Monday, December 12, 2011

8 Cool Gifts for a Chess Enthusiast

Better for Chess than Deep Blue

So you know someone who is really into chess? That automatically makes them an awesome human being and therefore deserves nothing less than the best money can buy. So here is a list of ideal holiday items for a tournament chess player.

 iPad - My top recommendation is an iPad. Not only will they love you forever because an iPad is better than having food on the table, but it is actually the most ideal chess machine out there. First of all, you can download fantastic chess software like Shredder, Fritz, Hiarcs, etc. for the iPad. All of these programs have .pgn support, email capability, analysis, puzzles, and so on.

Your player can also have gobs of chess books at their fingertips loaded onto the iPad in ebook or PDF formats. Lugging around 500 books when you go to a tournament is an annoyance. But lugging around an iPad with 500 chess books stored on it is a cinch.

But best of all, your chess enthusiast has a permanent, customizable opponent at his fingertips. The aforementioned programs allow a player to set a time control and an opponent of their preferred playing strength. Then they can play a game to their heart’s content, even when they cannot make it to chess club that week for some reason.

 A (cool) Chess T-Shirt - Ok, you want to support your chess enthusiast with a t-shirt, fine. But please do not buy him a t-shirt that's going to get him stuffed in a locker or made fun of by cheerleaders.  The only place to get a respectable chess shirt is Endgame Clothing.

What's great is, their shirts are not respectable, they are downright awesome. Their designs are impressive and reasonably priced.  So, I repeat. Do not buy purchase a chess t-shirt for a chess player unless it comes from Endgame Clothing.

Zmartfun (Blue) Digital Chess Clock - Every tournament player needs their own chess clock. Trust me, as a guy who has organized and run several chess tournaments, you do not want your chess enthusiast to be “that guy” who bugs the tournament director for a clock when he is trying to re-pair a round or trying to fix accidentally giving someone a bye when they did not request it. The last thing we need is a snot-licking kid asking if he can borrow a chess clock.

The Zmartfun Digital chess clocks have everything that a chess clock requires; elegant, touch-sensitive buttons, digital display, easy customizable times, increment, delays, and separate time controls.

However, the thing that sets it apart from all other chess clocks is by far the most important feature. It glows blue, and that is more awesome than Chewbacca playing an electric guitar.

Fritz 13 - Fritz is the smack-talking chess software for a PC that is worth its weight in salt. It is loaded with features like the ability to analyze games, comment on where a player could improve, analysis training, opening training, chess variants, famous games through history, exhaustive opening book resources, and more.

Another really nice feature about Fritz is the ability to purchase instructional DVD’s that run inside the Fritz program. These DVD’s are available through just about any online chess store and are frequently taught by grandmasters. These grandmasters talk, and the pieces on the board inside Fritz move. It’s magic!

Heavy Chess Pieces - Believe it or not there is a hierarchy of coolness among tournament chess sets. While most tournament sets are far better than the 9 dollar glass set at Wal-Mart or the Civil War set your weird Aunt Pepper bought you, really the best way to go is with a heavy set of Staunton pieces. Any online chess store will have a multitude of sets to look through. What you are looking for is double and triple weighted tournament sets.

These “heavy” pieces add some quality to your army and allows for your player to not accidentally knock over his king five times per game, then there’s that awkward moment where your opponent smirks like you just intentionally resigned. Then you slap him.

But, I digress. Triple-weighted tournament pieces are the jam.

Giant Chess Set - A giant chess set is awesome. You can pick one up at for 25 clams. Why a giant chess set? Well for one thing having an 8-inch tall King is freaking awesome. There’s enough room to draw a little Chuck Norris face on him with a Sharpie and everything. The real reason you want it though is to inspire imagination in young people and conversation in older folks.

“I am a tournament chess player” is usually a good way to start a sentence if you are trying to scare off a chick. However if someone is ever at your home and sees this magnificent giant chess set and they say, “Wow, this is cool! Do you play?” Then you can respond with, “yeah I compete in chess tournaments.” That sounds a lot more awesome than trying to start a conversation about your chess skills, or that weird eyeball trick you do.

Restaurant Gift Cards - This sounds bizarre but every time I go to a chess tournament I find myself rushing to McDonalds (which I loathe by the way) to get a quick, greasy fix between rounds.

It is a thoughtful and practical gift which will come in handy for out-of-town tournaments.

Chess Lessons - Chess lessons would be a fantastic, and unexpected gift. Ideally, you would want to enlist the services of someone rated at least 400 points higher than your chess player, and someone who has experience teaching. A little bit of a secret to chess lessons is this; a good teacher is more important than a great player.

Let me give you an example. Who knows more about math; an aeronautics engineer at NASA or an elementary school math teacher? The engineer of course. Who would you rather teach your 8-year old basic math? The school teacher! The reasons is because the teacher is skilled at teaching, the engineer is skilled at excelling at math.

Likewise, you do not need to shell out hundreds of dollars per hour so that a Super Grandmaster could teach your up-and-coming chess player what an expert player is capable of teaching. There are several excellent teachers out there who are national or International masters who know more about chess than a room full of club players combined, but have the teaching experience necessary to convey important ideas. A few that come to mind are Danny Kopec and Dan Heisman. They all have reasonable rates and scads of experience teaching novice players.

Things to Avoid Getting your Chess Player

Any book written by Bruce Pandolfini - Bruce Pandolfini is a national master who cashed in on his fame from “Searching for Bobby Fischer”. I’ve never met Mr. Pandolfini, and no disrespect intended, but there’s a reason those books are sold at Books-A-Million. They are geared more towards a beginner. If you know someone who competes in chess tournaments, then they are probably beyond the skill level offered in those books. So if you want something more than a courtesy “wow. thanks”, then avoid Mr. Pandolfini.

A Themed Chess Set - These chess sets include glass sets, shot-glasses, Civil War, Harry Potter, Mario and Friends, so on and so forth. I seriously have a collection of frosted/glass chess sets that people have bought me over the years. I don’t have the heart to tell them, “thanks, now I have a backup in case my other 12 break.”

Also, sort of in this category are the little travel sets, they are kind of annoying to be honest. I mean, I want to like them I just do not. The magnetic pieces are too tiny, you knock all the other pieces out of the way when you are playing. But what makes them really impractical for me is the fact that a full-sized tournament board and pieces can condense down to the size of a ziplock freezer bag.

Unless your chess player is a collector of chess sets, avoid these, they are not practical. If they do collect sets however, these themed sets may be ideal. However, the ones I mentioned are pretty common and he/she may own them already.

A Chess DVD - There are a lot of cool chess DVD’s out there. However if someone got me a DVD on the Budapest Gambit, it would be useless to me. I don’t play 1.d4 or 1... d5 in response to 1.d4 (or 1.e4 d5 2.d4?!) and therefore will never see the Budapest Gambit. What I’m telling you is while these DVD’s are high quality, they are kind of a shot in the dark. A better idea would be an gift card, that way they can purchase the chess resource they want, and more importantly, need.

Truth be told, your chess enthusiast is easy to please. Stick with my recommendations and you will not go wrong.

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