For a brilliant gift-opening move, consider the wide range of creative chess sets


Part game, part sport, part home decor.

Chess sets come in so many creative varieties — some museum-worthy, some utilitarian — that there’s one to suit just about anyone on your holiday gift list, from the serious player to the merely aspirational one.

Demand is up for handmade versions, says Etsy’s trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson.

“Searches for premium or unique chess sets skyrocketed 280% in the last three months compared to this time last year,” she reports, calling them “a perfect gift for an avid player, but also for anyone looking to add a statement piece to their home.”

One of Johnson’s favorites: a limited-edition, marble-and-onyx set co-designed by John Legend and Etsy maker shop EarthlyCompany. Or, also on Etsy: stylized, modern geometric sets with pieces made of concrete or colorful resin, from San Diego’s Placoncept. Prices start around $140, to just over $400, depending on the material.

For those inspired by Netflix’s 2020 drama “The Queen’s Gambit,” there’s a collection of wooden sets made of walnut, mahogany, rosewood and maple — the same models used on the show — at the Chess Store. Prices range from $179-$679, based on the rarity of the wood.

Got a friend or family member who thinks they’re a chess ninja? Get a set of The Chess House’s hand-painted Samurai-themed pieces, which include warriors, leaping horses, the shogun and his wife. The set sells for $119.00.

For those wanting just a simple, handy chess set for traveling, the retailer has roll-up vinyl boards in bright colors like red, blue and green, with standard black-and-ivory pieces, for under $20.

Chess master Garry Kasparov designed a set in which the pieces are sized according to their game power, instead of the traditional formation where the largest is at the center and the smallest are at the edge. A metal plate with his signature sits on the board’s edge on the players’ sides, and this Heirloom Set is available for $349.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer.

How about choosing two cities for an epic battle?

Splurge on Skyline Chess ‘ sets of iconic cities, including London, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, in stainless steel, acrylic or bronze. New York, for instance, with One World Trade Tower and the Empire State building as king and queen, might face off against Chicago, with the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Centre as the royal couple. Sets range from $135 to over $2,000 for sets made of solid bronze.

The Museum of Modern Art’s exclusive Keith Haring chess set ($55) has been popular for years. “It features Keith’s beloved motifs like dancing figures, babies and dogs, all in colorful lacquered wood,” says Chay Costello, the museum’s associate director of merchandising.

The museum’s store also carries a set designed by Isamu Noguchi in 1944 ($590). The pieces are abstract sculptures, miniature prototypes for ones the artist would later make in large form.

“Noguchi’s distinctive design was inspired by historical Indian and Persian chess forms,” notes Costello, a nod to where the game originated.

More backstory: During wartime, materials were scarce. So Noguchi landed on Plexiglas, a new material that was developed for the mass production of gun turrets and aircraft canopies and later became a favorite of furniture designers.

MoMA also has a fun one for kids: My First Chess Set ($42), designed by the French wooden-toy brand Vilac, introduces the game with a colorfully painted menagerie of jungle animals.

Other sources for kid-friendly sets: Several retailers including Target are stocking a Super Mario-themed one for $34.99 with Mario, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Luigi and other characters as pieces. You’ll find “The Lord of the Rings” and “Jurassic Park”-themed sets at there too, for $49.

A toy industry award-winning set ($39.99) from Story Time Chess introduces the game to the littlest players.

“Our 3-year-old chess students needed a why: Why does the king move one square at a time? To give them some scaffolding, we created simple stories with fun, silly, relatable characters,” says company co-founder Jon Sieber says.

On one side, the stories are accompanied by illustrations, custom pieces and game boards. Then you can flip to standard chess boards as kids get older. Expansion packs further the experience, teaching things like opening moves, board analysis and middlegame strategy.


New York-based writer Kim Cook covers design and decor topics regularly for The AP. Follow her on Instagram at @kimcookhome.

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