The short answer is materials and craftsmanship. Most good-quality chess sets are crafted of exotic woods like Ebony, Rosewood, Boxwood, Bubinga, and the like.
Mid-range chess sets are generally constructed of Maple or Walnut. If the wood type is not specified, this generally means that the chess set is made from tropical hardwood. This is fine if you’re looking for an economical chess set but not desirable for the aficionado.
When shopping for chess boards, determine if the material is solid wood or a wood veneer. Also, make sure that the squares are crafted of inlaid wood versus a chessboard pattern that has been painted on.
The true quality of a chess set is no more evident than in the look and feel of the Chess Pieces, in particular, the Knights. Finely carved knights can cost up to 50% of the total cost of a set of chessmen. In addition, the level of detail, quality of the turnings, the finish, and uniformity also add to the quality of the pieces. Many inexpensive imported pieces will have burn and tear marks, burrs, poor finishes, or worse.
Does Size Matter?
The size of the pieces with the board is mostly a matter of personal taste. The exception is tournament play, where boards and piece sizes are specified U.S. Chess Federation standards specify a King that measures 3-3/8″ to 4-1/2″ with a base diameter of 40-50% of the height.
A general rule for determining the proper square size for a set of good Staunton chess pieces is that the width of the base of the King should be 75% of the width of a square. So, divide the King’s base diameter by 0.75, and you get the proper square size. As an example, a Staunton King with a base diameter of 1.75″ would require a square size of 1.75″/0.75 = 2.33″. Hence, you should use a chessboard with a square size of at least 2-3/8″.
Why Is the Weight of the Pieces Important?
- Cheaper chess sets have no weighting and fall over quickly when nudged by a finger accidentally. Weighted pieces make the game more enjoyable, are more valuable, and have a quality feel when held in hand. Chess piece weights are classified as Natural, Single, Double, and Triple. Weighted Pieces – Approximate Weights:
- Single Weighted 15-25 grams
- Double weighted 30-50 grams
- Triple Weighted 50-115 grams
- Natural weighted pieces may include Wood, Marble Resin, Metal, Stone and Plastic. These pieces are the natural weight of the material in which they are made.
Natural weight of each material are as follows:
- Plastic- Very light, easy to knock over. Weighs approximately 15 grams or one-half of an ounce.
- Wood- Made out of a very light wood and are easy to knock over. Lighter than a single weighted piece. Weighs approximately 20 grams or ﾽ an ounce.
- Marble Resin-Natural weight is somewhere in between a single and double weighted piece. Heavier than wood, but lighter than stone. Weighs approximately 40 grams or 1.5 ounces.
- Metal- Natural weight is close to a double weighted piece and weighs approximately 30-50 grams or 1.5 ounces.
- Stone- Natural weight is on the heavy side, weighing the same as a triple weighted piece. The approximate weight is 75 grams or 2.6 ounces.
Alternatively, you can purchase a chess set that is designed for travel, for which we also have a wide selection. Magnetic travel chess sets have some weight, which prevents the pieces from falling quickly.
What Is Important When Looking at the Pieces?
Analyze the detail of the Knight
Although all chess sets should be finely detailed, the Knight is usually the flagship due to its flair and intricacy. Even the eyes, teeth, and mane of the finer knights are well detailed. In a set with a knight with great detail, the other pieces in the set will also reflect quality artistry.
Analyze the detail of the Rook
The Rook conveys subtle details that enhance the value and quality of the chessboard. Pay attention to the sloping of the trunk. In some chess sets, the rooks have a curved slope at the trunk, whereas the piece turrets feature precise details in others. Its weighting matters more than any of the pieces in chess sets.