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Regency Chess has a chance encounter – How good are board game cafes?

  Chance & Counters

Last week we paid a visit to a newly opened café in Bristol, Chance & Counters – the first café in Bristol to cater exclusively to board games, created by friends Richard Scarsbrook, Steve Cownie, Alex Ratcliffe and Luke Neal. It’s our intention here at Regency Chess to really reach out to the growing number of establishments that are providing a home for chess, and board games more broadly, within the cosy, vibrant environments of cafés and bars. Whether you’re a board game enthusiast or simply looking for a new experience, the prospect of having a venue to sit down with a group of friends (or strangers!) over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine to play a game of chess, monopoly or whatever you should fancy is an exciting one.

CHANCE & COUNTERS

Outside Chance & Counters

Outside Chance & Counters

Nestled at the bottom of Christmas Steps, Bristol, just off Colston Avenue, Chance Encounters looks very much like a standard café, innocuous in its appearance. What stands out, however, is its quirky sign, attached to the side of the building; and, of course, your eyes are immediately drawn to “board game café”. At first it’s a little bit of a curiosity, but when you stop and think about it, it’s very much an obvious direction for a café or bar to go in. When it comes to creating a diverse, dynamic and inspired environment, building it around inherently social activities is a no-brainer.

Upon entry, both Julian and myself were very much impressed; Chance

A huge selection of board games...

A huge selection of board games…

Encounters is an excellent example of how to put such an enterprise to together. Not only were we treated to great customer service, a very friendly and open chat about how the business came together, but we were able to witness the fruits of their hard work paying off first hand. Although it was quiet when we arrived (roughly 10:30 in the morning), we witnessed a steady stream of customers coming in during our time there, all of whom were sampling the games on offer.

95% OF CUSTOMERS ARE HERE TO PLAY

The décor is modern and minimalistic, and although it’s still in the early stages of development, it’s clear that the focus is on the interactions of players and of what’s going on across the purpose-built tables. And that, arguably, is exactly where it should be. The vast array of boards games, tastefully and clearly positioned on a wide black shelf in front of the counter, are the centrepiece of the café’s aesthetic. The selection they have on offer is quite eclectic, and there’s certainly something for everyone within their current selection of over three-hundred(!), a number which is sure to grow as the business picks up speed.

Julian versus Ross (Round 1!)

Julian versus Ross (Round 1!)

The time we spent there was fun and interesting, and we even had a chance to chat with one of the owners, Richard Scarsbrook, enjoying our tea and coffee and treating ourselves to a game of chess. Chance & Counters in part comes off the back of Scarsbrook’s own background, writing his MBA dissertation on small businesses – specifically a case study in board game cafés. When asked about the ratio between customers coming in just for a drink or a slice of cake, against those who do so to play a game, he said roughly “95% of customers are gamers”. That’s quite a percentage, and definitely speaks to the demand for such a business and the interest in alternative venues.

KICKSTARTING IT ALL

Like many small businesses with nascent ideas, the guys turned to Kickstarter in order to fulfil their goal. Crowdfunding campaigns are a great way to assess interest and get yourself off the ground, whilst also rewarding backers for their support. The team set themselves a £10,000 target, but like many of the best campaigns rocketed on past it to over £13,000, allowing them to stock more games and expand the café. The reward tiers included a variety of different membership deals (discounts, lifetime membership, etc.) and more personal rewards, such as having tournaments held in your name, or “thank you” cards within a board game of your choice. The campaign took place over the course of a month – January to February – and in spite of a few inevitable delays, the campaign’s success allowed them to open at the end of May.

The Kasparov Set

The Kasparov Set

For our game of chess, Julian and I opted for the ‘Kasparov Championship Chess Set’. It comes with a sleek, elegant wooden board with nine-centimetre pieces. The game was short, and Julian lost – too busy enjoying his coffee, I should imagine. I’m sure he’ll have a chance to come back in the future. On the subject of coffee, it’s worth noting how reasonably priced the café is for the quality on offer. Lattes and cappuccinos are in the £2 range, tea a very reasonable £1.80 – coming in a narrow mug – with a good selection of affordable wines (which we hope to sample the next time!)

