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When it comes to board games, chess has one of the longest histories. Today, the two-player game is still played by millions, from beginners to advanced competitors, around the world. It's also a compact game that's perfect for road trips, camping, and backyard fun.
If you’d like to try your hand at the game, here are the best chess sets for all skill levels and needs.
This chess set is everything you picture when searching for the right one: It has the refined charm of a wooden chessboard, plus has fully functional, yet intricately carved game pieces. But what really sets this set apart from others like it is the price tag. Though just as high quality as other options, the Weigel Ambassador set is in a very moderate price range that suits most budgets.
Still, the board is handcrafted with an elegant and sturdy blend of birch and beechwood, and the pieces are expertly carved from hornbeam and sycamore.
Reviewers also love the practicality of this set. It doesn’t have to be displayed on a table for as long as you own it. Flip the board to reveal secured chessmen compartments to securely store each chess piece, then fold in half to create a safe and compact storage chest.
If there’s any downside to this set, experts may miss the weights in each piece. While not a deal-breaker for most by any means, it does allow for pieces to tumble over a bit more easily.
When it comes to budget-friendly chess sets, the vast majority of options are plastic or cardboard—not exactly what an avid player is looking for. But this set turns that school of thinking on its head—for about the same price as your average board game, you can get this nice, slightly more compact wooden chess set.
All in all, it’s a great mirror of other much pricier sets. It features a walnut wood board with traditional style carved pieces, plus flips to reveal individual felted storage compartments for each game piece. When you’re ready to table the game for the time being, simply stash pieces there, fold the board in half, and you have a convenient storage case.
Though decidedly more pricey than most—if not all—other options on the list, there’s a justifiable reason, particularly for experts and avid chess players. The House of Staunton is one of the most recognizable names in chess. In fact, Staunton-style chess sets are what’s used in competitions.
Besides name recognition, the price tag comes from a real step up in sophistication and quality. The tournament-style mahogany and maple board has regulation-size boxes with a gorgeous satin finish. What’s more, all chess pieces are hand-carved by the brand’s master artisans and heavily weighted, plus have billiard cloth base pads to protect the finishing on the board.
To protect your investment, the set also comes with a classic slide top box that has individual compartments lined with green velour to safely store all of those beautiful game pieces.
For kids, choose a game set with a little more whimsy to hold their attention through long rounds of chess. This set mirrors the traditional-style sets, so they’ll learn the rules of the game and have no problem switching to a more traditional game board once they get older, but will better capture their interest for the time being, as it’s a highly detailed miniature recreation of the wizard chess set depicted in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
The game, which is officially licensed by Warner Brothers, looks just like it does in the movies. Though hard molded plastic, each two- to four-inch game piece is expertly and intricately designed for the most realistic look. If there’s any downside, it’s that, because the pieces are large and intricate, they tend to crowd the board a bit. At the end of the day, this shouldn’t bother novice and recreational players, but it is a consideration for anyone engaged in more serious play.
If your style skews more modern than classic, a marble chess set is probably more suited to your decor. And we think this sleek gray and white game is about as sophisticated as you can get.
The Banswara marble game board and pieces are hand-carved and hand-polished by artisans in India, yielding a smooth finish with an ever-so-slight sheen to catch your eye.
It’s not traditional by any means—the board is heavy, making it more of a permanent decor piece than a game you can assemble and disassemble on a whim. Plus, the pieces are not your typical Staunton-style—they are modern interpretations.
Though a beginner might have some initial trouble identifying pieces, it should become natural in no time.
If there’s any downside to the game of chess, it’s that there’s a definite learning curve. It’s not the type of game you pick up and can do with your eyes closed in no time. It requires knowledge of the game, skill, and strategy.
The good news: game sets like this one make learning a little bit easier. Kids and adults alike will appreciate helpful teaching features, like “action cards” that detail illustrated the rules of the game and helpful hints, including the way each piece can move. The double-sided game board itself is also illustrated to help remind a new player where to position pieces during play.
What you sacrifice with this particular setup is refinement. The board and pieces are cardboard and plastic, respectively. But it’s a price many learners, particularly those with children, are willing to pay, as they say, it really does make learning a breeze.
The best overall chess set is the Wegiel Ambassador Chess Set (view at Amazon), which boasts a sturdy board, well-made pieces, and a moderate price tag. However, if you’re new to the game of chess, we recommend the Winning Moves Games No Stress Chess Set (view at Amazon). It comes with 56 “action cards” that detail the rules of the game and provide helpful hints to make chess less intimidating to newcomers.
This roundup was written by Brigitt Earley. She has written and edited hundreds of gift guides and articles about consumer products for various publications over the course of the last 10 years. Though not an avid player anymore, she learned to play chess at a very young age.