Welcome to our store for Chess Sets, Chess Boards, Chess Computers, Chess Software and Chess Clocks. We have hundreds of fine chess products from the world's finest chess store - ChessBaron. We ship worldwide. Our chess pieces are of the finest woods such as ebony, redwood (also known as bud rosewood and red sandalwood), rosewood and sheesham. Our boards are solid genuine wood products, not the veneer that most chess stores supply.

May 5, 2007

Web 2.0 and Chess Sales

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 11:43 pm

web 2.0
Take for example this site for chess computer listings in squidoo, or this eSnips page on chess computers and their electronic merits by a chess retailer. How do they affect sales? How does Web 2.0 affect sales of chess through the web? Briefly Web 2.0 refers to the democratisation of the internet, where instead of relying on the judgment of search engines to bring results to us - we rely instead on the collective judgment of other visitors/customers to determine the worth of a site. This is accomplished by such sites as del.icio.us, digg and squidoo to vote for us on the worth of web sites.

The trouble is - no-one really knows the actual results, unless we ask chess customer how they found us. This is sometimes possible and often not. But it is wise to observe what internet visionaries tell us, whilst we refuse to put all our eggs in one basket - the fact is that the web is developing at such a pace that it’s impossible for anyone to say what shape eCommerce is really going to resemble months, let alone years from now. Web 2.0 however has everyone in agreement, the collective votes of ‘the people’ are a better indication of a sites worth than the warring search engine monarchies.

May 1, 2007

Novag Obsidian Chess Computer

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 12:38 am

Obsidian Chess Computer
As one of the manufacturing leaders of electronic chess computers, the novag company have done a superb job of this machine. Concentrating on the software, they have made a very strong chess engine for this price level. The computer can connect to a PC for enhanced visualisation and development. It has a database built in that has a 8,900 opening book. It has a 16MHz RISC processor and in summary is the most competitive chess computer in this price range.
The Obsidian playing surface is 9 inches square. It has a carry case for the pieces and the electronic board, and the pieces are felt bottomed and made in genuine sheesham wood. In the world of game computers, the Obsidian chess computer is outstanding!

April 24, 2007

The Novag Citrine Chess Computer

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 10:23 pm

citrine chess computer
The Citrine is now foremost Chess Computer for all singing, all dancing electronic chess. Man, this thing aint cheap - but it justifies it’s price tag by functionality that hasn’t been seen since the partial retirement of Kasparov beater Big Blue itself.
Chess computers have come a long way from the old ‘press sensory, press harder, now still harder’ - computers of yester-year. This Novag citrine is the bee’s knees, the Queen’s knickers and the dog’s bollocks all rolled up into one. I particulalrly like the way that when I lose it doesn’t actually laugh in my face even if I know that the silicon zeros and ones have a secret smirk becaue of my stoopid move. Oh well! It will also tutor me to be able to beat my 6 yr old whilst simultaneously allowing me to play with a human opponent on what is a very nice, fully wooden cabinet with the electronics buried inside. Neat! Novag have really done something with this computer. Maybe I can make a living on the chess circuit after all.

April 10, 2007


Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 5:56 pm


Have you visited this great chess forum yet? It’s a perfect place to whine about those awful chess retailers or something else about the game, questions (why does the horsey have to move in that awkward way?), opinions, etc. Maybe you have a question about the origin of the game, or want to find out where to buy chess computers, why Kasparov has quit chess - anything! In particular there is a great section on all kinds of chess articles - also a section on tips and strategy. We love the site!

April 7, 2007

Microsoft’s Attempt to Gain Search through ie7?

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 7:19 pm

 Google Search using built in ie7 toolbar

This was posted (by me) on Matt Cutts site (Goolges face to the world) - I want to know that someone from Google knows about this.
Has anyone noticed that with the browser ie7 the google search facility (generally top right) only has searches through Google.com if Google are chosen for searching the web? So if you’re in Canada, or the UK, the search results are sub-optimal? If this becomes the default search mechanism (as it is doing) users aren’t getting good results and will stray from Google - as will be welcomed from Microsoft - the developers of ie7.
You can change to a ‘national’ Google as the choice - but man! You have to jump through some hoops - and even then I can’t get it to persist! 99% of users aren’t going to bother - they’ll just go to Yahoo or MSN instead.
How does this affect chess sales? In the UK, top results are not replicated through this new ie7 search. Worse, in France, Canada, etc. the results are completely skewed for chess sales through searched such as ‘chess sets’.
Microsoft always has to play dirty!