As we were leaving, Scarsbrook was leaning over the table of a young couple playing a board game that was relatively new to them, and he was enthusiastically, and politely, explaining how to play it. The enthusiasm on display is evident and the guys’ passion for their business clear. It’s fantastic that they’ve managed to get this up and running in Bristol, and we highly recommend you pay it a visit the next time you’re in town.

Coffee and Chess

Fun, refreshing, and relaxing – cappuccino and chess!

The Essential Information

http://www.chanceandcounters.com

Tel: 0117 329 1700

 

 

The Digital Chess Masters

Computer Chess

Computer Chess

Having used the onset of summer to probe a handful of New York City’s many sites in which members of the public can meet one another and play a game of chess (or two!) with human partners, we thought we’d look at one of the flip sides to public play: computer chess in the digital era.

Many of the activities that we were once required to actively seek out can now be accessed on a single device. Rather than carry your dog-eared paperback book in your bag, you can carry hundreds of them on a Kindle Fire; similarly, you can just download an app to your phone that allows you to play chess on a bus, a train, or anywhere you like and at any time. And it’s not just a throwaway bit of light entertainment in an age of endless diversions, either. You can have your small, portable chess board with you at all times, playing games of varying lengths against strangers or friends or, more interestingly, the computer itself.

DIGITAL CHESS

Chess on your iPhone (image courtesy of Arizona-Software

Chess on your iPhone (image courtesy of Arizona-Software)

Digital incarnations of chess have been available for some time now, dating from the mid-70’s, before really picking up the pace and coming to the fore in the 1980’s. But there’s no doubt it has become increasingly widespread in the world of smart phones, laptops and tablets. The game is there at your fingertips, whenever you should wish to match your skills against an artificial opponent. This hasn’t had a discernible impact on sales of chess boards (there will always be a demand for chess boards as a decorative item), but rather it has arguably expanded the game’s influence and, ultimately, made it more accessible to people who might not otherwise have taken an interest in the game. So much of the digital era is catered to accessibility and instant gratification; as a delivery model, it is unsurpassable.

There is also the added advantage of being able to tailor the game to your skill level. Your computer opponent can be tweaked to have different response times in-between moves, and you also have the ability to see what moves each piece can make by clicking on them, should you be new to the game. Other features include undoing moves and being able to trace back your steps, which is perhaps a tidier method of deconstructing the game rather than writing down every move you make as you go. Some apps even have notifications describing certain moves. And almost all of this is happening on smartphones. The possible iterations of chess on mobile devices – the form it can take, the ways in which it can teach and educate, and so on – are infinite. It’s certainly our intention to take a look at several of these apps in the near future to take a closer look at what they have to offer. After all, one of the most important features all of these devices have in common is connectivity. By simply being able to access chess on your smartphone or your tablet puts you into contact with people all over the world, fostering an entire community of novices, experts, and people who simply want to reach out and play the game with someone on the other side of the globe, probably on the bus to work.

THE THING…AND CHESS

The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982)

When we think of computer chess, our minds go straight to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)…yes, we know, our minds tend to gravitate towards film on a fairly regular basis! But it’s a great example in and of itself, and hey, this is the decade in which computerised chess started to take off! The film’s ambiguous opening sequence begins with a helicopter chasing a husky across the Arctic wilderness, frantically firing at it for reasons as yet unknown to us. We then segue to the American camp, Outpost 31, where life, as yet undisturbed by the coming menace, continues banally – men of various professions are seen reading, playing pool, and doing whatever else they can to chip away at their six month isolation.

One man, Kurt Russell’s R.J MacReady, is sitting alone in his shack (‘alone’ being a condition they won’t want to find themselves in soon enough), playing none other than chess on his computer, with a glass of whisky in his hand. The computer itself, ‘Chess Wizard’, is fictional, but there were many such devices available at the time. There’s a lot of room to explore the relationship of chess to the film itself, but we’ll only take a cursorily look here.

MacReady contemplates his next move...

MacReady contemplates his next move…

First and foremost, it sets up the conflict nicely; throughout the film, MacReady is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the malevolent alien that has taken human form, in the hope of outsmarting it before it can decimate the camp. Towards the end of his game, MacReady thinks he’s got it sussed – “Poor baby, you’re starting to lose it aren’t you”, only to be beaten with the next move (the film concludes with MacReady defeating the Thing, only to realise his victory is more tenuous than he initially believed). He couldn’t beat the machine, which can process multiple possible moves at once, in a similar fashion to the Thing itself, which has many disguises with which to rely upon. But perhaps what is most interesting is that in this all-male cast, the computer is voiced by a woman (provided by director John Carpenter’s then wife Adrienne Barbeau). “My move, rook to knight six. Checkmate, checkmate.” Displeased with his unexpected defeat, he pours his whisky into the machine, killing it off. “Cheating bitch”, he declares, leaving the shack. It’s a hell of an introduction for the character, and by genderising his opponent – a machine – it establishes the tone of masculinity that runs throughout the course of the story. Genderising and anthropomorphising machines is fairly common, but here it has a particularly interesting part to play – is the Thing itself genderless, or is their nemesis in fact female? I’m not sure Carpenter ever gave it that much thought, but that’s easily one of the delights of film criticism: finding meaning (here at Regency, it’s primarily the role of chess) out of the assemblage of pieces within the film itself. One of the problems with that, coined by the excellent ‘FILM CRIT HULK‘, is avoiding undue extrapolation. Only ever work with what the film gives you!

MacReady's Chess Wizard

MacReady’s Chess Wizard

Although the ‘Chess Wizard” device did not exist, the program MacReady was playing was quite real: a feature of an Apple II computer. According to notes by co-producer Stuart Cohen, the crew tried to capture a shot of MacReady playing the game in real time in a single frame, but this did not work out.

 

KASPAROV AND THE DEEP BLUE

At the time, chess computers were becoming more and more widespread, and were consistently able to defeat strong players. This culminated in the late 1990’s – 1996, in fact – when Deep Blue, a computer designed by IBM, was able to defeat reigning chess champion Garry Kasparov in the first game of their six-match confrontation (however, Kasparov was able to secure overall victory). Following an upgrade to the Deep Blue a year later, Kasparov again came face-to-face with the machine, and he – the world champion – was beaten in a match that applied the standard rules of the game. Kasparov called foul play, and it has been suggested that the match was in part composed in order to boost their market value. A documentary of this was produced in 2003 – Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine. That, however, is a subject for another time, and another post.

As technology continues its rapid expansion, we’re seeing increasingly more powerful computers capable of extraordinary feats, and one wonders if they will reach a point in which “solving chess” – the optimal strategy in which victory can always be attained or at the very least the game forced to a draw – will come from that of an artificial intelligence, and not a human world champion.

I, on the other hand, have been dabbling with a chess app on my Android device, and it has thus far beaten me exactly 81 times! I’ve yet to douse the phone in a glass of whisky, but 100 may prove to be the breaking point…and I’m no Gary Kasparov.

New & Exciting Brand Added To Regency Chess Website – Purling of London

As the years have gone on we’ve added more and more products to our website. It’s sometimes hard to believe that all this started back in 2008 with a handful of wooden chess sets. We now boast hundreds of lovely products and a worldwide reputation that does us proud. The list of premium brands that we stock continues to grow and a recent addition to this was Purling Of London. Purling is a relatively new company set up by the marketing genius Simon Perkis. What Simon has done is take a design classic from the mid 1800s and create a thoroughly modern contemporary product that is putting luxury chess sets back on the trendy map.

Purling-Red_Black-Bold_Chess

 

 

 

 

The essence of the Purling products is the painting of the sets. The range of Bold chess we now stock are all classic and traditional Staunton chessmen, but each piece has been expertly painted and buffed to a high gloss in a range of gorgeous colours. The painted theme goes a step further with their ‘Art Chess’ where unpainted pieces are given to known artists to decorate in their own style. These unique and fine sets are finding their way into some of the worlds best known interior design shops.

