CategoriesChess For Beginners

Help Guide: Buying the Right Chess Set

With so many choices available on our website, buying a new chess set might seem a little bit daunting, however, it doesn’t need to be. Whether you’re buying a chess set for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, this guide is here to help you narrow down your decision and make buying a chess set that little bit easier.


Consider the size

The first thing that you’ll need to consider is the size of the chess set. Whilst the larger sets are usually grander and have more intricate detail, particularly on the knights, it’s important to figure out whether or not the larger sets can be accommodated in their new home. If you, or the person that you’re buying it for, lives in a small apartment, then a set with a 23-Inch board would probably be a little too big.

From time to time, our customers will purchase a set from us, only to find that the chess board is either much larger or much smaller than they imagined. For this reason, we would strongly recommend using a tape measure and measuring out the size before buying. Another good idea would be to measure out the size using a scrap piece of card and then lay it out where you intend to play; this way you can easily visualise the size of the board in comparison to the rest of the room.

It’s also worth noting that, unlike televisions, the boards are measured across the bottom from end to end. Therefore, a 19 Inch board would be 19 x 19 Inches. The actual playing area (8×8 squares) would be a little smaller due to the border.


What’s the standard size?

There is no “standard size” for a chessboard per se, however, most tournament-sized boards measure between 19 and 21 inches. Having said this, chess organisations such as The World Chess Federation (FIDE) and The United States Chess Federation (USCF) will only specify a range that the square size should be, rather than the size of the board itself.

For example, FIDE rules state that the square size should measure between 5 and 6cm (1.97” to 2.25”) in both length and width. Given this, we know that the absolute minimum size of a chessboard would be 40cm (15.75 inches). However, this would be a board without a border surrounding the playing area. Although organisations like FIDE don’t have any rules requiring a border around the playing squares, most chessboards that are used in official tournaments will have one. Therefore, FIDE-compatible boards will usually be more than 15.75 inches (19 to 21) once you factor in the border.

Of all the tournament-legal chessboards, the one we sell the most is the 19 Inch No.5 Wooden Chess Board with Inlaid Mahogany. With this particular chessboard, the squares measure 2 inches across, meaning that the playing surface is 16 x 16. However, with a border thickness of 1.5 inches, the entire chessboard measures 19 inches.


How to pair the size of the pieces with the size of the board

The King is always the largest piece in a game of chess, for this reason, the King’s height is used as the primary measurement in each chess set. Each set of pieces will include the King’s height in the title.

If you’re looking for a set that is more in line with tournament regulations, then you’ll need to purchase a set with a King Height of 3.75 Inches (9.5 cm).


More often than not, King Height can be used to determine the size of the board that is needed. However, this assumes that the pieces are of a traditional Staunton design and that their size is proportional to their height and form, with the diameter of each piece’s base measuring 40 – 50% of its height.

Having said this, not all pieces are of a traditional Staunton design. Therefore, the base diameter of the King and Pawns are arguably more important when figuring out whether the chess pieces fit well with a board.

According to FIDE rules, the side of a square should be at least twice the diameter of a pawn’s base. So, if you’re looking at a set with pawns that have a 1-inch base diameter, you’ll need to pair them with a chess board that has a square size of at least 2 inches. Other rules state that the base diameter of the king should be no more than 75% of the diameter of the squares on the chessboard. However, not everyone wants a chess set to play in official tournaments. Many of our customers just play for the love of chess – so feel free to use this formula as a rough guideline only.


Buying the pieces only

If you’re buying the pieces by themselves, then you’ll need to read the first part of the guide, which covers the size of the chess board. This is because a chess piece with a 4-inch King height and a 1.8-inch diameter, won’t fit on a smaller board with say, 1.5-inch squares. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the size of the pieces will dictate the size of the board that can be paired with them.

If in doubt, please check the product description for the set of chess pieces that you fancy the look of – here it will say which board sizes they are compatible with.


The Style: Form vs Function

The Staunton chess design is considered to be the standard for chess pieces – this design is recommended for use in competition by FIDE. They are easily the most recognisable chess pieces and they tend to be what people picture when they think of chess.

In addition to the classic Staunton design, we also sell a range of luxury Staunton pieces. These pieces won’t always fit into FIDE’s tournament regulations due to their exaggerated design, but they’re still easily recognisable as honouring the traditional Staunton design.

We also stock chess pieces that are loosely based on the Staunton design. More often than not these will have a more contemporary look to them. For the most part, they include elements that are somewhat recognisable as Staunton, but if you’re not accustomed to using a set like this, picking them apart from the other pieces on the board may take some getting used to.

