Watch Artisans Make Hand-Carved Championship Chess Sets: Each Knight Takes Two Hours

Whether because of the pop­u­lar­i­ty of Net­flix’s The Queen’s Gam­bit or because of how much time indoors the past year and a half has entailed, chess has boomed late­ly. Luck­i­ly for those would-be chess­mas­ters who’ve had their inter­est piqued, every­thing they need to learn the game is avail­able free online. But the deep­er one gets into any giv­en pur­suit, the greater one’s desire for con­crete rep­re­sen­ta­tions of that inter­est. In the case of chess play­ers, how many, at any lev­el, have tran­scend­ed the desire for a nice board and pieces? And how many have nev­er dreamed of own­ing one of the finest chess sets mon­ey can buy?

Such a set appears in the Busi­ness Insid­er video above. “You can pick up a plas­tic set for $20 dol­lars, but a wood­en set cer­ti­fied for the World Chess Cham­pi­onship costs $500,” says its nar­ra­tor. “Much of the val­ue of a high-qual­i­ty of the set comes down to how well just one piece is made: the knight.”

Prop­er­ly carved by a mas­ter arti­san, each knight — with its horse’s head, the only real­is­tic piece in chess — takes about two hours. Very few are qual­i­fied for the job, and one knight carv­er appears in an inter­view to explain that it took him five or six years to learn it, as against the four or five months required to mas­ter carv­ing the oth­er pieces.

The work­shop intro­duced in this video is locat­ed in Amrit­sar (also home to the Gold­en Tem­ple and its enor­mous free kitchen, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here in Open Cul­ture). To those just start­ing to learn about chess, India may seem an unlike­ly place, but in fact no coun­try has a longer his­to­ry with the game. “Chess has been played for over 1,000 years, with some form of the game first appear­ing in India around the sixth cen­tu­ry,” says the video’s nar­ra­tor. “Over the past two cen­turies, high-lev­el com­pe­ti­tions have drawn inter­na­tion­al inter­est.” For most of that peri­od, fluc­tu­a­tions in pub­lic enthu­si­asm for chess have result­ed in pro­por­tion­ate fluc­tu­a­tions in the demand for chess sets, much of which is sat­is­fied by large-scale indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion. But the most expe­ri­enced play­ers pre­sum­ably feel sat­is­fac­tion only when han­dling a knight carved to arti­sanal per­fec­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn How to Play Chess Online: Free Chess Lessons for Begin­ners, Inter­me­di­ate Play­ers & Beyond

A Brief His­to­ry of Chess: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the 1,500-Year-Old Game

Man Ray Designs a Supreme­ly Ele­gant, Geo­met­ric Chess Set in 1920–and It Now Gets Re-Issued

Mar­cel Duchamp, Chess Enthu­si­ast, Cre­at­ed an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Avail­able via 3D Print­er

The Bauhaus Chess Set Where the Form of the Pieces Art­ful­ly Show Their Func­tion (1922)

A Beau­ti­ful Short Doc­u­men­tary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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