Since I collect and make chess sets myself, I am looking for the most extreme versions ever created. The most expensive set ever is the Jewel Royale chess set, manufactured in the United Kingdom on behalf of the Royale Jewel Company. Each king consists of 73 rubies and 146 diamonds. Estimated value: 9.8 million dollars.
Chessmen don’t only vary in terms of price, but in format as well. In addition to the traditional 8×8 board, there are also versions that require a larger board. Such variants already occurred in the Middle Ages, like Grant Acedrex, which was played on a board of 12×12 squares, with additional pieces such as a giraffe, lion and rhinoceros. For more info see the Libro de los juegos, a game book commissioned in 1283 by Alfonso X, king of Castile.
Larger versions of regular chess aren’t exclusively reserved for Western chess, however. Japanese chess, Shogi, is normally played on a board of 9×9 squares, although there are also variations on a smaller board. The board of the largest version, Taikyoku Shogi, has no fewer than 36×36 squares and each player starts with 402 pieces. For a long time it was thought that this game was only a myth, but in fact evidence has been found that this enormous chess variant had been around for centuries, even though it would not have been played much. Games can last several days.
The largest variant of Chinese chess, the game of the seven kingdoms (七國象棋 or qīguó xiàngqí in pinyin) is played at the intersections of a board of 18×18 squares and is therefore considerably smaller. It is inspired by an episode in Chinese history when China hadn’t been united yet and both large and small states competed for hegemony. As the name is already suggesting, seven players are required to play the game of the seven kingdoms. I have made a version of this game myself, an own version of Taikyoku Shogi is still in progress.
In absolute terms, the largest chess set ever to have existed is probably one of the first versions of the game. Huge marble tiles represented the fields and slaves acted as pieces, who actually died when they were captured on the board, just like the living chess set in The Philosopher’s Stone. However, one of the largest games in modern times was played in Spain in 2016 on a large field with 32 tractors. Perhaps a nice idea for the Dutch farmers as well. They’ll have nothing but time on their hands soon enough anyway.
FM Zyon Kollen studies Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Leiden. He won the Amsterdam Science Park Tournament in 2018 and he hunts for a norm at the Chess Festival. The 24-year old Kollen speaks six languages fluently, e.g. Finnish, Swedish and Portuguese. He is also a chess trainer, chess set collector and builder, and he writes reviews on chess books. His columns will be published every day on the website around 12 o’clock.