When I was heavily into amateur astronomy, one of the problems I often ran into was criticism that I too much equipment. At the peak of my hobby, I owned five telescopes, a dozen eyepieces, and a multitude of accessories weighing several hundred pounds. I was able to justify the purchases through the unique roles that each scope filled, such as the smaller scopes for traveling and the larger scopes for demonstrating astronomy to the public. As my interests have moved more heavily into chess, I have noticed that the same problem arises: owning a multitude of books and boards. I have noted that on several chess groups on Facebook where people often joke about the plethora of books and boards they own, so it is nice to know that I am not alone because the latest addition to my collection arrived late yesterday afternoon: an African padauk and ebony chess set from The Chess Store.

The Good: I would like to begin by saying that I am positively in love with this set. It is one of the most beautiful chess sets I have ever seen, which is probably why it caught my attention on the store’s website in the first place. I tried to contain my excitement after deciding on this combination of board and pieces, but it was like being bitten by the new car bug…I just had to have it! After waiting what seemed like forever (more on that later), the set arrived late Wednesday night and was immediately put to use by my wife and I. This particular set is not sold as a combo pack on The Chess Store’s website, so it was something I had to build in my shopping cart on my own. It is a combination of British Staunton African Padauk and Ebony pieces and a Bird’s-Eye Maple and Padauk board.

The striking colors of the African Padauk and the ebony is the first thing that jumps out about this set. The white pieces are a brilliant, deep red that are perfectly accented by the maple and padauk board. The solid ebony pieces are as dark and as smooth as one could expect from a high quality board. The details on the pieces are amazing. The top of the Rooks are depressed and the Knights are intricately detailed, which gives the board a significant amount of character and class. Although my wife and I chose to use the arms of couch to hold captured pieces, the deluxe maple board has margins on each side which are perfectly sized to fit captured pieces during play. The pieces are evenly weighted and were easy to move across the board. In fact, I found myself at times knocking pieces over because of how easily the pieces slide. This is great for playing speed chess or antagonizing a family member! :)

This combination set is a perfect gift for the professional in your life that loves playing chess or loves having beautiful, decorative items in their home. The combination set retails for $329 with free standard shipping or you can purchase the individual elements for $159 (pieces) and $169 (board).

The Bad: Of course, to be fair I also have to point out something that continues to disappoint me about this purchase. Since I discovered it years ago, I have had a love-hate relationship with The Chess Store because of their customer service. The chess sets they sell are some of the best in the world, but their customer service and shipping system is significantly flawed. I have, on occasion, sent questions to their customer service department and have never received a reply. Additionally, the shipping of this set was amazingly frustrating. The standard shipping took two days to process, and then an entire week to get to me! Faster shipping options were available, but the lowest available price was $70 for shipping, which was not worth paying to get the set only 3 days earlier. The Chess Store could benefit from finding a way to get its products out the door and to its customers more quickly and find a way to fix their customer service system to where its customers could actually receive responses to their questions or concerns.

Final Verdict: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