March 13, 2007

Chess Sales in Cyber Malls

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 5:32 pm


Update: This company (eDirectory) proved to be somewhat useless and were just interested in taking money - no sales resulted.

Good reason to run to a website search engine optimisation company - ranking in the organics is somewhat precarious whilst Google is still in adolescance. Spreading the risk of being pulled from the organic rankings - many eCommerce sites including chess sales sites have tried to spread the net for customers in order to become reliable, robust and here for the long term. With Google and other search engines eager to show appropriate results, their algorithms change and many good sites can unwittingly become casualties, meaning their sales, i.e. ‘chess sales’ suffer. If the newly confident eCom sites have taken on staff who are in turn reliant on income from the new-ish website, a pull from the rankings can be a living death. Hence companies are turning to other streams of attracting themelves to people who want to buy chess sets, other chess hobyist sites, online malls and other mainline directories with good traffic. The whole internet sales ‘thing’ is taking the world by storm, but what is overlooked is a site’s persistant precarious state of organic rankings - and who can make a good living on PPC?

Short of finding yourself in an orange jump suit and the wrong side of a fence with ‘Guantanamo’ on the sign, one of the worst experiences to have is waking up one day to find that your high ranking chess site ‘ain’t high ranking no more’. To save the home and some standard of living for yourself and family, and that of any staff, the wise entrepeneur will have spread the chess sales net so that along with enhanced adwords, the sales can keep coming in.

Until we get a more stable and reliable set of search results. Until we get a less adolescent search engine industry.

August 3, 2006

The Japanese Theme Chess Set

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 12:50 pm

japanese chess set
What an unusual chess design - the Japanese Chess Set! Who would ever buy such a thing - it’s ugly, it’s weird, it’s strange,… it’s an affront!,… it’s… it’s wonderful! It’s so different, so unusual…! I must have one! It’s pawns are all little Buddha’s  - each giving their little pieces of insight and wisdom on the current position of the battle. That’s all very well, as long as they all agree huh? But what a statement! And in a market of many theme chess sets - what an unusual example, a gift with oneupmanship established!

In a genre occupied by historical battles and stereotyped theme chess designs, the Japanese Chess Set is a breath of fresh air. Can’t help but see as much Chinese influence in the chess design as Japanese - but hey! they don’t come to me for advice! They could have called it the Chinese-Japanese theme chess set. They could have had Chinese on one side and Japanese on the other! Maybe a little too touchy? Or not enough? It could have been Iran and Japan.

The green color is very obvious on the dark side (not pictured above - click through to the full product) - what does this signify? Not a clue, but can’t resist the ‘Grasshopper’ reference from the old TV series. Ya gotta like green to like this set - the dark side is dark green. And not so dark! But - I love it - and it’s a great gift for someone who likes green, Japan, China and little Buddha’s all giving their two-penneth worth of wisdom and squabbling during the game!

July 28, 2006

Which woods are used in chess manufacture?

Filed under: Chess Design — Baron Turner @ 2:43 pm

For good quality chess pieces the woods used are Ebony, Bud Rosewood, Redwood and Rosewood. For lesser quality but still excellent chess pieces, the wood used is Boxwood and Sheesham. For cheap chess pieces the wood is generally not genuine, but is reconstituted wood. Ebony chess pieces, bud rosewood chess pieces, redwood chess pieces are woods used for luxury chess sets available today.

Ebony The ebony tree. The traditional luxury wood preferred in many sets, ebony chess pieces are always in demand. The wood is not black as the pieces suggest, rather has black streaks. A chemical process makes the wood used in chess pieces design solid black. Ebony chess boards give a better idea of the coloring of the wood, the squeares are generally brown with black streaks. The wood is hard and although difficult to work, results in a robust, hard wearing chess piece.

Bud Rosewood Base of the rosewood tree. Although the traditional wood is Ebony, Bud Rosewood has steadily grown in preference for luxury chess sets due to the richer coloring of the pieces with Bud Rosewood. Also called Red Rosewood (but not Redwood), this wood is part of the rosewood tree. The least plentiful part of the tree is the base close to the root. This is Bud Rosewood, and is the part that has the richer coloring potential and is now prized for chess piece production. Bud Rosewood has a minor issue of being less hard wearing, less robust and more brittle than normal rosewood and ebony. Customers often prefer bud rosewood for it’s very rich appearance and accept it’s durability downside. The pieces are very much in demand.

Redwood The Californian redwood tree. The rarest of woods used in wooden chess piece designs. Redwood is similar to bud rosewood other than an extra redness in coloring. This is seen particularly in chess boards, wehere the redness is very obvious and very attractive. See pictures below. Redwood is more durable than bud rosewood and has the coloring sought after in quality chess pieces. The customer just needs to like the reddish color - some do, some dont.

