The Science of finding the right Chess Set (Buyer’s Guide)

Convenience to reliably play a game of chess resides on various factors like your own skill and that of the opponent’s.

And the other of course is the actual chess set; finding the right one for your intended use is very critical.

A buyer needs to consider the place of use, purpose, brand preference, set pack, size, longevity, design, weight, and price of the chess set in determining whether it is the correct one.

The Science

Science is the act of investigation through experimentation that would lead to a form of

Experimentations have several variables that will produce a result, and that experience will help gain knowledge.

This is an interesting idea when dealing with decision making.

Considering all the things that would lead someone to buy a chess set in this case would likely to lead someone into the right decision.

So it’s time to be a little scientist because we’re going to talk about how to find the right one for you.


Variables are different factors that influence the result, which in this case is the correct chess set.

These are all things we need to think about when buying with anything not just on this one.

Take note however that there is no way to find a perfect of anything.

It will all be dictated by your preference which is sometimes different from your needs.

But should still give us a decent idea of what we’re looking for.

First things first, where will you actually use it?

Outdoor vs. Indoor use

Place of use is a very important standard to consider.

Chess can be played both indoors and outdoors, but as you see, both have different
environmental factors and issues associated with each.

This is why it is a good idea to match the nature of the chess set to where you’ll actually use it.

Outdoor use

Chess is a good activity to pass time during a normal day of jogging or visits in the park for example.

This condition as you can see offer different problems from what you’ll encounter indoors.

Usually having the wrong set for outdoors gives more problem than having a wrong indoor chess set.

This is why it is extra important to find the correct one.

We don’t want to buy something that ends up being useless due to its lack of applicability in the place we play.

Here might be the places where you can play chess outdoors.

a.) Parks

Now this is both two sides, for the administrator and one for a common bystander.

Park owners would need to consider the weight and durability as the main priority.

These are places where people come and go all the time, there is always a risk of the chess set being stolen.

Something with significant weight would be great to call in preventing such scenarios.

Likewise, we also need something that is heavy, since the thing needs to last a very long time.

Environmental conditions are changing rapidly day after day, we need something that can withstand both heat and cold.

Giant chess sets and tables might be a good idea, but also affixed marble and metal are a choice when seeking aesthetics.

There are chess sets that would make you think twice about actually using them.


As for common bystanders, basically anything except plastic that could be blown away (parks can get windy).

This is the best place to use sets you want to show around, but not so valuable that losing a piece for example is devastating.

I’m talking about the glass, Staunton, or even electronic formats.

These are somewhat costly, but not comparable to the very lucrative chess sets that have high monetary value.

b.) Indoor Outdoor

These are food courts, square, basically anything that takes place outdoor but has a ceiling and indoor like ambiance.

Some tables or gigantic sets cannot be applied here since it has more limited space than that of the park.

Marbles and small chess tables are the most common here.

If you’re frequently passing by one again, do not use luxurious or themed chess sets.

There are many people here where we don’t want to risk any damage to the pieces, plus it’s hard to recover a stolen item in such a crowded area.

Since this is technically still indoors, plastics can still be viable, since it’s less likely that it can get blown away.

c.) Travel

If you’re someone that wants to use the set during long travels and sojourn, you make want to look into custom travel sets.

These are very lightweight, easily organized, and stored more conveniently than other options.

They can be either magnetic, velcro, or electronic, perfect for bumpy rides that may knock pieces over.

Magnetic and velcro of course will hold the pieces steady but let’s talk about electronic one a little more.

Two types of electronic

Electronic chess sets are relatively new to the market and could be either three dimensional or a touch screen.

Three dimension basically means something you can touch, where there are pegs at the bottom of the indentions, where each piece is attached individually.

These have sensors that can record the moves, or tell the computer what’s going on, and yes, it has a computer.

The computer can put its own moves and even give recommendations.

It can be played player vs. player or against a computer.

And the other is well, a touch screen.

It has similar components as the three-dimensional one, except it can all be done with touch eliminating all the hassle.

Indoor use

These are those areas within homes, buildings, or any vicinity inside a compartment.

This has a more simple consideration in one fact only, space.