Moving away from the Staunton design, one of our best-selling sets is the Isle of Lewis chess pieces. These are some of the most recognisable chess pieces in the world –  loved by historians and Harry Potter fanatics alike. The King looks like a King, the Queen looks like a Queen, and the Knight depicts a Knight riding on the back of a horse. For the most part, they’re rather easy to play with…

However, the piece that most people struggle with a little at first, is the rook/castle. This is because most people will think of the crenellated turret design that is used in most rook designs. Even most themed sets will have a castle or siege tower design of some sort. However, with the Lewis set the rook is depicted as a Berserker biting a shield. Needless to say, this element of the set does take some getting used to.

The rest of the sets we sell are considered to be “themed pieces”. They come in all shapes and sizes and range from cats to dragons. These will vary widely in design and may take some getting used to if you’re more accustomed to playing using a traditional Staunton set. It’s fair to say that the themed pieces tend to value form over function.

Therefore, if you’re rather new to chess, or you’re buying for someone who is new to chess, we’d recommend sticking to the Staunton design, or at the very least going with a design that is at least loosely based on the traditional design (see third and fourth rook from the left). Similarly, if you’re buying a set for a chess enthusiast who plays in tournaments, you’d also be better off sticking to a traditional Staunton set and pairing them with a 19-21 Inch board.

All of these pieces are rooks, however, some are more easily recognisable than others.


Materials and colouration

Our chess sets are made from a range of materials, from wood and metal, to resin and alabaster. Your material of choice will mostly come down to personal preference. What do you like the look of, what do you like the feel of, and which colours do you like the look of?

You might want to think about the room where the set will live. If you plan on leaving it out as a feature piece, does the colour and style of the set complement the rest of the room? If you have a more contemporary home with lots of marble, for instance, then you might want to consider an alabaster chess set. If your room has lots of wood and warmer tones, then a wooden chess set may suit the room better.

If you’d like to know more about the different ranges of wood that we sell, please consider reading our guide to woods.


CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Basic Tactics Series #8 – Final Thoughts and Motivating Words

During the last few weeks we have been learning basic tactics. In this post I’m going to change the pace a bit and write a few words on topics that I believe are overlooked in competitive activities.

Besides chess I have several other hobbies. Many of these are hobbies that I have dedicated myself to for many years. Over the years I’ve noticed that the things that hold people back from improving are almost always the same no matter what the activity.

First and foremost many people underestimate the time required to become proficient. They’ll take up chess, play for a few months, realize it’s difficult, and then quit. It’s important to realize that there is a direct correlation between time invested and skill level. I’m sure if there were studies done, we would find that most grandmasters have studied more than masters, who have studied more than experts etc. etc.

The second thing that holds many people back is the failure to practice correctly. The way to improve your skill level is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you are forced to adapt. You must increase the difficulty level and push yourself. If you are studying a tactical problem and the answer doesn’t come to you study it further. The corrolary to this to get out of your comfort zone and practice playing positions that you are uncomfortable with. For example, if you primarily play 1. e4, try playing 1. d4 for several games. We must work on our weaknesses if we want to be complete. This is true in chess or anything else.

The fear of losing is also something that can hold someone back. My answer to this is to lose your ego. Even the best players in the world lose sometimes. What separates people is the ability to come back and keep fighting.

The last thing I want to say is that it’s you and only you who can determine your potential. For someone who really wants to do something there’s nothing holding them back. A lot of people want certain things, but they aren’t willing to change or put in the hard work to get there. When you feel like quitting say to yourself; I have to keep going no matter what. Chess history is filled with games where a player turned around a losing position to win or draw. History is filled with examples of people coming back from extremely difficult situations and succeeding. Use these examples as inspiration, and remember, never stop, just keep going.


CategoriesChess For BeginnersChess MidgameChess Puzzles

Chess Basic Tactics Series #5 – Clearance and Interference

In my opinion these two tactics are overlooked and not studied in enough detail. Imagine that you’re in the middle of a tough chess match. You notice that you can make a strong capture or check, unfortunately however one of your own pieces is in the way. That’s where a clearance sacrifice comes into play. We sacrifice one of our own pieces to clear a square, rank, or diagonal. Here two examples.

If whites rook were not in the way he could play 1. Qg7#. So how can white clear his rook out of the way? He can simply move it, but that would give black time to defend. There is one move however that leads to blacks defeat quite quickly. That move is 1. Rh7+. No matter how black captures, white plays Qg7#. A common theme in clearance sacrifices is to move the obstructing piece out of the way with check. Since our opponent must deal with the checking move it allows us to accomplish our goal. In the next diagram we can see an example by the great player Mikhail Tal.

