Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Planning on Some Holiday Chess Shopping? Here is Some Help.

Its holiday shopping time - and Santa might just want to consider bringing chess equipment down the chimney this year.

With that in mind, let me review some chess equipment to consider. I consider these selections the "best value" of equipment out there. If I mention it, it is worthy of owning with pride, and it will give you years of enjoyment and service, whether at home, at the club or in tournaments.

Chess Sets - Plastic
1.  Ultimate Chess Set - 3.675 King - $15 at American Chess Equipment ($24 at Chess House)
2. Reykjavik Series - 3.75 King - $17 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
3. Marshall Series - 3.75 King - $28 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
4. Triple Weight Tournament Set - 3.75 King - $8 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
5. Fischer Series - 4 inch King - $20 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
6. Zurich Series - 3.875 King - $28 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton

Chess Sets - Wood
1. Ultimate Wood - 3.75 King - $41 at American Chess Equipment (some imperfections in the set)
2. Classic Series - 3.75 or 4" - starting at $89 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
3. Reykjavic Series - 3.75 King - starting at $150 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
4. Zagreb '59 Series - 3.875 King - starting at $150 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
5. Old Deluxe Set - 3.75 King - $100 at the Chess Store
6. Grandmaster Series - 4" King - starting at $89 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton
7. Championship Series - 3.75 King - starting at $60 at USCF Sales or House of Staunton

Chess Boards - all 2.25" squares to match sets listed above - advantages - disadvantages
1. Vinyl Board - $6 - Cheap, clean easy, portable, but can't tuck a study book or magazine under it.
2. Mouse Pad Board - $9 - Cheap, won't slide, portable, harder to clean, pieces don't slide and hard to rotate board.
3. Wood Boards - Starting at $70 - Pieces slide easy, can tuck book or magazine open while studying, easy to spin, but some glare from lights, hard to carry and some worry about damaging the surface.

1. Saitek Competion Pro - $50
2. Saitek Competion Digital - $40
3. DGT North Americn Digital - $50
4. Diamond Quartz Analog Clock - $30
No wind ups suggested, but still a servicable choice for home or club play.

Chess Carry Bags
1. Deluxe Chess Bag - $14 - Any chess distributor

Books - Jason's List of "Must Haves"
So, just in time for is my Top Ten Lost on a Desert Island Chess Library Picks.  Get any one of these under your tree, and I guarantee you that you won't be disappointed. - JM

1.  Pawn Structure Chess - GM Andy Soltis
This and #2 were responsible for me going from USCF 1800 to 2000, and it made so much sense of what the opening was all about. If you're having trouble finding middle game plans, studying how to play the various pawn structures will improve your game.

2.  The Art of Defense in Chess - GM Andy Soltis
"Most games are not won, they are lost!" - Soltis. Whether one side crashes through often depends on one key tempo, and knowing when and how to throw a spanner into your opponents plans can make all the difference between winning or losing. IMHO the first step in becoming a winning player is becoming much harder to beat, and all great players are noted for how well they defend, too. (e.g. Karpov, Fischer, Carlsen, etc.). If you change your mindset that there are only two results in chess (winning and not losing), you will increase your rating.

3.  The Art of Attack in Chess -  GM Vukovic
A concise encyclopedia of the main elements of attacking play with classic game examples.

4.  The Games of Robert J. Fischer -  Wade & O'Connell
No Fischer Fan's library is complete without this book.  This is THE Fischer book - 700+ games, many fully annotated.

5.   500 Master Games of Chess -  Du Mont
Pull up a chessboard and sample this buffet of the great masters, all organized by opening. The weath of annotations makes this a great source of opening ideas for you games.

6.  The Sorcerer's Apprentice - GM David Bronstein
Ounce for ounce, Bronstein was one of the most imaginative and creative players ever. Narrowly missing winning the World Championship from Botvinnik, he pretty much single-handedly resurrected the King's Indian Defense into a powerful weapon. If you love deep combinations conjured from thin air, this is a treat!

7.  My Best Games of Chess, 1908 - 1937 -  GM  Alexander Alekhine
An unparalleled master of combination play, Alekhine's genius coupled deep strategy with eagle-eyed tactics.  See his games from the San Remo tournament for an example of his dominance.

8.  Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 - GM David Bronstein
A treasure-trove of first-hand accounts and annotations by Bronstein elevated this to classic status among serious chessplayers. Many liken it to a textbook on how to play the middlegame.

9.  100 Select Games - GM Mikhail Botvinnik
Few modern GMs write down their thoughts and chess understanding like Botvinnik did. Here, you get 100 lessons in modern positional play and some sense of the depth of analysis required to be a top master.