Rosewood Mid part of the rosewood tree. Rosewood is the wood used for the majority of medium quality chess pieces. The grain is oftem highly polished and the wood is very suitable for many uses other than chess pieces (furniture for example). The wood has a good solid density and is generally enhanced by auxiliary weighting. The finished product is robust and hard wearing (though not so much as Ebony). It may be occasionally preferred over it’s rarer sibling - Bud Rosewood, because of it’s harder wearing properties. A good solid wood that mixes the attraction of wood grain, appearance and durability with the slight disadvantage of not such rich coloring as bud rosewood. See the pictures below.

Sheesham Wood The upper part and branches of the sheesham tree. Sheesham is the most misunderstood of woods used in chess piece design, generally due to the fact that it is also known by two other misleading names: Indian Rosewood and Golden Rosewood. The wood is good quality and good for chess piece design. It doesn’t have the same coloring potential as either rosewood or bud rosewood, but it does have good intrinsic density and is easy to work with and robust. The synonyms as above mean that often retailers drop the ‘Indian’ or ‘Golden’ qualifier in the name resulting in just ‘Rosewood’, which is misleading.

Boxwood The boxwood tree. The name belies the quality. The vast majority of lighter sides of chess sets are made from boxwood, whether luxury chess pieces or cheaper, lower-to-medium quality chess sets. The wood has to dry thoroughly (as long as 15 years is required for best drying), so the wood is fairly expensive and valued for chess piece production. Boxwood is often ebonized, or made black, to form a less expensive chess set that has the appearance of ebony. This is a common practice and not at all underhand (as long as they are declared as ‘ebonized’ of course) - indeed some even prefer the aged effect of ebonized, as parts of the wood gets a little lighter. The result is a boxwood chess set for both sides with one of the sides blackened, or ebonized.

Some Examples - click to see the full product…

sheesham example
rosewood example
bud rosewood example
Bud Rosewood
ebony example
redwood example
Redwood (Board Too)

The best woods are Ebony, Bud Rosewood, and Redwood. Next in the preferred order is sheesham and boxwood, although boxwood is used in light side luxury chess manufacture too. Cheaper wooden chess sets are made from reconstituted woods. Many chess products imported from China have this lower quality of wood, the type of chess sets generally available in large stores and low quality web sites. For good, enduring chess sets, look for pieces and boards made from sheesham wood or better.

July 12, 2006

One Page Online Chess Stores - Not such a bad idea

Filed under: Chess Retailing — Baron Turner @ 8:16 pm

Have you noticed these one page chess stores such as the UK Chess Store ChessBaron? Well, not actually one-page. But through RSS feeds all the store’s products are displayed on one page, so where the feed occurs it’s just one page. You then visit the chess store through one of the many hyperlinks available in the feed. Many feed web sites now display stores like this across many industries (i.e. not just chess). Don’t know what I’m talking about? Wanna see some examples besides the one above?

Try the US chess store ChessBaron - their one-pager is displayed in many feeds, and one example is here at the Improve Chess site. The UK ChessBaron is a little bigger because of the larger inventory the UK has. This UK chess store is probably the largest in the UK, probably Europe too - the range is very large. The pages for these chess store feeds take a while to load because thumbnails of their entire product catelog have to load, but the results are microcosm of the stores themselves in places other than the actual web address of the store. Cool huh?

 I’ve noticed that this concept has started to be exploited by companies selling other items too (well, let’s face it, chess aint gonna be first!), and where items can be added to the shopping cart too - something that would be a significant improvement to a simple RSS feed. Currently these one-page displays are just a glimpse of the site/store itself. You can’t buy from the store at the place the feed is shown, nor can you see contact details, where the store is, and what the returns policy (for example) is. You have to go to the original site for that. But the one-page chess store displays (such as the examples above) all the products retrieved from the store’s database, as a microcosm to get an idea of the quality of the goods. I wonder if the phenomenon will last? It’ll last as long as RSS lasts!

July 9, 2006

Chess Design: The Amazing Ultimate Knight

Filed under: Chess Design — Baron Turner @ 5:08 pm

Imagine you are a chess manufacturer. Constrained by the staunton genre, how do you come up with designs that are significantly different yet in the staunton camp? The designer of the Ultimate chess set (also known as the Napolean) came up with it - and many more designs besides - flair, art, maybe a touch of genius.

