Regency Chess Co. News Posts

The Staunton Chess Design – Laying the myths to rest once and for all

The confusion surrounding the Staunton Chess Set

Back in 2006, before The Regency Chess Company had been born, I sold a fairly cheap nasty Chinese made chess set on ebay. It was a classic Staunton pattern set of pieces with a board. A few days later I received a call from the buyer. A fairly stern middle-aged man who was furious that he’d been diddled. He thought I’d sold him a dud, a fake, a cheap knock off; that he’d become one of the thousands of people who’d been ripped off on ebay. His complaint was that I’d not sold him a ‘Staunton’ chess set. He wanted to see ‘Staunton’ branding on the box and believed that there was a company somewhere that made chess sets and above the door was a sign that read ‘Staunton’.

Things have certainly moved on a lot since those days of Chinese imports and ebay, but the misconception is still there among many, and you’d be easily forgiven for assuming the same as the angry middle-aged man did back in 2006. The reality however is that there isn’t any company called Staunton who make chess sets, there never was and probably never will be.

The Staunton Olive Oil Company

The Staunton Olive Oil Company

The Story of Staunton

The story of the Staunton Chess Set is a fascinating one. This website goes into more detail about how the pieces originated and the amazing story behind it. The key points are as follows

  • The set is alleged to have been designed by Nathaniel Cook in the mid 1800s
  • It was manufactured by Jaques Games in London
  • It was endorsed by the champion chess player Howard Staunton
  • Its amazing design lead it to become universally accepted very quickly
  • The copyright for the design ran out in the first half of the 20th century

The name ‘Staunton’ came about due to the endorsement that set received from the chess champion Howard Staunton. He loved the set, put his name to it, but never manufactured a single one.

Howard Staunton

An orginal Staunton Set

An orginal Jaques Staunton chess set

Staunton Today

The Staunton chess set is now produced by a huge number of independent companies. There have been literally thousands of variations created, some that are very true to the original, others that have added huge detail and flamboyance to the design. There are taller ones, thinner ones, fatter ones, shorter ones, different colours, wider bases, narrower bases. It seems there is no end to the myriad of variations when it comes to this design.

The Jaques games company do actually still exist and more remarkably are still owned by descendants of the original founders. They still bring many Staunton sets to the market and even sell precise replicas of the early sets from the 1800s. It is worth noting however that they no longer manufacture any sets themselves – like most other chess retailers and wholesalers they are using factories in Asia to produce the sets. There is little doubt that the vintage re issue sets they sell are of excellent quality, easily comparable to the old British made ones. But they all come from a handful of skilled manufacturers abroad who also sell to the other reputable online chess retailers.

 

Want to buy a Staunton Chess Set?

My advice would be to choose the design you like the most, buy the best materials you can afford (ebony is best) and buy from which ever retailer you feel most comfortable using. There is no right place or wrong place to get the real deal when it comes to ‘genuine’ Staunton sets today.

We are Hiring! : Digital Marketing Technician

Digital Marketing Technician  

Location: Frome, Somerset

Salary: £20,000-£23,000 per annum + annual bonus

Position: Permanent Full Time 35 Hrs p/w

Sector: Online Retail / E-commerce

 

Let your creative juices flow!

 

A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a Digital Marketing Technician at JDS Toys & Games Ltd based in Frome.

 

Your core skills in Photoshop, combined with your eye for a good marketing stance will be integral to pushing this thriving, leading deluxe chess and backgammon retailer into it’s next growth phase.