Morphy's Games of Chess - P. Seargant
Few modern GMs are as deadly in their understanding of the inititative and it's coupling to quick development as was Paul Morphy. If you love to see pieces and pawns sacrificed with laser-like logic, these games will be immensely entertaining and instructive.

And to let you know, Terry G. may have standard sets for sale at the club!

Also Mike N. has a standard weight plastic set, the Reykjavik and Marshall Plastic Set, along with an Ultimate Wood set for sale. Also chess bags and vinyl boards can be added. I have extra. Mike also has a 4” Classic wood set with a beautiful wood board if interested. I just have too many sets and I need to find a few of them a good "chess home."

And if you want an order from any chess site, see Mike N as some club discounts may be available.


  1. A few comments on chess boards:

    Some issues with vinyl boards: They must be rolled, never folded, because the folds will remain after the board is placed on a table and cause pieces to lean or fall over. Also, when first set up corners have a tendency to curl either up or down (depending on how the board was rolled). Newer boards take a bit of time to flatten out, but old boards tend to develop permanent creases and curls which can be very annoying.

    Mousepad boards usually have an annoying odor when new but it goes away after a few months. Mousepad boards stain easily so they may not be a good choice to use while eating, drinking, or playing outside (if there is a chance of rain).

    There is a new type of board on the market made out of silicon. It is nearly odorless and is waterproof. Best of all, it is extrememly flexable and always lays flat, no matter what. Yes, it can be rolled up, folded, crumpled and jammed in a bag, etc., and it always comes out completely flat. This makes it possible to easy carry a chess set in a backpack or gym bag, no worries about getting the board wrinkled up. The disadvantages: It costs a bit more than vinyl (mine cost $15, and not everyone sells it yet (but you can find them at the biggest chess sites, no problem). I've also noticed that dirt has a tendency to stick to it so I keep a small cloth in my chess bag to wipe it off before use. Since this is a fairly new product there is no data as to how it will hold up over the years. However, it is similiar to baking sheet silicon liners (prevents burning and nothing sticks to it, making cleanup easy) and the ones in my kitchen are still perfect after 6-7 years of regular use.

    So far I've been very pleased with the silicon board that I have, and would buy another if something happened to this one.

    A few words on clocks: Any clock is just fine for club play, but IMHO anyone who plans to play in rated tournaments should bite the bullet and buy a digital clock. This is because tournaments often use complicated time controls that can't be implemented on analog clocks. For example, tournaments often permit a time delay at the beginning of each move (essentially, it is free extra time for each move) but it can only be set up on digital clocks. This time delay is very nice to have when you are winning but running out of time! The USCF has a rule which states that digital clocks are preferred and should be used if available. I've noticed that a surprisingly large number of people don't know how analog clocks work, so if you take one to a tournament, don't be surprised if you have to teach your opponent how it works before you start a game! On the advice of Mike N. I bought a Saitek Competion Pro, and so far I've been very happy with it, no difficulties at all in programming it.

  2. Another thing: If you plan to play in tournaments, I personally recommend getting a plastic tournament set of a USCF approved size and design. Chess stores will be happy to tell you if a particular set is approved for tournament use. It is OK to use an expensive wood set, but be aware that things can (and do) get lost at tournaments, and if a piece for an expensive set gets lost or broken the owner DOES NOT get reimbursed. Note that some people have a tendency to slam pieces down hard enough to break a fragile set (With a person like this it is nice to have a thick mouse pad board) IMO, there is enough to think about at a tournament without having to worry about an expensive set getting ruined.

  3. Exellent points Anon. I have found that both the silicon and the mouse pad boards have an odor temporarily, with the mouse pad board usually going scentless faster. I love the carry-ability of the silicone board but the pieces don't slide at all. Just a preference I have.

  4. A few comments on chess sets: I own a few (too many) of both plastic and wood of every price range.
    All the plastic sets - from standard tournament single weight $6 to the top of the line (best value) $28 - will perform perfectly in a club or tournament situation. The fear of losing a piece, the entire set, or the breaking of a chess piece during a tournament means that the expensive sets should stay home! Don't show them off at a tournament. The risk is too great.

    All wood sets: I cannot speak for the super-wood sets (over $200), but regardless of the price, the under $200 sets are all about the same - whether you spend $190 or $41. Unless actual ebony wood (which has its own maintenance issues), the black pieces will fade to a sort of a really dark purple from the black 'ebonized" color they started their careers at.
    Also, as you use the set and study the set, all the imperfections you never noticed before, start to jump out at you. A scratch there, a nick there, grain discolorations, tool-lathe marks, slight chips or cracks in the wood, and uneven collars and bases.
    As you use a wooden set and board, you must learn to fall in love with the little issues with each piece as well as the nicks and dings they will get during use. Those inperfections are what give a wood set it's personality and uniquemess.