Get Just the Right Pieces and Board for You

There are so many choices on the market today. How do you buy a chess set (pieces and board) that will meet your needs? ChessCentral is here to help. Our experts have put together the following guide to help you in your buying decision.

Ask yourself a few simple questions.

1) What type of set are you looking for - decorative, practical, club, travel or theme. Many sets fill more than one category.

 Decorative and Heirloom Chess Set Decorative - This set will sit out in your den, library, office etc. to be admired by family and guests. This type of set will include the heirloom variety as well as some of the intricate designs that can be found on many handcrafted sets. Marble and Alabaster are also good choices. Chess sets are often chosen as a wonderful way to help decorate a room. Many studies, libraries and dens have a chess set as their centerpiece. These chess sets can range from practical, which are used often for play, to simply for show with truly heirloom and collectible quality.
 Practical Chess Set for Everyday Play Practical - Usually wooden pieces that are nicely crafted that will take the punishment of daily or weekly chess play.
 Club, School, Tornament Chess Set - Very Durable Club, school or tournament - These are normally plastic chess pieces that stand up to harsh treatment.
 Travel Chess Set - Portable with Pieces, Board and Storage Travel sets come with pieces, board and storage so that you can easily take them anywhere and play anytime.
 Greek and Roman Theme Chess Set - Fun to Play on Theme sets are fun to play with. Be the Blue or Gray in the Civil War or the Red Coats in the American Revolution and change history.

 2) Next, ask yourself how much can I afford?

A good rule is to buy the best quality you can afford, because a good chess set can lasts a lifetime and become an heirloom, with many memories attached to it. There will always be a look of respect from your opponent when a beautifully made chess set is brought out. And of course nothing can heighten your chess playing experience more than the feel and weight of finely crafted chess pieces.

Match the Chess Pieces to the Board

The size of chess pieces in relation to the chess board is mostly a matter of personal taste. Tournament play is the exception, since very clear specifications are given for piece sizes and boards. USCF (United States Chess Federation) equipment standards are outlined in their rules and are covered in another article we have written. For pieces USCF specifies a King that measures between 3 3/8" to 4 1/2" with a base diameter of 40-50% of the height.

If you look at our descriptions of chess pieces you will notice that we try to include the height and base diameter of each King. That's because we have found this ratio to be an effective method of choosing a board for a given set of chess pieces. The proper square size for a set of good Staunton chess pieces is such that the width of the base of the King should be 78% of the width of a square. So, divide the King's base diameter by 0.78 and you get the proper square size.

You can increase the square size by 1/8", but the square size should not be any smaller. For example a Staunton King with a base diameter of 1.75" would require a square size of 2.25" x 0.78 = 1.75" (1.75 / .78 = 2.24). But a very simple way is just add .5 (one half) an inch to the King base. That should do it!

 Algebraic notation on Chess Board Do you need algebraic notation?  This is rank and files (1-8 and a-h) that are printed on the frame around a chess board. If you plan on playing in tournaments and keeping track of your moves, than it is a good idea to have the notation on the chess board. If you play over the phone, or by email this will help to make sure you place the pieces in the correct place for your opponent’s move and to tell your opponent your move. For more on notation, please see our tips and tutorials.

We have made it easy for you to select the perfect chess board by placing a chart with each set of pices  to help with chess board square sizing. If you need further assistance, do not hesitate to email us at:

Choosing Chess Pieces and Chess Board

 Rosewoood chess pieces on rosewood chess board Matching the pieces and chessboard together for an aesthetically pleasing look is relatively simple. Think about the coloring. If you are selecting wood (the most popular type of chess pieces) than the dark pieces in your chess set and the dark playing squares of your chess board should look nice together. Match them accordingly. You may wish to try blending the colors or make a striking contrast. Also, take into consideration the frame of the board. Make sure the table is large enough to hold the board!

The white squares of most good chess boards, made from wood, are carved from Bird's Eye Maple (BEM). The dark squares are varied in material left to your personal taste. Consider where you plan to place the board. Will the chess board rest on a Rosewood table? Then you may wish to choose that wood for your chess board's dark squares. Or you may wish to contrast, such as a deeper-colored dark square like Striped Ebony to add grace and elegance. Make sure the table is large enough to hold the board!

Why is the Pricing so Varied?

Many factors combine to determine the cost of your chess set, including:

1) Type of Wood Used in Chess Sets and Chess Boards
Ebony is more expensive than Rosewood, which is, in turn, more expensive that Boxwood, etc. Exotic woods are more expensive still - and let's not forget 2,000 year old ivory chess sets! These reach into the $5,000+ range. You can learn more about the popular types of wood chess pieces and boards are crafted from in another article we have written.

2) Chess Set Craftsmanship
Look at the quality of the Knights in particular. A set of finely carved Knights can represent up to 50% of the total cost of the chessmen. Then, the quality of the turnings, the finish and the uniformity also add to cost. Another place craftsmanship can be seen is in the King's crown. Look at the craftsmanship displayed in the decorative crown. Remember that the Knight and King are the "crowning" pieces of your chess set.

3) The Number of Queens
This can determine the price. Many sets come with 4 Queens. Only two are necessary to play chess, but the other Queens are nice to have when you crown a lowly pawn and make it royalty. 

 Jaques of London Collectible Heirloom Chess Pieces 4) What makes a chess set valuable? Jaques of London is the gold standard in chess sets. Their pieces are considered the top of the line in design. Some become quite rare when after so many are crafted (usually 500) the design is retired. The higher end Jaques pieces ($1,000 to $10,000) come with certificates of authenticity with the number and design for collectors. These are heirloom chess pieces and will be an absolutely joy to play on and teach your children and grandchildren the game of chess. The memories will make any chess set valuable.

We hope this article has been a helpful guide to selecting the right chess set for you. Still not sure, we are happy to help! Just send the answers to the questions above and any other relevant information to: