A chess set has thirty-two chess pieces in two colours and a chessboard used to play chess. Chess is played by two players, each starting with one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns. Chess equipment often accompanying a chess set are a chess box, chess clock and chess table. Chess sets are made in a wide variety of styles, often for ornamental rather than practical purposes. For tournament play, the Staunton chess set is preferred or required.
The variety of designs available is broad, from small cosmetic changes to highly abstract representations, to themed designs such as those that emulate the drawings from the works of Lewis Carroll, or modern treatments such as Star Trek or The Simpsons. Themed designs are generally intended for display purposes rather than actual play (Hooper & Whyld 1992:76) harvcol error: no target: CITEREFHooperWhyld1992 (help). Some works of art are designs of chess sets, such as the modernist chess set by chess enthusiast and dadaist Man Ray, that is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Chess pieces used for play are usually figurines that are taller than they are wide. For example, a set of pieces designed for a chessboard with 2.25 inches (57 mm) squares typically have a king around 3.75 inches (95 mm) tall. Chess sets are available in a variety of designs, with the most well-known Staunton design, named after Howard Staunton, a 19th-century English chess player, and designed by Nathaniel Cooke. The first Staunton style sets were made in 1849 by Jaques of London (also known as John Jaques of London and Jaques and Son of London) (Just & Burg 2003:225) harvcol error: no target: CITEREFJustBurg2003 (help).
Wooden White chess pieces are normally made of a light wood, boxwood, or sometimes maple. Black wooden pieces are made of a dark wood such as rosewood, ebony, red sandalwood, African Padauk wood (African padauk which is similar to red sandalwood and is marketed as Bud Rosewood or Blood Red Rosewood) or walnut. Sometimes they are made of boxwood and stained or painted black, brown, or red. The knights in wooden sets are usually hand-carved, accounting for half the cost of the set. Plastic white pieces are made of white or off-white plastic, and plastic black pieces are made of black or red plastic. Sometimes other materials are used, such as bone, ivory, or a composite material (Just & Burg 2003:224, 226) harvcol error: no target: CITEREFJustBurg2003 (help).
For actual play, pieces of the Staunton chess set design are standard. The height of the king should be between 3.35 to 4.13 inches (85 to 105 mm). United States Chess Federation rules call for a king height between 3.375 to 4.5 inches (85.7 to 114.3 mm). A height of about 3.75 to 4 inches (95 to 102 mm) is preferred by most players. The diameter of the king should be 40–50% of its height. The size of the other pieces should be in proportion to the king. The pieces should be well balanced such that their center of gravity is closer to the board. This is done by adding weights such as iron studs or lead blocks at the bottom and felted. It makes the pieces bottom-heavy and keeps them from toppling easily (a well-weighted piece should come upright even if tilted 60 degrees off vertical axis). This helps in blitz games as the speed of movement doesn't offer enough time or precision in dropping the pieces onto the intended squares. The length of each side of the squares on the chessboard should be about 1.25–1.3 times the diameter of the base of the king, or 2 to 2.5 inches (51 to 64 mm). Squares of about 2.25 inches (57 mm) are normally well suited for pieces with the kings in the preferred size range. These criteria are from the United States Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, which is based on the Fédération Internationale des Échecs rules (Just & Burg 2003:224–27) harvcol error: no target: CITEREFJustBurg2003 (help).
Make sure the one you buy is easy on the eye, felt-based, and heavy (weighted). The men should be constructed so they don't come apart. ... The regulation board used by the U. S. Chess Federation is green and buff—never red and black. However, there are several good inlaid wood boards on the market. ... Avoid cheap equipment. Chess offers a lifetime of enjoyment for just a few dollars well spent at the outset.
Pocket and travel sets
Some small magnetic sets, designed to be compact and/or for travel, have pieces more like those used in shogi and xiangqi – each piece being a similar flat token, with a symbol printed on it to identify the piece type.
Unicode contains symbols for chess pieces in both white and black.
- FIDE Standards of Chess Equipment and tournament venue for FIDE Tournaments
- Man Ray set
- June, Sophia (24 December 2020). "What Are You Paying For in a $300 Chess Set? Mostly the Knights". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 January 2021.