There are fewer people here, meaning less risk of the set being stolen, no winds or weather conditions, all of this already forms the conclusion by itself.

We don’t want something big, wood and plastic are perfect here, also marble and glass.

These are the home of luxurious sets, as that is kinda the point, home decoration.

Chess tables could be possible with enough space, but giants are a big no-no except if you’re living in a mansion or something.

After finding out where will we frequently use the thing, it’s time to know the purpose!

Is this for competitive purposes or decorative?

Display sets vs. Standard Sets

Display sets are way different from what is being used for standard mode of play.

Due to this, it is important to know which purpose do we actually buy in order to determine if it is the right fit for us.

First let’s talk about the display set.

Display Sets

As you could imagine, this set is about the aesthetic side, beautiful decorations rather than practical use.

These are the sets that are difficult to play, sometimes the pieces are less recognizable but it looks serious enough to give prestige.

Meaning just the act of playing by itself has value since it provides a unique feeling, but is purely decorative and not used in tournaments for several reasons.

But first, let’s talk about what makes it different from the standard chess set.

a.) Coloring

The thing that makes it stand out the most would be it’s appearance, primarily the colors!

There are many characteristics that makes a display set visually appealing, but no stands out most than its colors.

Standard sets have a consistent and repeated pattern that can absolutely not be changed.

These colors are easily observable that makes it easy to distinguish tiles and pieces from each other.

But that is for competitive purposes!

In a decorative sense, such a singular color is really bland and not attractive.

Display sets offer a unique experience that one couldn’t expect from a regular one.

b.) Custom Materials

Regular sets of course are made in a variety of materials but are purely limited in categories.

This is to ensure that the game’s mechanics would not be affected solely by the set’s materials.

We don’t want the pieces flying off constantly and the board taring off from slight pressure.

But this is a display set, not a standard one!

This is something that is not repetitively used over time, therefore, having lower risk of being damaged.

That’s why the materials of the thing are usually unique and interesting.

c.) Custom Board

The chessboard is usually only made with a singular design, you know like the one you always see.

Display sets offer some chessboard design that you would imagine to be created by an artist not a manufacturer.

Such designs may not be useful or even interruptive in the game of play, but is attractive nonetheless appearance-wise.

Some custom chess boards are not even like a board, there are circular and such weird stuff that is creative and hard to come by.

d.) Custom Pieces

If we have a custom chess board of course we can have some custom pieces!

I’m not talking about variations of the Staunton chess set (universal model of pieces) but an actual artistic creation.

Things like soldiers for pawns and even towers for rooks.

These features are not applicable in standard sets, since they make the pieces hard to
recognize and the game more confusing.

But as collectibles, custom pieces offer a whole new involvement exclusive to this set of play.

e.) Theme

Themes are center of a subject (topic) which the chess set can be based from.

The topics are easily well-known figures, movie franchises, or historical events that portray a level of relevance to the subject.

These are especially popular, and the theme is likely to have a lot of exposure to a variety of people where one can recognize them easily.

They make a very bright display set since well, they are attractive, but also because they tend to appeal with people of the same interest.

However, these are usually fairly limited and somewhat expensive than compared to other sets.

We have talked about what makes display sets alluring, but now, it’s time to learn what makes the standard set a more common one.

Standard Sets

Standard sets are well, if you have ever seen a chess set, then it is most likely the standard set.

They are pretty singular in design, and maybe tedious than display sets, but do their job well and that is to be played with chess.

Let’s see the features of this set and what makes it ideal for playing the game.

a.) Piece board ratio

The height and width of the pieces should correspond to those of their tiles as that will enable the players to properly identify the pieces.

Too big of a piece or too small of tiles would greatly devastate the gameplay since it’s hard to see where things belong to.

This technical issue cannot be afforded in an actual formal tournament for example, that is why there are even regulations to sizes that will be used for such events.

Fun fact: The tournament set’s chessboard should be engraved with 2 ¼ inches square tiles (width/height) and a King around 3 ¾ to 4 ¼ tall.


Standard sets almost always follow the appropriate ratio for boards and pieces.

