Knight move: Why a chess set may cost $500 at top-level tournaments


As players shuffle their pieces in the 44th Olympiad in Mahabalipuram, consider what they move. In sets, the knight takes the most time to be carved.

The four knights determine the price of the set, be it a $20- or a $500-one. A set used in world-level tournaments cost about $500. Amritsar, Punjab, is the only place in the world where sets for the World Championship matches are made.

Just about 10 people in the whole world specialise in carving the knight for the official World Chess Championship matches, according to a report by the New York Times. Unlike other pieces, the knights are made by hand and not by machines.

Each knight takes about three hours to be made. This means that just four pieces in a chess set require as much as 12 hours. On the other hand, on average the other regular pieces in the chess set take about one minute to be made, except the king and the queen.

Each artist has to train for 4-5 months to be able to carve a knight. Such pieces are more difficult to produce because of the amount of detailing they need. “They are extremely detailed. You can see the mane, the rivets of the mane if it has a flowing mane,” Noelle Kendrick, business development director of the chess set retailer House of Staunton, said in the NYT report.

Kendrick added that in expensive sets, one can even see the teeth inside the knight’s mouth.

Apart from being symmetrical, the four knights in a chess set need to be completely identical. If this is not true, the value of the whole set goes down. “I have to use the sandpaper to smoothen it [knight] properly, and carve the ears, nose, and head perfectly,” said Baljeet Singh, a knight carver from .

Knights can cost up to 50 per cent of the total price of the high-end chess sets.

Also, the design of the knight has been adopted from the horse carvings in the Parthenon in Athens. The minutiae like the horse’s smile are thus extremely important.

Such attention is paid to the pieces of the chess sets to make the game-playing experience smoother for the chessmen. Special weights are added to the pieces to prevent them from falling. This becomes more important as chess progresses towards quicker ‘blitz’ and ‘rapid’ matches.

In a tournament in 2016, Indian grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta lost the match after dropping his queen in a blitz game. Here, a player is required to stop the clock as soon as they execute their move. But if the piece falls, they cannot stop the clock unless the piece stands back up. This makes the balance of the pieces extremely important.

Apart from this, the pieces now are connected to transmitters to telecast the moves to the audience. A professional chess set connected with such equipment may cost up to $700.

With the effort it takes to make a knight, would it be unfair to say that knight is the king of the chess-set market?

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