 

Role Responsibilities:

 

  • Turning raw product photographs into stunning images for the websites
  • Ensure product images are created to a consistently excellent standard
  • Responsible for new products being added to the websites promptly
  • Liaise with product photographer
  • Increasing sales through product listing optimization
  • Creating new product listings
  • Developing compelling product descriptions
  • Completing pricing and competitor analysis

 

Your Skills:

 

  • Advanced Photoshop skills essential
  • High level of IT literacy
  • Excellent written communication skills
  • Ability to work fast, efficiently and on own initiative
  • Intermediate Microsoft Word & Excel
  • Previous experience of E-commerce / .com industry preferable
  • Intermediate Google analytics and Zen Cart/Word Press skills are desirable
  • Previous experience of Amazon Seller Central platform preferable

 

Remuneration & Benefits:

Annual salary £20,000-£23,000 depending on experience, annual bonus of up to £2,000, pension, 20 days paid annual leave + bank holidays. Plentiful free parking.

 

Your employer:

The company takes pride in both the quality of products they sell, as well as the high ethical standards they maintain regarding the production and sourcing of their products. They sell their luxury products through online sales channels including Amazon marketplaces worldwide, their own website and a sister site.

As a Digital Marketing Technician you will be responsible for taking control of the company’s online selling channels.

 

The company operates in a hardworking but light-hearted environment and offers an on-site, staff only, speciality coffee shop.

 

If you wish to apply for the role of Digital Marketing Technician please submit your CV with an accompanying covering letter to julian@regencychess.co.uk. Detail how your relevant skills and experience make you an ideal candidate for the job.

 

We will not invade your right to privacy or cause unfair work place discrimination by carrying out any form of criminal record check on you. We are a genuine equal opportunities employer. 

Chess Apps – How Functional Are They?

CHESS AT YOUR FINGERTIPS

Mobile Chess Interface

Mobile Chess Interface

We live in a culture of apps. Without apps, our smartphones, albeit powerful devices, would be stripped to the bare minimum. Even texting is an application! The ability to utilise third-party software on your phone is what makes it an extraordinary utility. Once, you were limited to the applications your phone provided, but not anymore; now, we have the luxury of choice, an essential component to customer experience So, whilst it’s certainly true to say we live in a “culture of apps”, it might be more appropriate, and accurate, to say we live in the ‘age of customisation’.

When we came to sit down and write this blog post, we initially decided to select four or so chess apps and review each one in turn. But given the size and scope of the app world, we didn’t feel comfortable selecting a handful at random and passing judgement without a better sense of context and a wider knowledge of what was available. It was plainly too arbitrary. As such, this post will principally serve as an introduction to chess apps, why they’re such an interesting development, and a broad look at what they have to offer more generally.

 

RAPID GROWTH

Chess on your iPhone

Chess on your iPhone

We can shape our handheld devices and cater them to our specific wants and needs – if we so choose, of course. The basic utilities remain, but with a few clicks on your device’s store page, you can make it into a whole lot more. From installing your preferred news outlet to alternative instant messaging apps, such as WhatsApp or Hangouts, your phone is a thoroughly malleable item. There are millions of apps available (for an example of the enormity of this trend, check out Apple’s trajectory of apps available, measured against the amount of times downloaded – that’s over one million apps in four years) many of which are free and most likely cross-platform (there’s also a lot of money to be made in microtransactions, ads, app costs, etc.). Anyone can develop an app, upload it, and instantly gauge peoples responses to it, and then tweak it accordingly – updates are rolled out continuously in response to feedback, bugs, and so on. It’s an enormous enterprise, and it barely existed until a few years ago. Now, it’s bigger than ever.

CHESS AS AN APP

So it comes as no surprise, then, that are quite literally hundreds of chess apps there. Hundreds! A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the world of digital chess and cursorily looked at the computer programs powerful enough to usurp world champions (see Kasparov and the Deep Blue event). It’s worth noting that we find it unlikely that the increasing power of computer systems capable of playing extremely skilled games of chess will supplant the nature of chess itself. That is to say, we don’t see it leading us away from human-to-human interaction, but it does have something very important and valuable to say about chess, the game, itself, which we’ll get to in the coming weeks.

