Nov 28, 2016

Yesterday and today have seen work done on the quilted chess mat. In fact, the pattern itself is done. Remaining work is to cut the mat and backing, pin and quilt... maybe this afternoon, more likely tomorrow. However, since I am well known for my patience, I had to rush right upstairs and see it with pieces on it :^) I was shooting for 2 1/4" squares, tournament size, but should have realized that with 16 seams in each direction it would be hard to control that precisely... I ended up with 2 1/8", but I'm not complaining! Here are two pix with one of my two favoritest sets, also one of my largest. It really requires a large board or the pieces look too crowded up. One of the thoughts in my mind when I picked the fabric was to be sure this set, which is maple and mottled brown ebony, looked good on the dark squares. I'm real happy with the result. I'm sure my regular black ebony sets will look good on it, too.



Pardon me for saying so, but I think this looks very good, and the size is great for playing



I think the dark chocolate brown hit the color of the mottled brown ebony very nicely.



Nov. 26, 2016

Today was a big day. First, some background…

As I have been going to chess meets several times per week, I ended up getting the currently popular "traveling chess kit", consisting of a canvas zipper pack that holds a chess set, chess clock and a rolled up tournament size naugahyde chess board. Now, the common chess set that comes with these is plastic. Naugahyde is smelly. Plastic and naugahyde are not culturally traditional to chess and playing chess with these is against my deeply held religious beliefs. Of course, as a confirmed chess set collector, I have many fine wood sets and quickly made a substitution. However, I am forced to admit that substituting a real wood chess board is at best extremely heavy and awkward compared to rolling up the naugahyde. However, it has been pointed out that a chessboard, even at tournament size, is nothing more than a 64 patch quilt block. I would have acted on this faster but my garage was swamped by several projects I never cleaned up after plus the move of my whole sewing setup back down to that space to create my upstairs chess room. Well, things finally came around to the point that today was devoted to total garage cleanup, plus fabric prep and cutting and even (trumpet fanfare please…. sewing a seam on the Bernina! Tomorrow morning I'm going to wade into the project for real. It's been so long since I sewed that this is actually a pretty big deal. Plus, I'll end up with a tournament size 100% natural material folding chess board.

Second big thing for the day was the finding of yet another chess table, but what a table! It's a small one, meant to be beside an easy chair. It's top folds to vertical and it's pretty light, so you can easily move it from chair side to in front of or between two chairs. All that's nice, however, the entire table, top, edges, legs, everything is covered with incredibly fine marquetry inlay, possibly from India, but more likely from Iraq/Iran a long time ago. This sort of thing brings big bucks… except that this one was turned into a Goodwill that priced it at $12.95 in honor of the fact that the undertable folding part was badly broken, making the table non-functional. However, not beyond my ability to fix. Now my problem is that the chessboard part itself is pretty small. The period/style chess set appropriate to this type of table/board would be a pre-modern stye (Staunton style) mid-eastern pattern in ivory or carved bone. Ivory of course is out, but bone I can get, just going to take while to find one to fit that size square. I do have two sets that will fit, one a 100 + year old French Regency style and the other an more modern copy of Regency done in machined steel.




Nov. 10, 2016

I've been attending the chess meetups regularly, enjoying them but so far with very limited success. I'd estimate I've played 30 games and have only one win and a draw, or a score of 1 1/2 - 28 :^) My big problem is that I keep buying books about chess and chess sets and reading those, while the actual training books stay on the shelf. I have started on the giant Polgar problems book, though. What I really need is concentrated attention on openings. I'm finding that the process of getting rated is somewhat more complex than I thought and that may wait till a novice tournament in January. Meantime, last night I settled in for a long session on the Elo rating website. This provides an estimated rating based on problem solving. You have to solve 76 problems and, as far as I could tell, you need to do it in one session without leaving the website. Took me 4 1/2 hours and I ended up with a rating estimage of 1609. I don't know how this problem solving based rating relates to the usual rating arrived at through competition. I certainly don't think I'm anything like that strong. However, it was fun, I'm sure educational in and of itself, and I have to admit to feeling pretty darn good about the outcome.

Aside from playing, I have been having a lot of fun haunting thrift stores for fancy wood boxes to put my chess sets in so that they end up out on visible shelves:


All of these wood boxes contain chess sets, ranging from 160 years old to new/modern. One of my recent fun finds was the large jewelry case in the middle, which took some restoration and modificatiion but now holds five sets.