Girls_Playing_Chess

The Regency Chess Company has earned a reputation for selling some of the finest luxury chess products on the market. We’re delighted to have added these to our range. Check out our selection : Purling Of London Chess Sets

 

 

 

All Shipping Costs Down, More Thumbs Up !

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All Shipping Costs Reduced

Since the beginning of the year we have shipped Chess Pieces, Boards and even Mugs all around the world

Last month, for example, we sent out our Constantine Ebony Chessmen all the way out to Kuwait.

And, as the rain kept coming down here in Somerset, in February we sent out our Templar Series Chessmen over to a slightly warmer climate in Thailand.

Our most regular international shipments, though, are over to the United States where our Isle of Lewis range is hugely popular. The Scottish Museum replicas of perhaps the oldest chess pieces in the world are particularly well-liked, with hundreds going out to the States every year.

In light of this we have spoken with our brilliant logistics partners and can now announce that all shipping for international customers will be reduced by 10 percent.

Over on the continent, however, we have been able to do even better.

Europe

As of today, our customers in Europe will be paying a quarter less for their shipping.

When we first started in 2008 the costs to send products to places like Spain, Greece and Italy were astronomical.

However, because the market has grown so rapidly, and delivery companies have lowered their prices, we are again able to pass our savings on to customers.

So every chess lover in Europe can now expect a 25 percent decrease in the cost of shipping.

The next question is really what to buy from our growing range of products?

We trust that you can decide that for yourselves although we wouldn’t mind someone sending over a raincoat for us. This writer forgot his and the rain is absolutely hammering it down outside.

In the meantime Au Revoir,  وداعا  and lā k̀xn.

The History of Staunton Chessmen

The story of how these iconic Chess Pieces came to be recognised as the official instruments of the World Chess Federation is a remarkable one, involving the editor of the world’s first illustrated news magazine, a master craftsmen and the best chess player in the world. In Victorian London, as railway lines were connecting England’s largest towns and industry was growing like never before, three men were about to change the world of chess forever.

The World Championship Set

The World Championship Set

The facts of exactly who is responsible for these pieces is one of great contention although the parallel stories of the men involved, and the historical trends of the time, give us enough clues to make a strong case that it was, in part, thanks to all three. There can be no doubt that the English middle class was growing alongside a boom in industry, something news editor Nathanial Cook would be only too aware of. This new, socially mobile group would be keen to illustrate its heightened status by spending their newfound wealth. Designing a set of chess pieces so elegantly based on the regal nature of Victorian society, that could be mass-produced, was the perfect solution. Cook’s brother-in-law, John Jaques, was a master turner and manufacturer of sports and gaming equipment. Both men were acutely aware of the opportunity they had.

Victorian's Playing Chess

Victorian’s Playing Chess

All of the pieces were in place and, together, the two of them created a new design of chessmen made from beautiful Ebony and Boxwood. In homage to this we at RegencyChess still stock a number of sets made from the same two woods, including the Broadbase, Windsor and Elegant Series Chessmen.

The Antipodean Series

The Antipodean Series

Because Ebony is so rare we also offer dyed ebonised pieces that look the part and are specially weighted to give them a luxury feel. Our Down Head Knight collection is the best example of this, ranging in price from £29.61 to £32.90 per set. It was not the material, however, that the third man in this story was worried about back in the 1840s. Recognised as the best player in the world at the time, Howard Staunton was travelling the globe competing against his rivals such as France’s Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant.
On several occasions the talented Englishmen noted that his opponents were using pieces that were hard to distinguish from one another, complaining that it was hard to concentrate fully on the game.

These comments were often published in The Illustrated London News, a publication edited at the time by a certain Nathanial Cook. So it came to be that a disgruntled chess player came into contact with a clever entrepreneur who, in turn, was related to a master craftsmen and businessman. All in a country that was at the forefront of industrial revolutionism. On September 8, 1849, the Illustrated London News published a small paragraph that is thought to have been written by Staunton himself. The fact that it would change the world of chess, though, is certain. (more…)