Minimalistic, accessible Interface for Android

Minimalistic, accessible Interface for Android

But that human-to-human play over a board has changed in many respects, principally with the proliferation of apps and their ability to allow players access to one another over their smartphones, tablets, and so on. It is possible to have a speed game of chess with someone on the other side of the globe and finish the game within less than ten minutes. This poses exciting new possibilities for chess, at least to some extent. With concentration spans arguably diminishing, and peoples time being ever more precious and limited, there’s a very real chance – and this isn’t backed up with figures, it’s simply conjecture – that less and less people are going to take the time to sit down over a chess board and participate in a game of some length. Unless you’re a chess enthusiast or a regular board game player that, we think, is a fair assumption to make. Now, that is not to say players haven’t participated in games via alternative modes of communication before, but now we’re seeing a different kind of engagement and a different kind of interactivity. With chess at your fingertips – whether you’re a professional, amateur, or just someone keen to know more – there’s a huge opportunity to reach out to a wider community.

LITERALLY HUNDREDS!

As mentioned in the introduction, our plan to review a select few apps was nixed when it was clear there were so many available. So, we thought a broader approach on what chess apps can offer would be appropriate.

In our Digital Chess post we covered a lot of the different features apps have to offer: the ability to retrace your steps and watch replays, correct a move should you be practising (or, as is always a possibility on a handheld device, accidentally3d chess clicked the wrong spot!), and to tweak the difficulty level of your AI opponent. This is often in the form of a difficulty metre, but more often than that now it’s a matter of tweaking the computer’s response time, as they’re generally very quick on their ‘feet’ and able to plan their moves ahead of time essentially instantaneously.

The aesthetic of the apps is also worth mentioning as it brings us back to choice. If you’re going to be playing on your mobile, what is it you want to be looking at? A chess board, obviously, but there’s a choice there between the flat, two dimensional boards and the 3D iterations of the game. Personally, we’re more in favour of the flat, birds-eye-view aesthetic; it’s clean, minimalistic, and simple. Many of them have audio, but that too can be tweaked (we don’t: if an app gets the sound just right, there’s a real pleasure in hearing the ‘click’ as your chosen piece is moved to its designated place on the board). And if you’re in the process of learning the game, almost all apps will happily provide an option to show where each piece can move once you have clicked on it. And besides replays, there are ancillary apps that allow you to keep track of your games and your movements without having to jot them down, allowing you to pour over the game after to plot it out differently.

Returning to the 3D chess apps, the problem begins with the aesthetics: they’re clunky, obtrusive, and, at least to us, are a move away from what apps ought to be: accessible. The idea is obviously an interesting one and it’s been around for some time, but the practicalities of playing on a 3D chess board via your phone seems to fly in the face of what the app should be offering: quick, minimalist engagement with the game. You can’t replicate the feel of sitting down with someone over a chess board, so offering alternative tool with a minimal interface is arguably the better option.

THE MAGNUS CARSLEN CHESS APP

The Magnus Carlsen App

The Magnus Carlsen App

One of the best apps we found is the official Magnus Carlsen app. Endorsed by Carlsen himself, this particular app is one of a kind. Indeed, it pushes up against one of the most important themes running through our posts: that chess is an essential tool in education, and one more than capable of making the world a much smarter place. As we’ve constantly iterated, chess apps bring accessibility, and they bring unity. Such is the mission statement of the team behind this great app.

The unique selling point for this app – which is free! – is that players can challenge Carlsen at various ages, from 5 upwards, when he first started taking an interest in chess. The computer is tailored to the skill set of Carlsen at these ages, and provides some background information on him as you progress. It’s fresh and exciting and allows players to engage with the chess world, which might otherwise remain on the periphery. There are learning videos, some of which are free, others of which have to be bought, and there’s also the opportunity to play Carlsen live should you win a tournament.