In drawers, from bottom up: modern analysis size Staunton set in rosewood and boxwood; small size simple Staunton, wood unknown, that came with one of my chess tables; modern small black and silver chromed metal set; small vintage French Lardy Staunton set. In top of chest: carved Indian post style set, see below.



Modern reproduction Indian "post" set. Bud Rosewood and Boxwood


Vintage large Indian puzzle ball set. (The outer ball has two smaller balls carved inside of it.) Ebony and Boxwood. King is 6". Note that the puzzle ball is used on the pawns as well as the pieces. Very often on puzzle ball sets the pawns were plain. The fact that this set is large probably made this more doable, plus the fact that it is wood. Originally, this type of set was made in ivory, which, being expensive, made smaller pieces and skipping the ball feature on the pawns more practical. Note, too, that the black pieces have boxwood puzzle balls. I would imagine that carving a puzzle ball in ebony would be quite a chore!


My today's project is to do some work on my large oak table. It was designed with drop leaves but they sag rather badly, and since I never lower them, I'm going to rebrace them from underneath, eliminating the drop leaf feature. I picked up a piece of red oak yesterday for the job and I guess I'd better get to it.



Returning to Chess

Many years ago, in high school, I became very interested in chess, actually more in the history of the game and the artistry devoted to the game pieces. I never did become a real good player. When I was in the Army and stationed in Jacksonville, Fla. (at a Naval Air Station, of all things), I was pretty hard up for interesting things to do (choice of dollar a carload drive in movies or wrestling) but there was a chess club. I joined and for the next several years began to take the playing of the game more seriously. After the Army I returned to the University of Miami to complete an unfinished degree and continued playing chess.

In 1972 we moved to the Northwest and chess fell by the wayside as I became involved in the outdoor activities that thrive here. Recently, as I approach 80, both my energy level and physical ability have lessened. This has culminated this summer in a significant reduction in archery and kite flying. I had already greatly reduced working in my shop as I couldn't handle long periods of standing, or handling the heavier tools and equipment. I have also been less interested in quilting; I'm sure I've made in excess of 100 quilts. It's become kind of repetitious and I just can't get as excited about it as I used to.

All of this is to explain that I need to do less physical things but still need something interesting and challenging. Retuning to chess certainly meets those requirements.

The problem is that after 44 years away from the game, I would virtually have to start from scratch. OK, I'm going to do that. These pages will record my adventures and misadventures in returning to this challenging activity. They would be a blog if I knew just what a blog was and how to start one, but since I don't, they will simply be a record of my stumbling back to something I could do long ago, when I was in my early 20's.

The Beginning and the First Hurdle

With me, almost all things begin with internet research. I found there is a Seattle Chess Club and it meets near me on Wed. nights. They also have some formal weekend activities such as tournaments, but I'm a long way from that. Additionally, the organization known as "Meetup" provides a system for people with specific interest in just about anything to get together. They have a chess group that has meetups at various times and places around town. I joined Meetup and scheduled myself for several events.

I let all my chess instruction books go long, long ago, keeping only those devoted to chess history and chess sets. I hit a couple of used book stores to try to round up some basic books on strategy and openings. Much to my dismay, my old favorite author/instructors are no longer popular, possibly due to the fact that the system of recording chess games has totally changed in the passing years and their books are in the old system. The old descriptive notation I was familiar with has been replaced by a new "algebraic" system, which to me might as well be Sanskrit. In descriptive, if White moves the King pawn forward two squares to begin, the move is p-k4. If Black responds the same, his move is also p-k4. Whichever side you play, the descriptive name of the squares you're facing remains the same and for each move, the piece and its destination are both provided. In algebraic, the same initial move by White is e4, the name of the square the piece ends up on, established by considering the vertical rows by letter a-h and the horizontal rows by number 1-8. If Black responds with the same move, his move is recorded as e5, even though he has moved forward two squares exactly as White did. The names of the squares are different depending on which side of the board you are playing. Yikes!

