Chess is hot, uh, again. The 6th-century game is skyrocketing thanks to the combination of pandemic shut-ins and a Netflix TV show. The Queen’s Gambit is unlike any TV series you’ve ever seen. Beth Harmon is an orphan growing up in the ‘50s who becomes a high school chess prodigy and goes on to become the greatest chess player in the world. She’s brilliant, flawed, snarky, and a student and lover of the game.
The show easily surpasses the 1993 classic chess film Searching for Bobby Fisher in terms of excitement for the game, and it has piqued interest in the game of strategy in a wholly unpredicted way, to the point where those who have never played the game are now superfans. Go figure that this purely analog gaming experience is surging, and there’s no controller, no screen, and no sounds emanating from it. Chess sets are getting snatched up everywhere, and they might actually be the new toilet paper of the pandemic. We’ve chosen a dozen chess sets that make us want to master the game even though we lack the patience, skill, and killer instincts of Ms. Harmon.
These genuine boxwood pieces are carved in an avant-garde, minimalist fashion that adds simplicity to the art of chess playing. Each piece is nicely weighted, and the felt pads keep play smooth and quiet. The 16” board is made from real maple.$199
If you want a chess set to reflect the indecisiveness of your moves, this is it. Ok, what it actually does is add an element of fun to a serious game by virtue of its concave board and rounded weighted pieces that wobble while remaining in their positions. The unique set is made with maple, walnut, and chrome detailing, so even if no one plays it, it’s sure to attract attention.$249
There’s no black and white here, only beautiful frosted and clear glass chess pieces on an equally attractive 14” etched glass board. Just don’t flip the damned thing over when you’ve lost.$40
An affordable chess set means you don’t have to be committed to the game of chess, and this one can travel, too. Magnetic pieces keep everything in place, and you can toss them in the folding chessboard to practice wherever you want.$15
If you love architecture and want a truly high-end chess set, here’s the ultimate set made with a special resin and metal compound that gives them both heft and sheen. Icons like the Guggenheim, One World Trade Center, Empire State Building, and Flatiron Building are just some that are represented in this stellar set.$556
Ms. Harmon imagined chess games on the ceiling, and you can come close by actually playing on the wall. This set allows you to hang the board on the wall and includes soft bumpers to keep things secure while you maneuver the magnetic pieces. It happens to qualify as some cool 3D wall art, too.$50
This decadent hand-carved set uses oceanic creatures as its chess pieces, and the result is truly unique. Piranhas, seahorses, squid, and sharks make up some of them, and you may spend more time ogling them instead of playing. The custom board is raised and has compartmentalized drawers for storage.$480
A new take on traditional chess sets comes in the form of square pieces with unique markings for a modern look that’s playful. Each one is crafted from Beechwood, and you can even get the set laser monogrammed.$50
Talk about a statement chess set. Each one is made to order and uses spent .223 bullets. Most of them make use of just the shell casing and primer, while the King and Queen pieces have a reset (non-live) bullet head. All of them are gracefully mounted on real marble bases with felt pads. Purchase the pieces alone or add a beautiful hand-painted red oak board. Your shot, er, move.$169+
Who cares if these Star Wars-themed pieces don’t come with a board. They’re hand-carved and bear a remarkable resemblance to the real deal. Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Han Solo, Darth Vader, and R2-D2 are just some of the examples. May the Force be with you as you try to take down the Empire.$50+
If modern art is your thing, look no further than this brilliant Keith Haring set that takes his famous art icons and turns them into entertaining chess pieces, each made from turned and lacquered wood. They come in a carry bag with his self-portrait, and the look of the simple black-and-white board mate with the pieces perfectly.$38