Well, ya either love it or hate it. I love it. But it’s no can of beans, designed to neither offend nor excite anyone. The bold lines are so striking, and, well, bold. The first time I held the Ultimate in my hand was the time I fell in love with it. Since then I’ve tried again and again to get photographs that reflect it’s majesty without success. It’s 6″ King will put many off, European homes aren’t as big on average as their North American counterparts, and an Ultimate chess set with a 6″ King takes up some significant room. But once holding it, feeling the weight and seeing in real life the rustic carvings making up it’s features, I just fell in love with the chess set. Difficult to really find a reason, difficult to quantify. Like falling in love with a person, you might find metrics of a kind, but there’s a bonding of souls and a feeling in the heart that is hard to express. The Ultimate had this very effect on me. The other pieces of the set are great too, but obviously in this chess set more than most, the knight is the flagship. If you love the knight the rest of the pieces won’t offend you, indeed they compliment the Knight.

Which wood? The Ultimate Chess Set comes in Ebony or Bud Rosewood, both are great woods for this set and both enhance the lines of the chess set perfectly. For me, although normally a Bud Rosewood afficiando, the Ebony really comes out better and really excels. The size of the piece is such that the black wood shows to effect the carving wonderfully. Various angles, shapes and depths result in shades of black I never would have thought of - but the bud is great too.

The Ultimate Knight chess set - well named, well designed with a touch of genius by the manufacturers, Ultimate in name, ultimate in nature.

July 8, 2006

Chess Sets Online Retailing - Dealing with Aggressive Unethical Competition

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 7:13 pm

As a chess set online retailer - what does one do when competitors get closer and closer to the throat? When they threaten to make a ‘personal visit’? When they publish some web defamation? And steal photography and other content to use in selling their knock-offs?

A maturing internet has allowed opportunities previously having high entry barriers. Hundreds of thousands of have managed to join the two skills (technical and business) they have to jump into the murky waters of online commerce. The example of chess set retailing is real and current. The victim is a successful niche chess set company who suddenly appeared on the web by utilizing SEO skills, techie ability and a love of chess. After a year of trading, one of the chess competition noticed and started with threats and intimidation. But this has happened across many industries previously dominated by other web sites. What’s the best course of action and reaction?

Flattery. A fellow retailer has flattered us by recognising a loss of income from our attempts at online marketing of chess sets. Hell, we’re good! - what other industries might we impact?

No such thing as bad publicity. Accept any actual reference to our higher prices as publicity - keep sending them over to us.

Losing focus. We seem to be occupying the aggressor somewhat. Well, that’s something too. Whilst he’s focusing his energies on us, he’s distracting himself from his own company.

Poor business. Our chess retailing aggressor clearly has a poorer business model than us if he has to resort to this kind of behaviour. Harassing the competition in some mafia style suggests a bullying manner that would be better channelled elsewhere.

Legal action. ‘Theft’ of intellectual property rights (chess photography, chess product names, chess product descriptions…)- whether yielding any advantage or not - is just that - theft. So real court action may be required to bring the matter to a conclusion.

The new world is here. Online retailing and competition is a fact of life. Competition is good for consumers and good for business improvement. But as in the schoolground and in the High Street/Mall there are aggressive unethical bullies online too. Actions can be taken to offset the aggression, evasive tactics can be used with some success, but the end game may involve taking hooligans to the law to stop the murky activities affecting the peace of our lives and helping us have societies populated with people having admirable qualities we all look up to.

July 7, 2006

Why have weighted Chess Pieces?

Filed under: Chess Design, Chess Sets — Baron Turner @ 6:33 pm

Good chess sets have weighting added to the bottom of the pieces. The base is hollowed out, lead poured in, and the base sealed and capped with a leather or felt disc to hide any imperfections. When I first saw a chess piece without the weighting and with the base apart from the piece, it was a kinda let-down. You realize that there really is not much to it - a hollowed out common base with the important part mounted on top. Of course, as with much else in life, the skill and dexterity is still very much a part of the finished article, even if we see it uncovered momentarily.

The value of a weighted chess piece is obvious in the use of the pieces during chess games. The pieces don’t easily fall over when nudged, don’t shift when the board is knocked, and just feel like something that is quality, thus enhancing the enjoyment of the game. The feel of lifting a triple weighted chess piece somehow makes you think more carefully about the move, move more definitely and move with greater confiidence. If the move is wrong-headed, the piece can then be offensively used as a weapon instead to save face whilst accompanied with the phrase ‘You Bounder! How dare you?’.

Actually humor aside, there is a wonderful weighted chess set we sell which is close to dangerous as I’ve ever seen a set. It’s the Triple Weighted Conventional Staunton Chess Set which  has spikes on the Queens coronet that could do serious damage to someone if misused it. Maybe we should issue a health warning with that one along with the Certificate of Authenticity that  comes with the more expensive weighted chess sets.