It’s unfortunate for white that his queen is on the e6 square. If she weren’t there then white could play the knight fork Ne6+(remember forks?) Is there a solution to this problem? Tal thought there was and found 1. Qxf5! White captures the knight and clears the square at the same time. After this move black resigned.

Interference is a tactic where we disrupt the harmony of the enemy forces. Here is the classic example of interference from a brilliancy prize game.

White has some bank rank threats. Unfortunately blacks rook seems to be defending the bank rank fine. Richard Reti found a way to breakthrough with 1. Bf7+ Kh8 2. Be8!! There is no defense to the threat. Notice how whites bishop interferes with blacks bank rank defense. Interference tactics are somewhat rare, but they do happen. Interference can really be likened to the opposite of a clearance sacrifice. We put one of our pieces in harms way to accomplish a certain goal.

CategoriesChess For BeginnersChess Midgame

Chess Basic Tactics Series #2 – Discovered Attacks/Checks

In chess the discovered attack is one of the most important tactics. When we first begin playing chess we learn about simple threats. We attack one of our opponents pieces, and they defend. With a discovered attack we are creating two threats at one time. Since our opponent cannot defend against two attacks at the same time, we gain a material advantage. In a discovered attack a queen, rook, or bishop is positioned behind another piece. When that piece moves, it unleashes an attack. Let’s look at some examples to clarify.

In the above diagram it’s white’s turn to move. Notice how if white moves the bishop on e2, the white rook will attack blacks queen. There are a few moves at white’s disposal here, can you spot what the best one might be? Here the best move is Bg5! With this move white simultaneously attacks blacks queen and rook. Black has no choice but to lose material. Let’s keep studying this tactic because it’s incredibly important.

Here it’s blacks turn to move. White has just played dxc5 which was a major oversight. Here black plays 1. …Bxh2+! and white immediately resigned. Since white is forced to deal with the check, black will then play Qxd3 winning whites queen. Notice how in both of the above cases the bishop moved and created a powerful threat. Because of this, the piece that it uncovered was free to capture the enemy piece. When the piece that moves is able to check the enemy king, the discovered attack is even more powerful.

The most powerful form of discovered attack is the double check. This is extremely strong because it checks the enemy king with two pieces. When a king is in double check it is forced to move, as there is no other way to get out of check. Let’s see what this looks like in practice.

Here it’s white’s turn to move. We can see that the knight on e4 has several squares where it can move, unleashing the rook to give check. In this case however white can give double check by moving his knight to either f6 or d6. Here white plays 1. Nf6++ and gives double check and mate. Can you see why this move is superior to Nd6?

I hope you enjoyed this post! In the next part of our series we will discuss double attacks and forks.






CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #20 – Ratings

As has been previously mentioned, most tournaments pair you with players of similar ratings.  But what exactly IS a rating?  What does it mean?  How is it tabulated? Can YOU become a Grandmaster?

A rating is a 3-4 digit number associated with a player to showcase their playing strength.  The higher the number, the better the player… the lower the number, weaker the player.  The lowest possible rating is 100.  The highest possible rating (in theory) is 3000, although the highest rating any chess player has managed to achieve was 2851 which was held by the World Champion at the time, Garry Kasparov.  Pretty straight forward right?  But with such a huge difference in highest possible and lowest possible, how can you tell if your rating is any good and where you stand in the grand scheme of things?

FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation) and the USCF (United States Chess Federation) use similar ratings for classes of player.  Those classes are as follows:

2600 or more are World Championship Contenders.  2400-2600 are where most Senior Masters (SMs), International Masters (IMs), and Grandmasters (GMs) are rated.  2300-2400 is the ratings for most FIDE Masters (FMs).  2200-2300 are ratings where you’ll find most National Masters (NMs) and FIDE Candidate Masters (CMs).  2000-2200 is considered Expert.  1800-2000 are Class A.  1600-1800 are Class B.  1400-1600 are Class C. 1200-1400 are Class D.  In FIDE, anyone under 1200 is simply considered a Novice, although in the USCF, the classes continue. 1000-1200 is Class E.  800-1000 is Class F. 600-800 is Class G.  400-600 is Class H. 200-400 is Class I.  100-200 is Class J.  As mentioned before, 100 is the lowest possible rating a chess player can get (I’d thought that while 100 is techncially possible that nobody with a 100 rating existed… but at the World Open in the U900 section there was one player with a rating of 101 and another with a rating of 104… I was surprised to say the least).

Despite the above, a high rating is not the only thing you need to achieve a Grandmaster title.  You also need to get Grandmaster Norms.  Norms are hard to get.  There are very specific rules to get norms, which you if  can find out for yourself by visiting this link:  but basically you have to do very well in a long tournament against at least 3 other Grandmasters.