This algebraic system is so confusing that most new chess boards now have the letters A through H printed or inlaid on the top and bottom of the board and the numbers 1 through 8 similarly marked on the sides. Note that, based on the idea that often only one piece can move to a square in a given instance, the identification of the moving piece is usually not provided, you have to figure it out for yourself. At the risk of sounding like an irascible old coot, I will point out that chess was played for over 1000 years with no such requirement needed to avoid confusion. I will acknowledge that I am going to have to learn to cope with this, but I will continue to insist, as a matter of moral conviction, that my opinion is correct. There are of course many who will disagree with me… actually, the entire chess playing world (except for two old men in Peoria). Though this battle was fought and lost long ago while I was away from chess, I will rest on my position, knowing that the rest of the world is wrong, though acknowledging that they are nice folks in spite of that.

Getting My Feet Wet

Thursday night I went to my first meetup, at Third Place Books, a very nice venue with a large public area including a couple of restaurants and a bakery, i.e. immediate access to coffee. Played two games, losing both, as expected. I found myself a bit shocked that I appear to have completely lost the ability to "see" the board. Losses were due to obvious outright blunders. However, I met several players and enjoyed the evening very much.

Sunday morning went to another meetup at the Seattle Center Armory. Again, great venue, huge public area with food outlets. The group meets about ten yards from a coffee outlet :^). Played three games and, again as expected, lost all. However, felt more comfortable on the board and enjoyed the play very much. I suspect I'm a bit odd. I am very noncompetitive. Years ago, I was defending a state rifle championship and became so intense I was seriously afraid I was going to have a heart attack. I pulled out of the shoot mid-match, packed up and on the way home bought my first sailboat. Since then, I have participated in competitive events, but only for my own enjoyment. I never keep score. With chess, I enjoy watching what I call "the dance", the movement and interaction of the pieces. I once expressed it by asking, "Do you dance to win or to enjoy the beauty of the movement?" I will record my games and study them, but with the aim of improving my ability to "dance" as much as to "win" per se.

Getting Set Up

During the next week, I hit all the remaining major used book stores in the area, trying to find copies of my old books, particularly those by Fred Reinfeld. I didn't find those, but I did round up quite a nice little library of both instructional works and newer works on chess history than the ones I had saved. I have started rereading my old books plus the newer ones. I also moved my quilting center from my room back down to the basement. (Moving it upstairs a few months back just never really worked for me anyway.) This gave me space to put a game table. I didn't find an actual chess table like I used to have, but I did find a small oak table that matched the rest of the furniture in the room and will be quite fine for either playing a face to face game or setting up games to analyze.

Tutoring session with my mentor, Grandmaster Theodore Bear,

at the new Goodwill table.

With one leaf up it's good for analysis. Turn sideways and with both leaves up it's good for actual playing.

A bit of a new development that became immediately apparent at the meetups is that everyone uses a standard full sized tournament board and a very convenient almost standardized traveling chess playing kit, consisting of a small canvas tote, much like an instrument case, that holds a roll up naugahyde board, a chess clock and a pretty decent quality plastic chess set, as well as a place for score sheets, pencils, etc. Everyone who comes to meetups seems to use one of these. I got one of the cases and the board, but not the chess set. Again, the irascible old man thing shows its head. Chess is meant to be played on wood boards with wooden pieces. Playing with plastic on a naugahyde board is a bit like trying to appreciate the Mona Lisa as a velvet painting. Grrr… However, I have to admit that carrying a wood board this size around would be a real pain, especially if you get real active and go to several meetups a week.

The use of the tournament size boards, which have 2 1/4" squares, calls for a large set, one with 4" or 4 1/2" kings. While I have numerous fancy chess sets I kept from my collecting days, a good playing set should be the standard Staunton design, and, as I noted above, made of wood, preferably boxwood and either ebony or rosewood, to give the pieces a nice hefty feel. Plastic pieces can be weighted to give them a nice feel, but they are still plastic… Yuck! My old favorite wood playing set is not large enough to look right on the big tournament board, so I went looking for a new ebony and boxwood set.

