The Best Gifts for Chess Players
I think that chess players are easy to shop for, but maybe that’s because I’m a chess player myself. Just the fact that someone dedicates a portion of their life (or all of their life) to improve at a game says a lot. It seems to suggest to me that they generally have passions and interests that they pursue. If someone is obsessed and in love with something - it tends to make shopping for them easy. But what if you know absolutely nothing about their interest? Well, fear not, if that interest happens to be chess, I’m here to help.
I’ve been playing chess for many years, and I am an expert at being obsessed with it. I’ve now been the receiver and giver of many chess-related gifts. And I feel well-equipped to start pointing you in the right direction, whether you happen to be shopping for a child or an adult.
I also have a great deal of experience with coaching many young chess players - including my experiences with our own son. This has always given me great new insights on what kids enjoy doing to keep the learning process in chess fresh and interesting. If it’s a big success in chess club after school with 50 middle school kids who could alternatively be at home playing Fortnite, it’s a winner. Make sure to check out our article on the benefits of teaching chess to kids to see why I’m so proud of that.
The gift ideas on this list are sometimes clearly more geared towards kids, and sometimes clearly meant for adults (see #8), but most of these gifts are great for any chess lovers, regardless of age. They tap into our love for chess and give us exactly what we want - more and more ways to enjoy and celebrate the best game ever made. If we play our cards right and surround ourself with enough of these gifts, we can all achieve our master plan of never having to think about anything but chess ever again.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Affiliate links will lead you to view the items’ listings on Amazon.com.
This chess set has proven to be tremendously popular both in my house and in my chess club. Both of my kids love playing with these high quality Mario pieces as if they were simply action figures. In fact, when he was younger, I think our son thought playing chess literally meant having pretend time with the Mario pieces. So you’re really getting a two-in-one here.
I’ve also given this set away as a prize to my students many times now - in various contests and raffles - and it’s always a crowd pleaser. I have a pretty good collection of themed chess sets now, and this one is my personal favorite as well. Not only that, but it’s much more reasonably priced than other themed chess sets, which can sometimes be exorbitant.
If you’re shopping for an adult or looking for something more traditional - make sure to check out this awesome handmade chess set from Etsy I received as an anniversary present, or this beautiful Zagreb chess set I highly recommend as my favorite wooden tournament set.
I’ve seen the value of this variation on chess both as a coach and as a dad. When I first teach someone how to play chess, I often see them overwhelmed by the number of options in front of them. After each player moves just once, there are already 400 different possible positions. After each player moves three times, the number of possible chess positions is already in the hundreds of millions.
With all of those choices and possibilities, how am I supposed to convince a thoughtful young beginning student that they really just need to dive in and make mistakes and get used to how the pieces move? No Stress Chess is an awesome tool for limiting your choices and making the game easier to digest for beginners.
The cards that you draw tell you the pieces you are allowed to move for your turn. It’s very useful for a 5-year-old to be told that they are only allowed to move a bishop or a pawn during a turn. It helps narrow their focus and it provides stepping stones to the game of chess. Beginners are happy to be provided with some direction. And as they improve they begin to realize what move they want to make before drawing a card, and they have to hope they get what they want.
And my favorite thing about this game is that it does a fantastic job of leveling the playing field between two mismatched opponents. Even when I’m playing my 6-year-old, being forced to make moves I don’t want to make can be a great equalizer.
3. The Thinkers
by David Llada
I have a lot of chess books that I learn from, and chances are that the chess lover in your family has begun their own collection of chess books as well. But there’s one chess book in my collection that serves an entirely different purpose than coaching - a celebration of the beauty of chess.
The Thinkers by David Llada is a collection of photography that I find really inspiring. Particularly when you have a deep passion for chess - I can’t possibly imagine flipping through it without feeling pure joy. In fact, because these pages manage to tap into my psyche so well, it brings to mind one of my favorite chess quotes by Siegbert Tarrasch:
“Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.”
Not only is this book a beautiful tribute to chess, but for me it’s a tribute to humanity. Many faces from many different cultures all across the world are on display - and it’s a beautiful thought to consider the uniting power of chess. And the intense focus they display will feel familiar to a chess player and send shivers down their spine.
4. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
My two favorite chess movies, hands down, are on this list. There are several chess movies and documentaries that I enjoy quite a bit - but the two on this list completely run away with the competition.
Searching for Bobby Fischer is held by many people as the best chess movie of all time. First of all, the cast is incredible - headlined by Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne. And the story is very well written and includes moments between father and son that could bring a tear to your eye.
And - most importantly - the chess scenes are impeccably choreographed. Blitz chess has never looked so cool, and the look and feel of being at a scholastic chess tournament is captured to perfection. We watch this movie every single year in our chess club, and I could talk for a very long time about the merits of this film. Suffice it to say that if you’re looking to share a movie with your young chess player, you need to make it this one.
One of the best gifts you could give to a dedicated chess player is a practical tool that can lead to their improvement. In the past I have paid for many different websites - Chess.com, Chessable, and Chess Tempo among them - because I find that many different websites have different strengths that they offer to my studies.
