My First Chess Set/Board/Clock

by admin on August 25, 2012

Before I start today’s post, I want to mention that I have finished the re-design of my blog. New theme, new header, new type font, new color scheme, etc. I hope that you enjoy the new look!

I would especially like to credit my wife, the family’s computer guru, who designed the new header on Adobe Illustrator. One of my readers this spring said that I would do well to make my site look more like hers. What better way to accomplish that than to have the designer herself work on it?

Now, let’s get back to chess!

How many of you remember your very first chess set? I think that chessplayers, as a rule, are not a very sentimental lot, especially when it comes to equipment. Occasionally non-players will tell me about some beautiful set that they own, and I have to stifle a yawn.

When you’re a competitive player, the main thing you want is a set that is FUNCTIONAL. You want the knights to look like chess knights, not Star Wars figures. You want a set that looks like everyone else’s. That’s why I am happy if I can play with the cheapest standard plastic USCF chess set, and I groan inwardly if I have to play with something different.

Even so, I still remember my first chess board. It belonged to my father before me, and it probably was older than I am. It was a wooden board that held the pieces inside of it. The sound that they made, rattling around inside and then being dumped out on the table, was part of the ritual to start the game.

My father, Walter Nance, with prized possessions: chess set and Nikon camera

That’s the Original Board in the picture (taken around 1971). I think it’s probably not the Original Set, because that would have had wooden pieces. The pieces in the photo look plastic to me, although it’s hard to be sure.

Curiously, another board made a big difference in my chess career, and it’s one that you have all seen. It’s in the photograph that was for five years part of the “dana blogs chess” banner.

Logo for "dana blogs chess"

This is actually not a chess board but a chess table, which was given to me for Christmas by my parents in 1971 or maybe even 1970. It was most likely purchased at the Bombay Company, a chain store for furniture and home decorations which I associate with this deep mahogany color.

Child psychology is a strange thing. Nine out of ten times when you give a kid a fancy present, they’ll just ignore it. Heck, when I look at my diary entry for Christmas 1971 I see that my biggest present from my parents was a game called Skittle-Pool, which I barely even remember. But this present has stayed with me and I still have it 40 years later. Of course it wasn’t just the present that got me interested in chess, but several factors: having friends at school who played chess; the publicity over Bobby Fischer’s rise to the world championship; the fact that I was disenchanted with swimming, which until then had been my main competitive sport but which I wasn’t very good at. Still, having a beautiful chess table was part of the mix of ingredients that caused me to take the game more seriously.

As for my first clock, unfortunately I don’t have a photo of it, but here is a similar picture downloaded from Wikipedia (photo by Jaap Winius).

Garde chess clock

Sometime in 1973 or 1974, my father went to Europe and brought back a Garde chess clock like this one as a present. I still think it is the most attractive chess clock ever made, with a huge and easily legible face, smooth-as-butter action on the buttons, and flags that gave you a very good idea how much time was left. They were made in East Germany and were used in several world championship matches: Fischer-Spassky 1972, Korchnoi-Karpov 1978, and even as recently as Kasparov-Short 1993. Of course they were eventually superseded by more accurate quartz clocks and finally by digital clocks with their down-to-the-second accuracy and their variety of time-delay features.

I was always very proud to take this clock to tournaments with me, because for some reason the US Chess Federation never saw fit to sell Garde clocks. So I have only seen a couple others in my entire chess career in America. (Surely they are much more common in Europe.) In those days all you ever saw were the cheap plastic BHB clocks or the slightly fancier wooden Jerger clocks, neither of which held a candle to the Garde.

My clock was unique for another reason, which was not so good. Not long after I got it, I spilled a glass of milk on it and the milk got inside. (This part of child psychology is utterly predictable: give a child an expensive present and he WILL break it.) In this case it was my mother who stepped in and fixed it. (Apparently, horology is a prerequisite for motherhood, along with a lengthy list of other skills.) However, she didn’t do a perfect job. From then on, one side of the clock ran smoothly: tick-tick-tick. The other side always had a hitch in it when you pressed the button: it went chunka-chunka-chunka-tick-tick-tick … It was quite endearing, as if the clock had been sleeping and had to wake up.

Alas, I don’t know what became of my Original Clock. Sometime in the 1980s I bought a USCF quartz clock and ruthlessly tossed the old clock aside.

Do any of you have favorite stories about chess equipment?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Schmidt August 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

The oldest possession of any sort that I still own and use is a small magnetic chess set. I probably received it when I was 4 or so. It has a Chinese Checkers board on the back but the pieces for that have been lost for decades. I still used it regularly for my “curl up with a chess book” sessions up until last year when I upgraded to a nicer set.


Terry Wright August 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm

My first chess set was a Hasboro “Family Fun Chess Set” with neon green and pink pieces that was sold back in the 70’s. It eventually was a casualty of childhood.

When I started in junior high to play tourneys I learned there was an official size and style used. Needless to say my parents bought me a set from a local TD which was a collection of those unbreakable plastic types (heavily worn) and a roll up board. The board is gone but the pieces sit in my “spare pieces” bag.

The two things I am sentimental are my chess clock which is an old Alpha and a wooden set and board my parents got me ages ago. I have gotten some rather surprised expressions when I pull out my Alpha with old timers. Generally it is something like “I have not seen one of those in 20 years!”.


Pablo VonTrapp November 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Great article! It reminds me of themedieval chess set my grandfather had when I was a boy.


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