If you’re just playing for the fun of it, there are really no hard and fast rules regarding the size of your chess pieces. If you’re filthy rich, you can even commission a sculptor to create life-sized pieces for a chess board design on your huge lawn.
You can also have a chess board small enough to fit inside a pocket. You can have Star Wars Pieces of various sizes battling it out with Walt Disney characters.
Practical Considerations: What Size Chess Board Do I Need?
Of course, if you’re a serious chess enthusiast you’ll want a proper size. The board and the pieces can’t be large, since it may be difficult to move the chess pieces, and the board may not fit onto a table.
It can’t be too small, either, because you may find it difficult to see the differences among the various chess pieces. Moving small pieces can also lead to lots of annoying accidents when your fingers brush and topple other pieces on the board.
So what’s the right size? Your best bet is to follow the official US Chess Federation (USCF) guidelines (if you’re in the US), which offer recommendations regarding the optimal sizes for pieces and boards.
At least when you become good enough to play in tournaments and club meetings, you’re familiar with the official board sizes used.
In most tournaments, you’re not really allowed to play with chess sets in which Homer Simpson or a Civil War soldier is one of the pieces. Instead, you’re required to use the Staunton style for your pieces. This is the classic design familiar to all players.
The rules are quite simple:
- With Staunton pieces, the king must measure 3⅜ to 4¼ inches.
- The diameter of the base of a piece should be about 40 to 50 percent of the height of the piece. So if the king measures 4.25 inches tall, then the base should be about 1.7 to 2.1 inches in diameter.
- The size of the board must also match the size of the pieces. The USCF specifies that the base area of the piece should cover about 78 percent of the area of the chess board square. This may seem like an overly complicated guideline, but basically this means that for approved chess pieces, the board squares should measure about 2 to 2.5 inches per side.
- One quick and easy way to tell if your chess board is the right size is to get four pawns and fit them over a square. If they’re a nice fit, then the board and chess pieces go together well.
- Another simple guideline is that with a chess board square that measures 2 inches, the king’s base should measure around 1.5 inches. For 2.25-inch squares, the king’s base should measure about 1.75 inches. Basically, measure the diameter of the king’s base and then add half an inch to that to get the measurement for each side of a square.
- These guidelines work well enough that you can pick the appropriate chess board and pieces combinations that look great and offer a smooth game.
Why Do the Size of Chess Boards and Pieces Have to Match?
You can get the answer to this question clearly when you disregard the guidelines and use pieces that are too large or too small for your chess board.
- Set up a game with large pieces and a board that’s too small for the pieces. When you look at the board, you’ll notice that the pieces may almost touch one another. This can make it more difficult for you to tell the pieces apart, and that can break your concentration.
Now try to pick up a piece and move it to another spot on the board. When you pick up the piece, your fingers may brush against the other nearby pieces, and so you keep toppling those pieces every time.
The problem is repeated when you place the piece on the intended square, as it may be surrounded by other pieces as well.
- What about having a board that’s a bit too large for the pieces? Shouldn’t the extra room make it easier? Actually, that’s not true at all. When a board is too large, the pieces may appear to be “lost” in the vast open spaces. Then they again become hard to tell apart. The various moves you need to envision become more difficult to calculate because the proportions are so wrong. This becomes especially complicated when you’re in the endgame phase and have very few pieces left on your overly large board.
For casual play, there are, of course, no hard and fast rules as to the proper size of the board and the pieces, but you should be able to look at the board to see the flow of the game properly, and you should be able to move the pieces without having to stand back up the pieces you’ve toppled.
With the proper sizes for both the board and the game, chess becomes much more enjoyable for players and kibitzers alike.