Chess sets run the gamut from kid-oriented to fancy to fun — but no matter what style of set you choose, playing chess is more than just a nice hobby. The game can boost your memory and enhance your planning skills, for example, and the benefits for kids include improved skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and math. It’s also an excellent choice if you’re on the hunt for something that’s a bit different from the typical family board games and adult board games. (If your kids aren’t quite ready for chess, we’ve got you covered with these toddler board games.) If your children have zero interest in the game, hey, it’s their loss — you and your partner or friends can have all the fun. But tempt them with a Harry Potter or LEGO-themed set, and you may pique their interest.
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You might be wondering how to tell when a child is ready to learn chess. Chess instructor and elementary school teacher Erin Prosser says that maturity is more important than age. “If a child can sit and focus for at least 20–25 minutes, then they could learn how to play,” she says. Prosser, who has played chess for 25 years, says that in three or four lessons, a kid can become familiar with the board setup and learn the basics of play. “All kids can play chess,” she says. “It’s just a matter of if they really like it and get interested in it.”
Here are a few key things to know while shopping for a chess set: (1) Some chess boards have letters and numbers (chess notation) along the edges — they assign names to the 64 squares. This can be helpful for beginners. (2) “Staunton” can refer to a high-quality brand of chess sets called The House of Staunton as well as the Staunton style of chess pieces, which is the standard. (3) Some chess sets come with an extra queen of each color to use for a promoted pawn; otherwise, you can play with an upside-down rook.
Some of the sets below are specifically designed for kids, while some would be an excellent choice for beginners or collectors any age!
Best Chess Sets
A few of my parent friends recommended No Stress Chess as a great way to teach the game, and it sounds like it deserves its name. It’s very affordable, too, which is nice if you’re not sure whether your kids will actually enjoy playing! This set makes chess easy to learn by using a special game board and a deck of cards; the board shows you how to set up the pieces, while the 56 action cards explain how the pieces move. You can adjust the level of difficulty to your child’s abilities — when they’re ready, you can flip the board over to use the Standard Chess layout. (Let’s hope that will be the only reason the board gets flipped over, and not because your kid has a tantrum when they’re losing…) One parent noted, “Within a few games [my son] was already confident enough to play without the cards. He still has a way to go, but this set has allowed him to enjoy chess rather than be frustrated and quit learning.”
Prosser told me that a lot of kids really enjoy Story Time Chess. It’s even garnered some celeb-parent testimonials. Story Time Chess is an award-winning game that uses a storybook to teach the rules of chess in a fun way that keeps kids entertained. (It also contains standard chess instructions for when your kids are ready.) Each chess piece holds a character card, and each character is represented in the story. The company that created the game says that the story acts like training wheels on a bike so that you can use it to teach chess to kids as young as three! The board has two options: You can use the colorful, illustrated side that goes with the story or take the “training wheels” off and use the side with the standard chessboard. If you’re a parent who has never played chess but wants to teach your kids, this seems like a great option!
Official U.S. Chess Federation boards like this one are a good choice for kids who are just learning to play, says Prosser. “They have the notations — the letters and numbers on it — so when you’re teaching the kids, they’re learning chess notations.” Your little chess fan can grow with this set, too, because it can be used for tournaments; it comes with a bag (with a shoulder strap and two handles) that can hold the chess set, plus a clock, scorebook, and two pencils. That makes it easy to put it away at home or use it for travel, too. The vinyl board is 20” x 20”, and the chess pieces are triple-weighted, so they’ll be less likely to fall over. One reviewer, “Proud Mom,” noted, “My son just started playing in chess tournaments and attending club meetings. Most kids have these and it’s what is used at both. He was excited to get one.”
Instead of the one ring, it’s … the one king? (Sorry.) Whether your kids (and/or you) have read the Lord of the Rings books or seen the movies — or both — it’ll be hard not to be impressed by this chess set. The pieces, which are very detailed and look like mini classical statues, are divided into the forces of good (Galadriel, Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf) and evil (Gollum, the Nazgûl, Saruman, and Sauron). Each piece is 2” to 4” tall, and the board is 18.5” x 18.5”. Note that while the images make it look like the chess pieces could be made out of marble, they are actually plastic. One reviewer (who helpfully included a closeup photo of one of the pieces) wrote, “Far exceeded expectation! What a beautiful board. The pieces are large and substantial. … Definitely a great purchase!”
Best Wooden Chess Sets
This beautiful wooden chess set was handmade in Poland from farm-grown wood and is decorated with intricate details. The equally detailed pieces, which are weighted and have a felt bottom, are made from hornbeam and sycamore, while the board is beech and birch. This set is labeled as “junior” because of its smaller size, with a 16” x 16” board and pieces that start at 1.5” tall. (Each square measures the minimum size set by the U.S. Chess Federation.) When you’re done playing, you can just fold up the board, which has compartments for each chess piece. One parent wrote, “It’s great for playing amongst adults as well as teaching young kids. I got this set specifically because the [pieces] can be stored within the board, very handy to not lose any pieces.”