This makes it more ideal than display sets in an actual game of play.

b.) Common colors

Display sets propose a variety of color options that improve the appeal, but is not practical for in-game use.

Such vibrance could cause distractions and confusions about the actual color of the tiles for example, and although give good aesthetics, could cause problems in a competitive setup.

This shall not pass as players would want a fair game especially and should be provided by the set itself.

The standard color of a chessboard is a dark green (or black) along with swapping white tiles used for play.

And although maybe simple, is perfect for making the entire thing identifiable.

c.) Staunton pieces

During the early days of chess, multiple designs have been perpetuated basically everywhere.

Different people use different piece design, which makes it harder to familiarize other forms from what a player is used to.

Custom pieces of display sets have this exact problem, the pieces are not that common that it gets harder to be identified by multiple people.

Standard sets host the universal Staunton design and if you wonder what that is, basically if you’ve seen a chess piece before, it’s likely that it’s the Staunton form.

Now, once you’ve chosen whether to prefer the display vs standard, it’s time to decide whether to buy a package or a separate set.

Complete Sets vs Separated parts

Few of you might know this, but you could choose to buy a separate set from the board to pieces.

Most people when they buy chess set choose an all-around item complete with everything, and that makes sense.

But you should still consider the option of buying separated parts if that fulfills your need.

First, why buy a complete set?

Complete Set

Having a package deal with all the items included (chessboard, chess pieces, and sometimes even a chess clock) gives the following advantages.

a.) Compatibility

This refers to the piece board ratio that we’ve just talked about earlier.

It’s harder to play when the square tiles are too small or the pieces are huge, therefore we need some sort of compatibility.

Purchasing a complete set ensures a sufficient measurement for both board and pieces, which is something that can be missed when buying separated parts.

This of course can be alleviated if you just purchase while taking notice of the sizes, which is a hard thing to do for someone who is not used to buying their set.

So if you’re someone to want this issue taken care of easily, then choose a complete set.

b.) Storage

Another concern that arise when purchasing separated parts are the sizes of the storage areas.

There are cases where the pieces are too big to be stored in the area even though it’s
compatible with the square tiles.

This needs some bit of a product experience to get right.

Some don’t even have a way to store the pieces!

Now this could be prevented by being well informed of the features offered by the chessboard, but complete packages are usually more comprehensible since all the thing is in one place.

c.) Weight

Just because the pieces are huge does not mean if carry a lot of mass, where a sizable piece made of plastic are still vulnerable to being splashed.

This is an annoying thing with buying separated parts, as you may not know if the pieces will be too heavy or too light for the chessboard.

Weight is dictated from the material to which the chess piece is made, and if it has a custom material then it’s likely to have an unexpected weight.

Buying a complete set would ensure a sufficient weight for the pieces that will push down from top of the chessboard.

That is all the perks of buying a complete one, what about having separated parts?

Separated parts

I feel that I’m tempting to steer you too much away from this one.

But it has its own value! And there are instances where we should make use of these benefits if it’s within are merits of doing so.

So first, what’s good about it?

a.) Customizability

Unlike a whole complete set that locks a buyer in one combination, buying separately offers customizability.

There are actually some occasions where funky chess set owners prefer having different sets of weights and sizes.

It may hinder gameplay sure, but still offer a great completely unique involvement if the sizes and weight are not too far off.

This unlocks a whole lot of opportunity to make your own design of a chess set, since there really isn’t anything that will be pre-selected unlike when buying a package.

As long as you follow the correct standard of measure 70 to 80% of the piece’s baseline
(basically the size underneath) in contrast to the square, then you should be fine.

b.) Aesthetic

As you may have known from the information before, display sets are used for their appeal and well, display prowess.

That can be achieved by buying a themed set (a chess set that focuses on a particular topic, game of thrones for example), which is packaged.

But, if you truly want to build your own design and randomized things, then it’s almost always the best option to buy separated parts.

There are a lot of great individual chessboard and pieces out there that could make an
awesome blend.

Very delicate choice of combination for both the chess piece and the chessboard could make something very incredible that you can’t find as a group in the market.

c.) Flexibility

Materials from all-in-one chess sets are usually very singular and repetitive throughout the whole thing.