Yikes! The cost of quality chess equipment has reached the stratosphere. Quality ebony and boxwood sets (pieces only) start at $600 and go up to $1500. Time to look on ebay. A week of prowling ebay and I hit a nice looking 4 1/2" set in what looked like boxwood and a dark but unidentified wood for black. The seller suggested it might be old, age darkened rosewood… $66. It was Staunton styled but just a little crude in some features. I bought it. Upon arrival and close study I think the light wood might be maple. The grain is not tight enough for boxwood. Looks quite acceptable, though. The dark wood turned out to be brown ebony, which is actually a lower grade of ebony with a lot of brown streaks in it. The weight is equal to regular ebony, so the feel is great. The bases are a bit smaller and more rounded than is usual for pieces this large, which makes them look just a tiny bit old fashioned but is wonderful for me in that my home wood board has 2" squares, so the pieces don't look too crowded. Upon close study of the pieces, I believe this is a home craftsman project, but of quite decent quality as to the turning. The finish is less satisfactory, but still, with all, it's a great playing set with a good feel and will meet my needs very well.

Chess set showing in action on board and close up of pieces

The streaked brown ebony is pretty unusual


This pretty much sets me up for a full scale return to enjoying chess. However, things got better yet! Last Thursday I returned to Third Place Books to play. Before going back to the meeting area I once again checked their games section for chess books, as I had the week before. They now had excellent condition copies of three of the old Fred Reinfeld books I was looking for! Yay!

I only played one game this night, but… it was my first win! Unfortunately, my effort to record it in the $%^&* new format was not successful. I got too confused, so I will not be able to play it over at home and see where I might have done better. As is always the case, both I and my opponent made moves that were less than optimal. Ah, well… The reason I only played one game is that the battery in my car had died, so I had to take my wife's car. Since I had to take her car, I dropped her off at choir, so I had to get back to pick her up again. On the way home I decided to stop and check out a Goodwill, you just never know what you'll find. This time, I found a rather lovely little coffee table height chess table. Again, it appears to be something of a home craftsman effort. The base seems to be from a commercial table, with a wood chess board and drawer added.

Small table from Goodwill

Further Improvements

Things were looking pretty good as above, but the small table proved to be a little low and a little tippy. I removed the pedestal from it and mounted the drawer/cabinet part on top of an existing low set of drawers that was already a part of the room, thus eliminating one piece of furniture. I also felted the bottom of drawer/cabinet part and felted the inside of the drawer. It came out looking like this:



It is still a little low and I may make a riser unit to put between the chess cabinet and the drawer unit.

My intent with all of this has been to create a pleasant place for two people, or in a pinch four, to play chess so that I could invite new chess acquaintances over to play. This actually occurred last night, when I had a young man who came to last Sunday's chess meetup over. I set the room up as below and it worked very well, providing a warm, pleasant place to play.

If two other players came, we could easily turn the table sideways, slide it to the left a tad and pull the smaller table out to provide for the second game.

And Still More Improvement

I have kept cruising Craig's List as a matter of curiousity and an excess of enthusiasm and spotted a particularly nice small dedicated chess table at a really good price, though at a distnce. Today we made a driving adventure and went to get it. We had excellent timeing, experiencing a smooth, relatively unbusy freeway and outstanding views of Mt. Ranier and a great deal of extraordinary fall color. The table turned out to be in great condition and of higher quality than I expected, though with one curious peculiarity which I'll discuss after the pictures:


New table



Room with three workable tables available for a "chess salon". The room is just large enough to spread them out and be workable.


I just finished rereading, after many years, Edward Laker's book "The Adventure of Chess", a fascinating view of the world of chess as seen in 1950, when many of the greats were still active or only recently departed. One of his "pet peeves" in discussing chess in the world of art was the inaccuracy of the depictions, chess sets with incorrect boards in particular. In setting up my new table, I noted that it was not quite square, but rather a rectangle. Further, I noted that the chess board was actually mounted in the table incorrectly, or at least awkwardly. If you set it up as required, with the white corner square on the right, the narrow end of the table is in front of you. If you set the table sideways to give the players maximum knee room ,of which there isn't much on this small table, you would have to play the board sideways. I don't think Mr. Lasker (an American master not to be confused with Emmanuel Laker the famous world champion) would approve! :^)

NOTE: I think this pretty much completes what I am able to do with my chess playing environment. From this point, any comments added here will concern activities and/or observations on progress, etc. I will place these above this material and post with newest material on top so that folks won't have to scroll down every time they might want to see what's happening.


Dick Wightman, Seattle WA

email: rwightman@mindspring.com

Phone: 206 784 0883


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