Thus far, this has absolutely proven itself our favourite app (alongside chess for android, which is super accessible and easy to use), and if you’re looking for a little more than just a standard chess game, then this is the app for you. Interestingly enough, Carlsen managed to lose at his ten-year-old self… I’m at age 8, the point at which most players begin to lose on average to the computerised Carlsen. Let’s see if I can get to 9…

 

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‘Searching for Bobby Fischer’ – Public Spaces & Chess

 Chess in Public

Last week we explored the exceptional documentary Brooklyn Castle and the lives of its incredibly talented young chess players four years on. This week, we’re going to be looking at another film, again ostensibly about chess, but rather than devote the entire post to it, we’re going to use it as a jumping off point for something very different: chess in public spaces, with New York City as our focal point. And with summer just around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better!

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

In Steven Zaillian’s 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer, the young chess master, Josh Waitzkin, played with wonderful sensibility by then eight-year-old Max Pomeranc (at the time of filming, he was in the top 100 U.S chess players), is introduced to the game whilst playing in Washington Square Park. Here he meets Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne), a speed chess hustler who begins teaching Josh unorthodox play styles, much to the chagrin of his mentor, Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley). There are so many directions to take with Zaillian’s debut it was difficult to settle on one topic. We have its biographical roots, the source book having been written by the real-life Waitzkin’s father, Fred Waitzkin (here played by Joe Montegna), a writer for the New York Times. Fred Waitzkin and Bruce Pandolfini alone make fascinating subjects in the world of chess. And then there’s the film’s thematic elements. Searching for Bobby Fischer is totally invested in the question of genius and its place in an individual’s life and is eloquent in its sentimental approach to it. Where does it take us, and is there a cost to that? The quiet pain of Kingsley’s Pandolfini carries the weight of that question as much as Josh Waitzkin does. And, of course, there’s the titular Bobby Fischer, a spectral presence in the film, the oddity of which is more haunting than reassuring in Josh’s journey to realise his potential without sacrificing his decency. And a lot of that comes down to his time playing chess in the park.

Chess in the Park

Josh plays Vinnie in Washington Park

Josh plays Vinnie in Washington Park

New York City and chess are a frequent pairing in cinematic language, and it’s a fairly iconic image. But Fischer takes the time to investigate the nature of playing chess in a public space, and it proves essential to the film’s empathetic core – something its antagonists, singularly obsessed with the game, conspicuously lack. His mother, Bonnie (Joan Allen), is understandably nervous when Josh takes an interest in the park’s players, who are seen gambling for drugs and hustling their opponents. But there’s a vibrancy to the proceedings in the speed at which the games are played, the swelling crowd of spectators, and the systematic breakdown of social barriers as we’re drawn into the game. Josh starts playing there for the love of the game and his love of the people with whom he is playing – a far cry from the halls of the Metropolitan Chess Club. Pandolfini asks if Bonnie and Fred can stop Josh from playing in the park, but having grown to appreciate their worth, Bonnie declines. “No. It’d kill him not to play in the park, he loves it.” The message couldn’t be clearer.

As Chess in NYC’s slogan goes, “More than a game, it’s our culture.”

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park; Photograph by Alexander Porter

Washington Square Park; Photograph by Alexander Porter

A section of Washington Square Park – a hub for all kinds of public activities –  is decked out in stationary chess tables, and attracts a variety of players from across the social spectrum. There’s something here for everyone to enjoy and become involved in, and again we come back to the idea that ran through Brooklyn Castle – chess takes many forms, but is, above all else, a powerful educational tool. It’s an obvious and perhaps even trite point, but the notion of chess being available to everyone in a delineated public space (for $5 a pop!) engenders a sense of social compassion.

The park went through a series of renovations throughout the 20th century, and saw a $16 million refurbishment in 2007. It has continued to be an enduring icon of New York City. Significantly, Bobby Fischer, much like Waitzkin, played in Washington Park, tutored by his mentor, William Lombardy, who lived close by.

However, Washington Park’s chess culture took a hit a few years ago with the closure of the Village Chess Shop in Greenwich Village (a block down from the park), which had opened its doors in 1972, the year in which Bobby Fischer won the World Championship in a match against the USSR’s Boris Spassky. The store sold a variety of chess-related products, and arguably contributed enormously to New York’s chess scene.