Weighted chess sets are wonderful. The general weighting is standard, then double weighted, then triple weighted. No actual standard exists for the gramme measurement, but chess specialists have come to know what is triple and what is double or standard. If you can afford it, put on a little weight!

July 1, 2006

Chess Design: The Lotus Chess Set

Filed under: Chess Design — Baron Turner @ 10:39 pm


Available in Ebony or Rosewood, Lotus chess pieces go back in time some way, and continue to attract customers. As a staunton lover, I don’t quite find myself attracted as much as many appear to be, but the lotus chess set style is certainly here to stay. The bishop is the piece to focus on for design and inspiration. Inspiration? Well, that appears to be the root of the thinking. A zen-like desire to find enlightenment is associated with the genre. Peering into the King from the top is supposed to provide a measure of piece and, dare I say it - harmony.

Sceptical? Then believe - OK, just kid yourself. Imagine the peace from the piece oozing into your soul. Now, c’mon, you ain’t putting your heart into it. Study the King chess piece - got it in mind? Now close your eyes, breathe deeply, and just let the imagination take over. There, you’re doing great, don’t you feel better already…?

 Back to reality, the pieces have a harmonious nature that has always been ‘at one’ with the game of chess. Your chess game has to be harmonious, it has to be ‘at one’ with you. This is unity. If you’re a bad chess player, the result will unite you with reality, you suck - that’s kinda as far as I get most times - but there was the one time I beat Kasparov after this kind of zen…

The Lotus Chess Pieces are a great set - see more photo’s and details, every piece has it’s own beauty, and, well, it’s own effect on your soul.

June 24, 2006

Chess Retail: Drop Shipping Chess Sales

Filed under: Chess Retailing — Baron Turner @ 10:34 pm

Theme chess sets, chess clocks, chess computers, all of these are periferal to our main business. So our sales of them don’t carry as much profit, but hey, we don’t have to stock them or handle the problems with purchasing, returns, etc. But if only the man blowing bubbles at the top of the diagram were really true. Is it? Well, after optimising our chess store website and attaining good position, importing most of our stock for selling as a conventional store, it’s the easiest part of our business to then include other chess products that we don’t actually stock - we’d kinda be crazy not to huh?

Chess Computers appear to have a very thin profit margin, so we don’t want to get involved in stocking them, let’s just drop ship them. It may suprise most readers to know that in the UK, most chess computers are funnelled through one company, who drop ship for most of the countries online chess stores. Good old Eric. Theme chess set suppliers already have mature defined programs for drop shipping, so we may as well take advantage of them, the margin can be quite generous - it would be madness to stock them. Chess clocks sales are low if steady, so the hurdle to stock them seems rather high, especially with Ebay being the automatic first stop for something like a chess clock.

To run a whole business on a drop ship basis is a much easier way to live, but exceptionally hard to really make the kind of margin needed for a successful business in chess retailing such as chess sets and chess boards. They therefore usually go for volume and a ‘Mall’ type of store, unless as in our case, it’s just perifery to the main stock. Once accomplished with enough lines and enough volume, it would be a relatively easy life. The destination retailer’s stock levels is always an issue (managable, coping with what they have in stock and out of stock) but the larger issue is that with increased web maturity and the subsequent difficulty in optimising a site for competitive phrases, the up ramp is steep indeed. Getting on the High street without paying through adwords is expensive, difficult and prone to great dissapointment with rogue SEO companies being difficult to detect among the many who have set up in this industry.

However, one important factor in favour of drop shipping is the superiority of the model over mere affiliate sites. Clicks go astray, other sites don’t want to link to affiliate sites, search engines take a dim view to affiliate sites, etc. At least with the drop shipping method, the funds are taken and neither the customer, the search engines, nor other websites and webmasters know that no stock is actually held. Not a bad life if kept in balance, the customer is well served, and the suppliers manage to make their profit too, something I often wonder about.

Couriers for our Chess Sales - Oh Dear!

Filed under: Chess Retailing — Baron Turner @ 9:55 pm

Well, kinda. Only they make us do it instead of themselves. It’s not as if we don’t give a reasonable business over the months. We have many parcels, some small some large, but courier profit margins are so thin that they appear to try anything on to make that little extra. Our packages from chess sales are generally between 3 and 15KG’s. So how come we have entries of 44 KG’s in our bill? Human error they say, we’ll get another bill out to you. Well, hang on, what about these re-delivery charges? Half our entries for the month have corresponding re-delivery charges, which in some cases would significantly affect any profitability for the sale (once Gordon Brown has his VAT cut, the Credit Card’s have their cut, the payment gateway theirs and the transaction processing company get their cut)… And whilst you’re sorting all that out those redelivery charges, what about those prices for chess deliveries Northern Ireland, Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Man?