This chess set has a couple of things going for it as a good choice for travel: The pieces are magnetic, and the board folds in half, with compartments for each piece. Once it’s folded, it measures 15” x 7.5” x 2”. This is also a nice option if you want a wooden set but are looking for something with a simpler design than the wooden one above. As with that set, this one’s pieces are hand-carved, and the bottom of each piece is covered so that it won’t scratch the board. This chess set has received more than 4,000 (!) reviews, and one of the many positive ones, written by a mom whose daughter started a chess club (good for her!), notes, “This set is about perfect. The pieces are a good quality carved wood, with strong magnets and a nice felt layer on the bottom. … The pieces fit nice and snug(ly) inside the foldable board in their custom-shaped foam-core ‘slots.’”
Melissa & Doug makes so many toys and games that it’s not surprising they have a chess set, too! This wooden chess set is actually two games in one — on the opposite side of the board, you can play pachisi. (You’ve probably heard of parcheesi, which is a bit different in that it’s a Westernized version of pachisi, a game created in India.) The set is recommended for kids ages 6–12, and there are two color options: blue-and-white and multicolor. Speaking of the colors, the company thinks kids and parents will really love how the board looks, because the set includes hanging hardware in case you’re itching to hang a board game on your wall. (I mean, it would keep it off the floor…) One mom wrote, “I’m so tired of cardboard like board games (like Monopoly) that always end up splitting apart. [These] game pieces are so nice and not cheap plastic and come with a fabric bag to save them. My kids fell in love immediately.”
Best Harry Potter Chess Sets
I feel like chess would be the most popular among Ravenclaws (right?), but no matter which Hogwarts house your kid would be sorted into, this beautiful chess set is sure to be a big hit. Made by the same company that created the Lord of the Rings version above, this set also has very detailed pieces. Each is 2” to 4” tall, and the board is 18.5” x 18.5”. At first glance, I assumed that the pieces would represent the book characters (as with the LOTR set), but this game is actually based on the magical Wizard Chess from the books/movies. One mom wrote a review to say, “I bought this set for my eight-year-old son. He loves playing chess, and recently discovered all things Harry Potter. He loves this set so much! It’s well made and will provide hours of screen free entertainment.”
Harry Potter and LEGO, together? Let’s just say you better not let your kid see this online unless you’re ready to buy it. This chess set represents the enchanted Wizard Chess game from the books/movies, and specifically the scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In addition to the black and white pieces, the set includes Harry, Hermione, and Ron minifigures. They appear to be wearing … ugly Christmas sweaters, perhaps knitted by Mrs. Weasley. (I think? Hmm, my apologies to LEGO if they are simply meant to be normal Christmas sweaters…) In honor of the 20th anniversary of the LEGO/Harry Potter partnership, the set also includes “an exclusive, golden Professor Severus Snape minifigure” and three wizard card tiles.
Best Marble Chess Sets
If you’re looking to buy a chess set that’s a bit of a splurge and will last a long time, marble chess sets are a great option. (Of course, a marble chess set looks nice just lying around your house, too.) This marble onyx set has a 15” x 15” board with a felt bottom to prevent scratches, and the company also includes a packet of felt circles to add to the bottom of the pieces. Both the board and the Staunton-style pieces are hand polished. This could be a wise choice for a chess set if your kids (or you) really enjoy chess and plan to keep playing for years. To protect your investment, you can buy the brand’s storage box, also available at Amazon. One happy customer wrote in a review, “Ok so The Queen’s Gambit inspired me to buy a chess set, to re-learn the game and add a beautiful accent piece to my living room. Well, I accomplished both goals. This set is solid, great quality, and shipped without any harm to the board or pieces.”
This marble chess set is a bit more affordable than the marble set above, but it still looks great and has very positive reviews. In fact, it’s so pretty that it could serve as a nice piece of decor in your home all by itself (well, unless any of your kids are in the “put everything in their mouths” stage — no one wants to play with drool-covered chess pieces). Both the board, which is about 10” x 10”, and the pieces are handcrafted in Mexico from ivory-colored onyx and brown marble. Since they’re made from natural materials, each square and piece has its own interesting pattern. Reviewers call the chess set “gorgeous” and “beautiful” and note that it is very well-made.
Best LEGO Chess Sets
A mom friend of mine recommended LEGO chess sets and told me that the one she bought her son was the perfect gift — he had fun building the board and pieces before he even started playing chess with it. Bonus: If your kid loses a chess piece, they probably have a billion more LEGO pieces to build a replacement! This set is made for kids nine and older (but would probably work for many younger kids) and contains 1,450 pieces. (Fingers crossed that none of them end up under your bare feet.) The board, which can be also used for checkers, provides storage for the playing pieces. You can read lots of positive reviews at LEGO.com, including one that notes, “I was worried that the chess pieces would be too fragile to play with but they did a great job designing them. They feel great to move around and I’m not worried about them falling apart.”
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