This is a problem if you want to play a metal piece on a marble for example, which might not be a good thing since wrong combinations could hurt the chess set in general.

The durability of the chessboard might not be enough to support the pieces placed on it, and therefore could cause damage.

However, as long as you avoid really bad ideas such as putting heavy materials on light chessboard, then it should be ok.

So basically, if you want an easy run-in-a-mill chess set, you should opt for a group buy, while if you prefer customizability go for separated parts.

Digging Closer

So far, we have only talked about things you want to do, not the components in itself, I’m talking about where and what they are made of.

The following are the considerations for the set’s own ingredients.

a.) Brand

Now, this is something most people never bats an eye, and for a good reason.

People who buy sets are you usually transactional in nature, meaning they probably won’t ever purchase again for a long time.

Choosing brands for this type of consumer is of less concern as long as the thing is properly working.

And that’s exactly the issue, if they are working as intended!

Misinformation is common on shady producers.

These are the most trusted brands as a chess online store:

  • The House of Staunton
  • The Chess Store
  • Chess USA
  • Chess House
  • Chess Bazaar
  • Mega Chess (for giant sets)
  • Wholesale Chess
  • Chess Central
  • Chess Boutique
  • Caissia Chess Shop (Europe-based)
  • The Official Staunton chess company
  • Chess Warehouse
  • House of Chess
  • Chess World the art of chess (Australia-based)

Buying from Amazon, eBay, or just your local chess shop is fine of course if you’re looking for only a simple one without much specification.

But if you’re considering to buy something unique, you may want to look into one of these online stores.

b.) Size

Size is a prime consideration for storing purposes since too large or too small can cause compartment issues.

I personally classify sizes in three categories: small, medium, and giants.

Small is usually used for trips and could fit in most spaces (there aren’t any real definable size for a small set, but is more than half of a regular one).

Mediums are well, basically the most common one that you’ll see in tournaments; has a decent storage need.

Giant sets are used outdoors and famously known for a need of an entire room just for storing!

So it’s really important to find the appropriate set based from your own capability.

c.) Material/ Durability

Chess sets as you see can be made in a wide array of materials that have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s a table to easily demonstrate that:

WoodModerateScratches; Wood-eating
PlasticWeakDeformation; Being stomped
MarbleStrongBlunt impact; Being chipped
Handblown GlassWeakBeing dropped; Blunt force
Solid GlassStrongHigh drops; Blunt force
MetalVery StrongTemperature; Rust
DigitalModerateHeat, Water, and Shock
Custom SetsDependsDepends

Customs chess sets can be made in textile, stone, and even leather, so it’s hard to actually give a proper approximation.

d.) Longevity

Another thing to consider would be how long do you need this thing to last?

Of course we want it to be very long, but that usually comes at a cost.

This is why it’s important to consider the durability/cost ratio for our intended purposes.

e.) Design

If you’ve selected the standard Staunton chess set that is used universally, then there aren’t anything to be talked about design.

However the custom or themed chess set has one primary feature, its design.

Using one that compliments your own preference or even something of interest might be a good idea.

d.) Weight

We’ve talked about this, a proper weight from the piece to the chessboard, where too light can be blown away, or too heavy that it takes effort to set the thing up or move it.

Marble and metal sets are usually heavier, but not necessarily since some metal models are actually pretty light.

Finding the right weight for the usage is critical.

e.) Price

This is actually the most important factor of all, how much can you really afford?

The products you buy will be the one to adjust depending on your purchasing power, not the other way around.

Wooden and plastic sets are usually the cheapest hovering as low as 1 dollar up to 50, while marble, metal, and glass could cause several hundred or even thousands depending on the model.

Purchasing from a local store in contrast to an online ecommerce would also affect the price.

Whatever you do, make sure that the cost is within your best interest.

Final thoughts

Choosing the appropriate chess set is a very important decision that needs a lot of thinking.

Having the wrong one with inappropriate properties could make the thing useless.

So take a deep look at the actual purpose of buying the set, and you should be just fine.

Sleep well, and play chess.