Yes, we’re working with new couriers for our chess store, actually a broker who will sort out the right courier for the area of country, including Europe. With billing errors, if paid, it would be a wonder that we would make any profit from our chess store at all sometimes. What with the chess suppliers trying to get every penny possible, more and more customers trying for discounts on their chess sets, customer returns and now couriers doubling their bill, its a daily struggle. Mmmm, but I’d rather be in chess than in logistics. The key is to keep an eye on everything and not to trust bills from suppliers and couriers. We have a small company do our order fulfillment, and the guy who heads it also has the task of going through the couriers bill with a toothcombe - we’re fortunate to have someone so methodical and meticulous.

We managed to get our bill almost halved for the month of May, that kind of reduction really helps the bottom line. I think we can continue working with this broker. It’s a struggle to get couriers at the right price. Any suggestions anyone?

June 20, 2006

Whats the Appeal of a Theme Chess Set?

Filed under: Chess Sets — Search Engine Optimisation @ 4:02 pm

civil war chess set
In our online chess store in the UK - 25% of the chess set range are theme chess sets. They are wonderful productions with great attention to detail in the design of the chess set. Whether Isle of Lewis, Battle of Culloden, or Sherlock Holmes, the designs are sumptuous and wonderful. I haven’t done much statistical analysis over the last year, but I’d estimate that 10% or so of our chess set sales are theme chess sets. Why is there a market for theme chess sets?

SAC and Mascott both say that the theme chess set market has changed radically over the last few years. Mainly that it has reduced considerably in size after cheaply made products largely from China ruined the appeal. The market that is left is generally a gift oriented market. They are somewhat ideal as fairly expensive discerning gifts. A theme chess set as a gift is a gift that is remembered and on display for years, very gratifying to the giver if growingly a dust collector to the recipient. But the magnificence of the figures are surely admired.as a gift is a gift that is remembered and on display for years, very gratifying to the giver if growingly a dust collector to the recipient. But the magnificence of the figures are surely admired.

Theme chess sets such as The Battle of Waterloo, The Battle of Culloden, or The Isle of Lewis, may rarely be used to actually play chess, they may be used occasionally for a social game, but they’re really there for ornamental purposes. There is also an element of oneupmanship involved too. Better to display books than CD’s. Better to display a chess set with a historical theme than a pottery figurine or some other passe ornament. The theme chess set is seen as discerning, interesting. Only a thinking person would decide such an ornament which also has a practical side. You must therefore be such a person…

June 18, 2006

Chess Piece Design after the Jaques-Staunton Hatchet Job

Filed under: Chess Design — Baron Turner @ 7:28 pm

It’s all very well having a prescribed design such as Staunton to work with. Sure - we all know where we are,  we all know which one is the pawn and which the bishop, and the queen has her head-dress, etc., but it has all kinda done away with the amazing artistic display of pre-staunton times. Then, if a religious theme were requested - no problem. If a battle theme, same again. Different periods of history gave way to wonderful representative chess as art. Now what do we have? The queen has to look like, well, a queen, with a coronet - the pawn has it’s prescribed shape, the bishop it’s mitre and the rook it’s ballistrade.

Here Mr Horsey - let’s make you all special! Yep, that’s about it. The knight is the one figure for artistic expression. But it aint so bad huh? We have mane’s waving in the wind, we define their eyes, show the teeth, carve the rippling muscles and torso of the animal. What was that you say? You wanna see some examples? Sure - how about these - respectively, the Ultimate Knight, the Royal Shock, the Earl Anthony, the Bronte and the Bridled Knight?

Ultimate Knight Chess Set    Royal Shock Chess Set    Earl Anthony Chess Set    Bronte Chess Set    Bridled Knight Chess Set
All in all, still enough room for significant expression and to know where we are during the game too, which piece is which. Have any favourites?

Customers in my online chess store generally look most at the knight and it is probably the single chess piece that makes or breaks the sale. However, it’s also true to say that we display the knight most - it’s usually the thumbnail introducing the chess set, so we’re herding them toward that design and quality ‘deciding factor’. The reality is that customers should also look at the other chess pieces in the set too. The proportion of the pawn is often a give away that all effort has been invested in the knight with other pieces neglected. The balance and feel of the rook is of high importance. I’ve seen chess set designs with 4″ Kings and little squat pawns that add nothing to the set. The height proportion among all pieces should look right. This can’t always be conveyed in photographs, so a conversation with the chess retailer always helps.

