So You Want To Buy A Tournament Chess Set...

For serious chess players, the only type of chess set to consider is the Staunton pattern.

Chessmen that resemble Civil War soldiers, Star Trek characters, the Simpsons, etc would get you laughed out of any formal chess tournament anywhere in the world.

For tournament play, chess pieces come in two basic materials: plastic and wood.  While bone was used in the 19th century, it, along with glass, stone, metal, ceramic, etc, is no longer used in tournament chess sets.

Tournament chessmen have a standard size range in which the king is between 3½ to 4 inches (89-102mm) tall and the rest of the men are in proportion.  The set pictured above has a 4 inch king and is made of ebony wood.  Most tournament sets have a king that is about 3¾ inches (95mm).

Tournament chess boards have 2¼ inch (57mm) squares.

Plastic chessmen range in price from about $6.00 to about $40.00.  You can pay less (but the set would not meet tournament standards) and you can pay more (but there's no need to).  The more expensive chessmen have extra weight added and typically have sturdier pieces.  Here are some links for plastic chessmen I would recommend:

* A little clunky, but quite playable.
** A very sturdy set, but hard to find in stock. Read for more info on this set.
*** Probably the nicest plastic chess set available today.

For good quality wooden chessmen the price range starts around $50.00 and goes up to around $800.00!!  With wooden chessmen, the white pieces are almost always made of boxwood, and the black pieces are made of either boxwood (stained, dyed or painted black), rosewood (a nice red grained wood) or ebony (the best, the same black wood piano keys are made from).  I recommend either dyed boxwood or rosewood, as genuine ebony is very pricey.  Consider these chessmen:

* This set will stay in the family for generations.

You will also want a chess board.  The two basic types are vinyl roll-up and wood.  Roll-up boards are used almost exclusively at regional tournaments.  Wooden boards are usually found in the home or at national and international championships.  The vinyl roll-up board with 2¼ inch (57mm) squares can be found many places.  The price range is from $4.00 to about $8.00.  Be sure to specify GREEN.

* I personally prefer boards without the algebraic notation.

There are lots of places that sell wooden boards and chess tables.  The typical wooden board uses walnut and maple for the dark and light squares.  Be sure to get 2¼ inch (57mm) squares.

* A very nice and well crafted board.

Chess clocks also come in two varieties, analog and digital.  Nowadays, the digital clock is preferred, especially for blitz chess.  Here are some chess clocks to consider:

* Supports Fischer time controls.
** Preferred by masters for blitz chess.

Here's a list of my favoite places to buy chess products on the WWW:

You might also keep an eye out for chess set specials (a chess set is both the chessmen and a board).  These are frequently offered and sometimes result in a substantial savings.  Please write me at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions about this page.