Bryant Park

Manhattan’s Bryant Park, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 40th and 42nd Street, is another great chess locale. Here, there is a dedicated Bryant Park Games station, where visitors can enrol to play a variety of different games, chief among them for our purposes is chess! This includes Chinese Chess, called Xiangqi, which, whilst bearing many similarities to its Western variant, features some slightly different rules.

Central Park and the Check and Checkers House

Central Park is a must-see destination in Manhattan, which offers, among many other sights, a place to play chess, checkers and backgammon. The Check and Checkers house provides visitors with pieces for games should they wish to play.

An Enduring Legacy

What is perhaps most striking about staging many of the scenes sequences in Washington Square Park, and, more broadly, chess in the public, is that without it, there may not have been a Joshua Waitzkin. There may have been no book, no film, and no enduring legacy in that regard. That’s just speculation, of course. I’m sure there are many ways in which Waitzkin may have discovered chess, but the possibility that his walk through the park could have been experienced sans chess tables does open up the idea that chess and Waitzkin may never have come together. The real-life Waitzkin describes his first experience of encountering chess in the park thusly: “I remember the shape of the pieces, I remember the experience of chess as this jungle that pulled me in, and I remember this feeling, this bizarre feeling, of discovering a lost memory, as if I’d seen chess before.” It’s an interesting and powerful statement, one I think that is suggestive of a child’s ability to immediately latch on to something and begin learning without actually realising it, which is something Waitzkin himself similarly describes. Indeed, Waitzkin dismisses the idea of being a “prodigy”, instead arguing that chess – and anything else, really – is something that anyone can learn, providing they’re willing to put the work in. It’s the 10,000 hour rule – apply a substantial amount of time and effort to a given skill, and you will absolutely master it. Chess permeates the city of New York and creates a kind of cultural memory, a resonance that many people are familiar with, as the game is married to our image of the city. It gave us Joshua Waitzkin, and all the possibilities in which this post could have been.

The opportunity to access that in a public space is absolutely essential, engendering learning, social compassion, and great scenes with Laurence Fishburne and Max Pomeranc moving pieces around the board at a blistering speed!

Brooklyn Castle Four Years On – What Are The Students Doing Now?

 

At first glance, the 2012 documentary Brooklyn Castle is ostensibly a film about chess, and the child stars who come to master it. Intermediate School 318 is a junior high school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with an exemplary chess course, now known throughout the U.S for having secured, at the time of release, no less than 26 national chess titles. That’s an impressive feat for a school classified as a “Title 1 School”, meaning, in the words of former principal Fortunato Rubino, that they “have a poverty level of above sixty percent. Ours is closer to seventy, seventy-five.” Against the odds of their surroundings, chess is a way for these kids to not only understand accomplishment, but to understand aspiration, and that’s something this film absolutely understands.

Playing Chess at I.S.318.

                 Playing Chess at I.S.318.

In this sense, Brooklyn Castle is not a film about chess. It’s about something much larger and more important than that: education. Education, as the film constantly reminds us, has countless permutations, each one judged on the basis of its effectivity in relation to every individual child. In Brooklyn Castle, that permutation is chess, deploying the game as an educational tool in an extraordinary way. Whilst these underprivileged children are able to compete in national chess tournaments across the country (hosted annually by the United States Chess Federation) and win in big and exciting ways, what’s truly special is how the game is used as a springboard to accomplish what may otherwise have been out of reach. Chess has been woven into the lives of these students (and their teachers’), and through it they experience friendship and family, failure and success, and, when it’s all said and done, hope.

Elizabeth Vicary

                    Elizabeth Vicary

Directed by Katie Dellamaggiore, who funded a lot of it herself, the film is an absolute success. When these kids sit down to play chess, the first moves are made with electricity, and pieces vanish from the board with incredible assurance. “The geeks,” as Rubino says, “they are the athletes.” As it should be, given the school is home to some of the best young chess players in the United States. The school’s chess story started in the 90’s when it was decided that its small group of chess devotees should compete in the nationals. In a surprise turn of events, they won. The school is now widely recognised as having the best chess program for a middle-school in the entire country, masterminded by assistant principal John Galvin and chess wizard Elizabeth Vicary.

