Some of you readers surely play at the local chess club. Maybe you play at two or three. Or maybe you play at tournaments, be them great or small. Either way, you have seen the guy I’m going to describe in this post. Or maybe, you *are* the guy in this post. Whatever the case, this needs to be said.
I take pride in my chess stuff. It’s just something I do. I don’t expect everyone to do the same, but that still does not make me understand it when they don’t. To me, chess is a beautiful and romantic game, full of history and charm. I am honored to call myself a chess player, and moving a solid, weighted rook across a roll-up mat and then thumping it down slightly on a square thrills me. It’s just full of cool.
Then there’s that guy. You know the one. He’s usually middle-aged or older and has zero pride in his equipment. If he brings a clock at all, it’s a ten-dollar analog job that saw its best days in the ‘80s somewhere. His vinyl mat is either rolled-up backward so that the ends and sides curl up, or he has literally folded into fours, causing pieces and pawns along the center ranks and files to list badly and sometimes even fall over. The mat is usually very dirty, and the pieces are the cheap non-weighted plastic ones that can be picked up for a couple of bucks almost anywhere. The kind with a hollow bottom and no felt. And the whole shebang is brought into the club inside a handy grocery bag. What? Really?
The gentleman has obviously been playing chess for years and years, and yet he has never felt the urge to upgrade his equipment, or even to take care of the gear he has. This boggles me, and always has. I simply cannot believe that a lover of the game would even own chess equipment like that, much less showcase it for anyone and everyone to see. It really isn’t hard to acquire a decent setup.
My first set was bought used, from a gentleman at the club for $15.00. It consisted of the big, heavy yellow and white pieces with a roll-up vinyl mat and a green carrying bag. It was very simple, but it worked. I got a Chronos digital clock for my birthday and my ensemble was complete. Chronos clocks are very expensive, but competitive models can be found for much less. $30-$40 can get you a fine digital clock, depending on where you look.
Each week before I went to the club I’d spread out my board and give it a once-over with a damp cloth, as well as inspect my pieces and make sure my clock had good batteries. Many times we’d play in restaurants and naturally, the board would become dirty or sticky. Although my mat and pieces were old, they looked very presentable. I really didn’t see it as a choice; the set was well-taken-care-of, no matter what.
Over the years I have acquired a lot more chess equipment, but I have never paid much for any of it. A few years ago I bought a couple plastic sets that look really nice. Not as heavy as my first set, but weighted all the same. One set had black and tan pieces, and the other were red and white, both identical make and model. I found that I could mix and match them and go for weeks without playing with the same variation twice. It made for good conversation and they were fun to play with.
Then I went looking for a nice wooden set that I could take to tournaments. I finally found one online for a steal. I believe I paid $18.00 for the set, and it normally sold for around $70.00. I snatched that up in a heartbeat and they look just gorgeous. Every set I have purchased after my first one has had four queens, a feature I really like. They make five-minute blitz games at the club a lot easier.
So, let’s just assume, for argument’s sake, that I had gone with a $40.00 clock instead of the Chronos. Amazon has the exact same triple-weighted yellow and black chess set that I have for $26.95, and it comes with a brand-new green and white mat. Shipping is free. Add in the clock and we have a grand total of $56.95 for a really solid, great-looking chess set that can be used for a lifetime.
If I decided to purchase that setup, I would only have to set aside a tad over $14.00 a month for four months. Take out the clock and it’s $10.00 a month for three months. Now, money is tight for everyone and I understand that, but there is no way I can be convinced that in the last ten years these cats couldn’t have saved ten or fifteen bucks a month for a few months and puarchaed a quality set they can be proud of.
And so, week after week and year after year, they bring their sorry-looking, filthy and dilapidated beginner sets and analog clocks that keep questionable time at best. They may as well not even bring their clocks, because they are shortly replaced by someone’s digital unit anyhow. In fact, at tournaments, someone with a digital clock can force it to be used over an analog. Can’t beat that accuracy.
In my opinion, if you are going to actively play chess, whether it’s in a club or a tournament scenario, you should think about getting a set and clock that is both nice to look at and that folks want to play on. Even if your income is severely limited, you could still buy quality gear inside of a year. A game with so much rich history and possibilities really deserves better than a grungy, crooked, featherweight children’s set carried around in a grocery bag. If the set is nostalgic and has sentimental value to you, at least take some cleaning solution and a rag to it. I’m just sayin’.