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Product Review – Chessmate Ultima Pocket Chess Set

The nature of my day job requires that my wife and I keep many of our interests and hobbies as mobile as possible. When I was regularly involved in astronomy and astronomical research, it was always easier to fire up a digital planetarium on my computer than to set up a telescope. Chess is much different in that there are a variety of ways to play and study the game. The multitude of digital platforms available these days allow students and players to carry their chess sets and portable game notation (PGN) files almost anywhere. Personally, I enjoy having access to Deep Fritz and Houdini on my laptop, but I believe that none of those engines or user interfaces can match the feel of a real board.

Every book I have ever read about Bobby Fischer makes mention of his almost mythical pocket chess set. As my interest in chess has grown over the years, I have searched wherever possible to find something comparable to his pocket set. Recently I ordered a checkbook travel chess set from the United States Chess Federation. This fantastic little set has round magnetic pieces and is made of a soft, durable material. It is perfect for on-the-go chess in a rugged setting. At $4.99, the price is unbeatable.

However, I believe that I have finally discovered the Rolls-Royce of pocket chess sets. I cannot remember the location of the article I was reading, but I recently came across a chess article that mentioned a pocket chess set called Chessmate. After a quick web search, I came across the Chessmate website and discovered the Chessmate is actually one series of products made by game designer David Weinstock. Chessmate was founded in 1996 and the Chessmate Pocket Chess Set ($39.99) is its flagship product. I did not want to spend too much money on a pocket set, but I decided that I wanted something more than the basic Chessmate set. I selected the Chessmate Ultima primarily because the product description emphasized that the pieces were already set up and ready to go.

My Chessmate Ultima arrived this morning via USPS Signature Confirmation mail, which created a small amount of difficulty given the need to be home to sign for the package. After working with my mail carrier, I was able to get my package and have been playing with the set all day. The first thing that struck me about the Ultima was its high quality construction and unique packaging. It came incredibly well packaged with several hand-written “Thank Yous” from Mr. Weinstock. The construction of the set itself is first rate. It has a beautiful, professional-grade imitation Ostrich exterior and a powerful magnetic lock that keeps it secured when not in use. According to Mr. Weinstock, imitation Ostrich and imitation leather materials work best for folding chess sets in the long term because they do not need to be broken in before lying flat.

The Chessmate logo is on a small black plate on the interior of the set and does not detract from the set’s overall look and feel. The board itself opens up completely flat the first time it is opened and stays that way. I have been using it throughout the day to Capablanca’s game from the first part of The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played and some games from New In Chess. There is almost no way to describe the incredible way that the magnetic pieces of the Chessmate Ultima move across the board. They are amazingly smooth, which makes the board perfect for moving back and forth between my Kindle Paperwhite and my Chessmate. My wife usually gives me a hard time about how many chess sets we have in the house, but even she was impressed with the quality and appearance of the Chessmate. It has not left my hands very much for most of the day and even as I write this entry, it sits open by my side.

The Chessmate Ultima retails for $59.99 at the Chessmate website and takes about a week to ship from the time it is ordered. I contacted Mr. Weinstock to ask about the shipping time and he responded personally to tell me that this is because each Chessmate is hand-made after the order is placed. Once my Chessmate order shipped, it arrived at my home in Ohio in just two days! The Chessmate Ultima Pocket Chess Set is a wonderful tool for the beginning chess enthusiast or perhaps even the most seasoned Grandmaster wanting a quick way to whip out a game board. Check out the official Chessmate website for details.