 

Life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Their success has not been without its bumps, though, and the point of drama around which the film pivots are the budget cuts that were enforced as a result of the financial crisis towards the end of the last decade. I.S.318 saw 1.3 million dollars taken out of its budget, with the immediate knock-on effect of limiting after-school activities which, as the film indicates, includes more than just chess, but many more essential after-school programs that keep kids going. And the reality is that these cuts keep on coming, too; Brooklyn Castle’s story isn’t bookended with a neat beginning and end. It’s a story that’s still going today.

When the film takes us into the private lives of its young protagonists, we realise how stark that reality can be. They’re all from low income families desperately trying to stay ahead, working day in, day out to keep the lights on and hopefully keep a little extra for their child’s college fund. They don’t have the money to attend state-wide chess tournaments, so the opportunities to travel and experience new places the school offers is a gift none of them take lightly. What makes the film so endearing is that none of this stops the kids from having big, big dreams. Their accomplishment in chess is only the beginning; it gives them the aspiration to achieve more, and it’s this idea that the film always doubles down on. Vicary, their chess teacher, emphasises the nebulous nature of chess as a subject. There’s no clear right or wrong in the game. And so when she says, “[It’s] very hard to know what that best move is”, you can’t help but extrapolate that statement to life itself, and ultimately to what these kids really need.

Where are they now?

Although the film follows five students, we thought we’d check in on three of them and see where they’re at now, four-five years after filming.

 

Rochelle Ballantyne

Rochelle Ballantyne

                    Rochelle Ballantyne

The timid, eager, and unassuming Rochelle Ballantyne was only 13-years-old at the time of filming, but distinguished herself as the best chess player in the school. Now, she holds a scholarship to Stanford University, and is on track to becoming the country’s first African-American chess “master”. It’s a goal that is nurtured throughout the film, as she weighs up the demands of fulfilling her dream and the ordinary, but no less important, demands of high school. Rochelle manages to find the line and walk it.

 

 

 

Alexis Paredes

Alexis (2)

Alexis Paredes

The smart and talented Alexis Paredes dreams of becoming a lawyer or a doctor, of making it big so he can live a good life and provide some financial relief to his South American parents. The trials and tribulations of parenthood are a running theme throughout the film, and it always draws attention to the quiet heroism of mom and dad. Unlike in Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), chess doesn’t alienate parent and child – it brings them together. Paredes is now a chess instructor and studying political science and government at the University of Albany.

 

 

 

 

 Oghenakpobo ‘Pobo’ Efekoro

Oghenakpobo ‘Pobo’ Efekoro

           Oghenakpobo ‘Pobo’ Efekoro

And there’s Oghenakpobo ‘Pobo’ Efekoro, keeping the team together with open, honest intelligence and an easy going charm and grace. Born to Nigerian parents, Pobo had never left New York state until he was afforded the opportunity to do so by I.S.318’s chess program. Pobo’s charm is infectious, to both the audience and students alike, and his success has far exceeded his evident skill at chess. After becoming student president during the course of the film (with the campaign slogan “Pobobama”), Pobo has gone on to study Foreign Affairs and Sociology at the University of Virginia, and is a star player on their track and field team.

 

 

Their aspirations know no limit, and their enormous success at chess gives them the hope they need to aspire to them. Their accomplishment feeds their aspiration, teaching them that it is entirely possible to fulfil their dreams. It’s not difficult to stress how important the chess program has clearly been for the students at I.S.318, both those in the film and those we don’t get to meet, but who are surely reaping the benefits of such a meticulously planned, and carefully supervised, activity such this chess program. It teaches patience, goal-oriented thinking, how to plan, logic – all of which are essential attributes that can be taught in a variety of ways. It just so happens it was chess.