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Chess Equipment : Chess Sets, Boards, and Clocks
Chess can fit any budget. A chess set is the bare minimum. Add a clock for blitz fun.

It's possible to play chess without any equipment at all -- call it double blindfold -- but it makes the game a lot less taxing on the brain if you have the proper accessories. On this page, you'll find introductory information about chess sets, pieces, boards, and clocks, plus a few other items specific to tournament use.

Chess is right for any budget. The cost for a complete chess set runs from as little as a few dollars for a plastic and cardboard set to many thousands of dollars for a well-made collector set.

Chess Sets

Chess set usually means a board plus pieces. Some players say set to mean just the pieces. Sets can be bought as a board together with pieces or assembled by combining a board with separate pieces.

The important thing about a chess set is that it be esthetically pleasing. The size and color of the pieces should match the size and color of the squares on the board.

Travel chess sets are for use in a car, train, or plane. The pieces are usually magnetic or pegged and there is a convenient place to store the pieces as they are exchanged off the board.
Theme chess sets have the opposing armies designed on a specific motif, usually where the pieces are natural adversaries -- Cowboys vs. Indians, cats vs. dogs, or traditional rivals in some other sport -- and are more decorative than functional.

These sets are attractive to collectors, but are not suitable for tournament use or for serious play. 'Sorry, can you tell me again which one is the Knight?'

Chess Pieces

The most familiar and popular pieces follow the Staunton pattern, first registered in 1849 by Nathaniel Cook. Staunton pieces are required for most tournaments. They are normally made from wood or plastic, although other materials can be used.

When purchasing a chess set, consider the colors of the opposing armies, the material used, the weight, the base size, the height of the pieces, and whether the pieces are felted or not. Pieces for beginners sometimes have the legal moves printed on each piece. These are like training wheels for a bicycle and are soon replaced by a normal set.

The pieces need some kind of a storage container when not in use. Plastic & cloth bags are the most commonly used, but a nice storage box makes a great gift. Boxes have the advantage that they can be personalized.

Chess Boards

Although most chess positions are diagrammed with white & dark gray squares, very few boards use those colors or use white & black. Inexpensive boards often come with red & black squares, but these are hard on the eyes.

Boards are also sold built into the table. The board should have adequate borders to place the clock and captured pieces.

Many boards have coordinates for algebraic notation printed on two sides of the board. These are useful even for advanced players.

A good, inexpensive choice is a vinyl rollup board, as shown on the left. These are the boards of choice for tournament use.

Chess Clocks

The first clocks, used in the 19th century, were sandglasses, which kept track of each player's time on a different device. These were soon superseded by two connected analog clocks. One player's clock starts as soon as the other player has made a move and punched the clock.

Analog clocks are equipped with a flag located between 11:00 and 12:00 on each clock face. As the minute hand gets close to 12:00, its tip catches the flag, and as the clock continues to run, the flag is pushed from a vertical to a horizontal position.

As soon as the hand reaches 12:00, the flag falls. If this happens at a time control and if the player on move has not made the required number of moves, the game is scored as a loss on time.

In recent times digital clocks have become increasingly popular. These permit more sophisticated time controls like additional time whenever a move is made and the clock is punched.

The most important quality of a chess clock is that it be sturdy. Clocks are often punched hard and may even be accidentally knocked to the floor during a blitz game or time trouble scramble. Some players are convinced that the strength of a move is in direct proportion to the force with which the clock is punched.

Another important quality is the loudness of the clock's tick, if any. This should be audible, but not intrusive.


Travel bags to carry the board, pieces, clock, and supplies are a necessity for the tournament player. This is especially true in the USA, where chess sets & clocks are normally not provided for tournament play. It is less important in Europe, where they are provided.
Score sheets for recording the moves of a game are another necessity for tournament play. These are usually issued at the start of each round in a tournament, but many players prefer to record their games in scorebooks.

Photos reprinted with permission of ChessExpress.com.

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