But I’ve personally used Chess.com for the longest time, and I signed up for a premium membership to get unlimited access to puzzles and video lessons. Training your tactics is one of the major pillars of chess improvement and having access to a tactics trainer and database of puzzles is invaluable. And their adding features all of the time. Very recently they’ve added a new feature called Puzzle Rush. You try to solve as many puzzles as possible in 5 minutes without getting 3 strikes. It’s so addicting I would have been tempted to upgrade for unlimited access to it alone if I wasn’t already a member.
As a coach, all of my students have chesskid.com gold memberships, because it provides fantastic tools for coaches to monitor progress. Memberships provide kids with access to unlimited puzzles and video access - and it lets them use the absolutely brilliant leveling-up system created by chesskid.com. Students level up as they watch videos, pass tests, and earn stars by solving puzzles. I cannot recommend this platform enough for how kid-friendly and high quality it is.
And if you’re looking for another teaching app for young kids, make sure to check out our article on the awesome game Magnus’ Kingdom of Chess.
We love puzzles in our house, and we are big fans of logic. Solitaire Chess is one of our favorites, and it even made our list of the best logic games for kids.
This is the type of logic game that people would love even if they don’t play chess. The absolute only thing you need to know is how the pieces move. All you do is set up the pieces on the grid the way that the card tells you to. Then you start capturing pieces. Every single move has to be a capture, and you win if you can get it down to one piece left on the board. It’s kind of like that old game where you try to hop pegs over each other until you only have one left.
This is definitely the type of gift I love. Something I could work on for hours. As a chess fan, the visualization required is actually good training. But the deduction and trial-and-error required is appealing to all puzzle fans out there. And, because all you need are the pieces and the book, it’s very portable and could easily be taken on the road or in an airplane. There’s also an app available, so you can really work on these puzzles anytime you want if you fall in love.
The newest major hit in my chess club is definitely 4-player chess. After mastering the rules of basic chess, 4-player chess is a really innovative and exciting way to challenge yourself and mix things up.
It’s really not as hard as you think either. It’s simply a visualization challenge. Board vision becomes very important, because danger can be coming from all around you. I think kids love having different colored pieces than normal, and they really love trying new things in the chess world.
You can play every-man-for-themselves or you can play 2v2 in 4-player chess. I personally prefer not having teams, but 2v2 is definitely an interesting variation to try. This would really make a great gift if you have lots of chess players in your family, or if you have a kid in a chess club where they can get good use out of it.
8. The Dark Horse (2016)
The Dark Horse is another really incredible chess movie. But this is definitely a gift for an adult chess player. It is rated R, and too bad, because I so desperately want to be able to share it with my students. I just wish I could get my hands on a copy that would edit out all of the drug use and cursing, because it is a beautiful celebration of the power of chess.
It follows a typical formula of a chess coach working with at-risk kids, but the huge difference here is that this coach is dealing with severe mental illness at the same time. Cliff Curtis puts on a masterful display of acting because it’s hard not to fall in love with the kind and gentle main character, Genesis. This story is set in New Zealand and mainly revolves around Genesis passing on his love of chess to local kids, including his own nephew who is very close to joining his father’s gang.
Coaches inspiring a rag-tag group of students to pursue opportunities through chess has been done before, but this is by far the best of the bunch.
If your chess player is starting to get serious, and perhaps even beginning to play in tournaments, you might consider getting them their own standard tournament chess set and a bag to carry it in. This is the exact set that I use. Tournaments use these standard-sized vinyl boards and pieces of a very specific size. I showed up with an old, small wooden chess set to my first tournament and they wouldn’t let me play with it. Silly me.
This set is triple-weighted, which I really like. That means the pieces are heavier and feel more substantial in your hand. And they aren’t likely to be blown over by the wind if you’re playing outside. You get the idea.
Throw in a chess clock like this one to place inside the bag as well and they’ll have everything they need next time they show up to compete.
Square Off is definitely a bigger ticket item. If you have a chess fanatic and tech-fan in your family, this should be a real candidate for a major gift in the future. I was very touched by this gift and I really love mine a lot.
Some reviewers have dubbed this beautiful, innovative chess set “Wizard’s Chess”, because the pieces move all by themselves. The machinery inside the chess set, in combination with magnets inside the wooden pieces, does absolutely everything by itself. After you make your move, the computer makes its move. The beautiful wooden pieces simply move by themselves. It can even make captures and move the captured piece to the side of the board. It is absolutely astounding and so much fun to watch.
Another feature of Square Off is that you can play against real people using the app. I absolutely love this concept. Playing against another human with a real chess set in front of you is the best way to experience chess for me hands down. Playing against humans on the computer is a fine replacement considering it’s not particularly easy to find someone to sit down with you to play anytime you want. But Square Off gives me exactly what I want. It’s the best of both worlds. Now I can play against a real human anytime I want, and also be moving real wooden pieces on a real board. And my opponent’s pieces move all by themselves.
Square Off also recently teamed up with Chess.com to provide even more access to live games. This is a very big deal, because the product is so new and niche that it wasn’t always easy to find a live opponent when you were only searching for other Square Off owners.
Square Off is probably entirely worth it just for the look on your little one’s face when they see it work for the first time. If you play your cards right you can get it all set up without letting them know what it does. Have them make their first move and watch their reaction.
Do you have any chess lovers in your family? What’s their most-prized chess possession? Let us know your gift ideas in the comments!