So how are chess ratings figured out?  Well, I don’t want to bore you with a big equation (because, frankly, the actual equation used boggles my own mind), but basically at each tournament, you’re give a “K-factor” number which is based on your rating at the start of the tournament and how many rounds there will be in the tournament.  Then, each round, there is a table that’s used (that you can find if you check the USCF rule book or the FIDE rulebook out of your local library) where each round you find your K-factor, then find the point difference between you and your opponent (so if you’re rated 1100 and your opponent is 1200, you’re looking for a difference of 100).  It will then tell you how many rating points each player will gain or lose if a) the higher rated person wins, b) the lower rated person wins, or c) the game ends in a draw.  In the case of a draw, the higher rated player loses points and the lower rated player gains points, bringing the two players’ ratings closer together.

There’s not much reason to know exactly how to tabulate your ratings, though, as most tournaments will post results (and new ratings) to FIDE or USCF and will soon become viewable.  The USCF, for instance, posts results and new ratings within 2 days after every chess tournament.

The USCF publishes new official ratings for players every month.  FIDE publishes new official ratings every 2 months.  So you’ll never have to be a certain rating for very long (good news for those trying to get over a certain rating “hump”).

Hopefully all this wasn’t too confusing.  If it was…. don’t sweat it… just go and play chess with the knowledge that your rating will get better the more games you win!

Have a question or topic you want me to cover in a future edition of Chess Noob?  E-mail me at [email protected]

CategoriesChess For Beginners

Chess Noob #19- What to Expect at Tournaments

One of the best ways to improve your chess game is by playing at tournaments.  It’s also fun and exciting (and from time to time profitable as well)!  There are many kinds of chess tournaments one can enter depending on the age and rating (we’ll talk about ratings in a blog in the near future), style of tournament, etc.  So  what should you expect at a tournament?  Let’s take a look at the different kinds and what each is like.

Scholastic Tournaments: Scholastic tournaments are for kids only.  Typically, these are for children in grades K-12 and will have pairing split into sections based on grade and/or rating.  There will often be hundreds (if not thousands) of children depending on the size and importance of the tournament… in other words, these tournaments are often very noise between rounds (and since many scholastic players tend to rush in their games, there won’t be much time of peace and quiet).

Open Tournaments: These are for children and adults alike.  Age doesn’t matter in an open tournament where it’s all about the rating!  If you’re a 1200 rated player in the U1300 section, you’ll be combatting other players with ratings of 1299 and below whether they are 6 or 60.  And don’t feel bad if you lose to a child… they have way more free time to study than you do!

Quad Tourneys: If the tournament you play is is a Quad, that means there will be 4-person sections.  The 4 people in each section will have very similar ratings to one another.  In a Quad tournament, there are 3 rounds (unless it’s a “double quad”) where each player in the section will play one another round-robin style and the person with the most wins is the winner of the section.

Swiss Tourneys: A Swiss tournament will pair winners against winners and losers against losers.  Each win gets you 1 point, each draw gets you 1/2 a point, and each loss gets you 0 points.  Every round after the 1st round, players with the same number of points will duke it out.  There are no eliminations, so even if you lose every game, you’ll continue to play the entire tournament.  The first round is slightly different… since everyone is starting off with 0 points, everyone is in the same “bracket”.  They will line up everyone in the section according to ratings, then cut the list in half.  The top person of the top half plays the top person of the bottom half, the second person of the top half plays the second person of the bottom half and so on.  The same thing happens every round… but each round the list of players that needs to be divvied up is smaller as there will be less and less people who have the same scores as one another.

Quick VS Normal: “Quick” tournaments (whether they are swiss or quad) will consist of all games that are 30-min or less for time control (usually G/20).  “Normal” (non-quick) tournaments have varied time controls that could be anywhere from G/35 to 40/2.

Often, these tournaments will take place either at a hotel with a large ballroom, or a school gynmasium.

You’ll likely want to bring your own food as hotel food and/or vendors can get expensive.

If the tournament is at a hotel, you may want to book a room at the site hotel so you can just go straight to bed after a late round and sleep in longer than if you stay at a hotel that’s a 30 min drive away but cheaper.

Nearly all tournaments also have “Skittles Rooms”, where players can congregate to chit-chat, go over games, study,  or play casual chess.

Most tournaments will also have a chess store, which sells sets, clocks, books, dvds and more.  Make use of these stores.  If there’s a certain opening you want to learn, find a book about it at the store (they’re often times on sale).

Now that you know what to expect, the only thing to worry about is the entry fee, which can range anywhere from $2 for local mini-tournaments at your local chess club to over $300 for the World Open!  Look for tournaments that have a good entry-to-prize ratio and that has sections you think you might be able to win!