Now, if only having a cool knight design and proportioned pieces could improve my game!

June 17, 2006

Chess Sales and the Football World Cup

Filed under: Chess Sales — Baron Turner @ 11:22 pm

Retailers the football (soccer) world over are…. enjoying the football, yelling for their side… but also wailing about the retail dry-up it has brought along. Germany must be doing well for retailing - at least the part of Germany where there are hundreds of thousands of football fans to see their teams slug it out for the next round. Chess Sales will come back…. wont they?

The little chess store I run does a theme set that is a replica of the England team winning the 1966 world cup - yep, the Brits have to go back a while for that victory. If they win again - perhaps we should rush to produce the 2006 equivilent. The 1966 World Cup- Chess Set is a great theme chess set - if you’re into decorative chess rather than playing the game properly requiring Staunton chess sets.

Well, I want England to win, but I want strong retail sales back too. The beautiful game has captivated half the world - let’s hope they get their wallets out when returning. Until then - Come on England!

Late June06 Update - ahh.. not too bad after all - sales have held up…. and so has England in the World Cup!

June 16, 2006

Which Wood is Preferred in Chess Piece Design?

Filed under: Chess Sets — Baron Turner @ 10:52 pm

Bronte Chess Set
It seems traditionalists prefer Ebony Chess Pieces, whilst the asthetically minded prefer Bud Rosewood chess - what have you found? I run a store in the UK and people choose Bud Rosewood chess pieces much more than Ebony - with a ratio of around 70/30. The deep colours possible with Bud Rosewood are quite beautiful and the chess sets really have a warmth that people remark on and find beautiful. I’m not yet seasoned at this game - but I understand that there is little distinction made across retailers in differentiating between Red Rosewood, Bud Rosewood, and Redwood. Redwood is from the Californian Redwood, whilst the other two are synonymous and are from the root of the Rosewood tree, Bud Rosewood being the more often used term. Some customers just go straight for Ebony, I find it it also depends on the set - some just look better with the classic Ebony finish, or it’s cheaper Ebonized equivilent.

Then there are Rosewood, Boxwood and Sheesham - woods used in the manufacture of chess sets across India. Cheap rubbishy sets of the genre sold in large superstores are usually reconstituted wood that has no weighting added to the chess piece. Even Harrods has chess sets (with some hefty price tag of course) of this type of wood. But Rosewood is the other chess wood used which has significant credibility (Note - not Bud Rosewood). This is the middle part of the Rosewood tree. The colouring attained isn’t quite as rich as Bud Rosewood, but the wood is significantly cheaper and results in a great balance between quality wood and chess set price.

Sheesham is generally reserved for the cheaper chess set, but is a very respectable wood. Also known as Golden Rosewood, Sheesham is best deployed for chess boards. The chess board using this wood is great for chess sets of Ebony or chess sets of Rosewood. Customers are much less fussy with the board type of wood than with the chess piece type. Sheesham gives a more robust chessboard, less susceptable to light scratches rendering the board a ’second’.

June 10, 2006

Chess Retailing and Buying from a Third World Country

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Baron Turner @ 5:24 pm

India Chess
It’s no secret that the vast majority of decent chess sets are made in a small area of India. The country that claims to have invented the game has the ‘privilege’ of supplying the world with it’s excellent designs. Whether it’s Pleasant Times, JS Arts, Ivory Works, Checkmate (and many others), the demand for excellence at a price that purchasing countries can afford is met through people working for a  lower salary than the developed world. If USA or European salaries were required for a typical chess set sold in the same countries, that chess set would be at least five times as much.

But dealing with a country that just doesn’t have the same way of thinking carries many problems, especially when it comes to that over-used, under-served word that may well be a contender for the most common word on eCommerce web sites: Quality.  Despite suppliers claiming high quality, the plain fact is that shipments contain blemishes, missing items, inconsistent finishes, the list goes on. Is this why Camaratta set up his own manufacturing outfit in India? Why is consitent, high quality such a problem? Try thinking of it in western salary terms. You work for three days straight on a chessboard, everything is fine, until a blemish is caused or realized. It’s a tough call. The end customer will probably notice it and will probably want a discount or want to return it. You might get away with it if it’s Christmas and the chess retailer is so busy that he lapses in his QC and if it’s a gift from a customer to someone he or she may not see for another year. And after all - you’ve been working on it for three days which represents a substantial part of your much needed salary.

