I Buy?

Chess sets can come in a huge range of sizes, from tiny travel packs to huge human sized pieces for novelty outdoor chess games. For a point of reference, let’s use the US Chess Federation standard as the starting point in our search, and should we ant larger of smaller, then work from there.

The United States Chess Federation (USCF) states that square size should be anywhere from 2 inches to 2.5 inches.

Being 8 x 8 and a border, you will be looking at a total board size of between 17 – 21 inches square. bear this in mind if buying for display purposes in a particular spot in the house.

Chess Pieces

If using the standard 2 to 2.5 in chess board, we should consider the king’s height should be 3.375 inches to 4.5 inches. The standard USCF tournament set has 2.25 inch squares and a king’s height of 3.75 inches.

The chess pieces are arguably the most important part of the chess set although the wrong board can lead to disaster which is why in most cases when buying a chess set, you are buying both the board and pieces that have been designed to work and be purchased together.

When it comes to buying chess pieces, take special attention to the rook, this is the one piece that can not be made automatically by machine, and the more elaborate the design, the more expensive the set is likely to be in respect of the workmanship applied to this piece in particular but probably each piece in the design.

To this end, you will have your preferred material in mind whether that be the classic wooden options, or if you are going for an elaborate glass or marble set or something more contemporary and 100% decorative made from metals 

The kings pictured above are part of this set available from Amazon which is actually polymer plastic but highly polished wooden looking.

  • extra heavy weighted chess pieces with two extra queens (34 pieces total)
  • King height: 4.25 inches
  • Pawn height: 2.25 in
  • High polymer plastic with glossy finish in dark brown and light brown, extra heavy weighted, padded leather bottom (THIS IS NOT MADE OF WOOD)

Chess Board

There are three main types of chess sets: wooden, plastic and electronic.

Wooden sets are generally considered the most authentic, but they’re often also the most expensive.

Plastic sets are cheaper than wooden ones, you can even buy a convenient vinyl roll-up board for easy transportation but they don’t last forever.

Electronic sets are becoming more popular, not to mention more sophisticated, whereby they can be linked to the internet and you can play over the board against online opponents, who when making a move, the electronic board will automatically move the opponent’s pieces.

Mindblowing, but they lack the charm of wood and other decorative materials for me.

Ultimately the choice is going to be based on your personal preferences, but be aware not to overpay online when you can get your hands on the actual board and pieces to get a ‘feel’ for their quality.

To this end, I am not going to recommend any set I have not personally had my hands on at any point, as without seeing and feeling the board or pieces, I would not feel in a position to provide an honest opinion.

Cost

Buying a chess can be expensive but doesn’t; have to be, you can bag a good quality set of board and pieces for as little as $50.

Prices will then range anywhere from $50-$2000 and beyond depending on size and materials used.

If you’re looking for something cheaper, check out this set below that comes in under $50

Amerous Chess Set

 What Type of Chess Set

This is potentially the trickiest part of the selections process. Do you go for a classic Staunton style set, or do you have a particular theme or interest or collection you would like to add a chess set to?

My current favorite set is one from Studio Anne Carlton – A set made in the early 1980s on a Tudor Design. The board is made up of plain squares for the light squares, while the dark squares are represented by a carved Tudor Rose, it really is quite special.

The pieces are made from reconstructed stone and feature Herny VIII and the Queen presumably is one of his wives. A traditional robed Boship is accompanied by an impressive knight and the rooks are represented perfectly and castle strongholds. The pawns are intricately created drumming infantry. 

It is a superb set and the contrast between the wooden board and the felt-bottomed stone pieces is striking and beautiful to me.

All wooden sets are equally gorgeous, and while I’m not a huge fan of marble, glass, or metallic decorative sets, that is because I tend to buy chess sets to play with and use rather than for decoration. 

And this is the point, you should choose the type of chess set that is going to suit how you want to use it, where it will be played and your own personal style preferences.

For me, wooden chess sets, either on standard boards or something a little more elaborate like these above and below examples, just look and feel so great in comparison to metal or glass sets. They simply have a warmer feel, both in hand and heart.

Chess Table

A chess table is a great way to display your collection.

They’re usually made from wood, glass, or marble, and come in different sizes. If you want to add some flair to your game room, consider getting a chess table with a unique design.

The image below is linked to Amazon.

Get Just the Right Pieces and Board for You

There are three main types of chess pieces available: wooden, plastic, and metal. Wooden pieces are usually made from hardwoods like maple, birch, and oak. Plastic pieces are often made from polystyrene (a type of plastic) and metal pieces are usually aluminum. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, wood pieces tend to be heavier than plastic or metal pieces but they last longer. Metal pieces are lighter than wooden ones but they’re not as durable. Plastic pieces are generally cheaper than wooden or metal pieces but they don’t last as long.

Why Trust Me?

I have owned scores of chess sets over the years, when I was younger I had a few for different purposes, but since rediscovering chess, I have rather become interested in collecting various sets and pieces, and have bought several to be able to complete articles like this based on what I am finding from online retailers.

After all is said and done, while I do have links on the page, whereby if you make a purchase it get a small commission and helps me to continue purchasing sets to keep my info up to date and relevant, you also have the option of using a chess set retailer closer to home, and this really is the best way to buy.

As mentioned before, there is something special about getting your hands on the set, having a close-up look, and really feeling if you are connected with the chess set for whatever reason you are looking to make the purchase.

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