So, ya can’t blame them - but neither can you allow the practice to continue. What to do? Training the supplier that  you won’t accept blemishes is a start. Making them feel the pain is another policy too (by credit/replacement demands). Suppliers hate this! They want to get on with volume work instead of the fiddley task of making a single rosewood Queen that was blemished - and if it’s a carved knight it’s particularly painful. Hopefully the message gets through.

In a meeting with one of our suppliers, I was reminded however of a truth that easily escapes a chess retailer. Out of a large shipment, it is often true that maybe just 1% or so is blemished. Even we Westerners make mistakes - right? So there is a tolerance. What have you found works well in dealing with this problem? Leave a comment and your site gets a link if the comment is worthwhile.

June 3, 2006

What’s so special about the Isle of Lewis Chess Set?

Filed under: Chess Design — Baron Turner @ 10:04 pm

What is it about the Isle of Lewis chess set that gives it the aura of wonderment resulting in it representing a significant chunk of chess sales? It’s not Staunton and can’t be used in tournament play. It’s kinda confusing which piece is which with some exceptions. There are many excellent chess sets available that fulfil the purpose and many chess pieces that give an element of luxury to the product. But so many customers just prefer the Isle of Lewis chess design - go figure!

The history of the Lewis design is probably the answer. As a result of its historicity, the design is shown in the British Museum.

You could extend the question to general theme chess sets - can’t play chess with them very easily, but they look great on display. But the Isle of Lewis chess set appears to bridge the divide between sets that are rarely used for playing the game and sets which are only ever brought out in order to play the game. The pieces are at least fairly distinguishable from each other and the game can be played - if not as easily as with Staunton.

Is it just Adwords, or is all of Google gone Evil?

Filed under: Chess Miscellaneous — Search Engine Optimisation @ 8:09 pm

This pic is an attempt by someone to work out the interplay between adwords and adsense. Kinda scary huh? I run a small online chess retailing outfit - just about provides enough income with a bonus at Christmas for my family. The mighty G holds the rules of adwords very close to it’s chest. A while ago - in a bid to get to the top of the adwords tree I increased my bid significantly, and ended up paying just over 12000% (yes, three zeros) greater costs for nearly four hours, until I returned the bid back to where it should have been. This wiped out the profit for my small enterprise for an entire month! Now you’re probably thinking - ‘well you’re clearly an idiot for bidding that much’, and I can understand that sentiment. However, consider closely the situation. Google never charge the amount you bid and the generally accepted wisdom is that it doesn’t matter how much you bid, it just puts you above the person who bid less - and that your costs will be 10c (or some such small figure) more per click. This is the view held by many experienced adwords practitioners.

The fact is that this is absolutley not true. The price you pay depends on another closely guarded factor - so closley guarded that if discussed in terms of actual cases, ya get banned from the G. Yes, God becomes displeased - oops, did I say God? I meant, of course, Goog, the G, G!, The Goog, or whatever you prefer to call the entity that ‘does no evil’. Anyway - where was I? Yes, The other factor? What your competitors are bidding! Obvious? No. Like Rumsfeld said - there are known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Wow! What a mouthful. His wrestling was clearly a war of words not physical.

OK - here it is… if you’re bidding 50c a click, we always assumed that the guys underneath were all bidding 10c less, until it gets to the minimum. Say there’s one guy above you. You assume he’s bidding 60c (leaving aside the other factors we know make a difference - like quality of ad which also lowers the actual price). So - the wisdom goes - if you now bid $90 per click, all you end up paying is 60c. The formerly top guy now pays 50c and all live happily ever after - right? Wrong. That’s a possible scenario if no-one then tries to get back to the top spot - but if it were that easy everyone would do it. The formerly top guy now raises his bid to $35 a click in an effort to get back up there. Oooh, this is where it gets painful. The difference between the formerly top guy and you is now significantly spaced apart, as is the difference between the formerly top guy and the blissfully unaware beneath him. The G will now start charging in excess of the second position, the formerly top guy. You’re now paying, instead of 60c, an amount per click greater than $35. He is paying an amount per click greater than the guy beneath him. But G! doesn’t tell you that. G! doesn’t tell you anything. So far, I don’t think I’ve said anything that will cause my demise in the ‘benevolent’ giants search engine that does no evil. So I won’t push it too far by even remotely suggesting that it’s worth arguing the case with them - hey, never know, they may return some of the greedily gotten gains.

If only they’d tell us the rules, we’d know, and they’d make less money. Oh! Silly me, that must be why they don’t tell us the rules. But hang on! They ‘do no evil’ - don’t they?

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