What does horse sport have in common with the heady world of international competitive chess?
It’s certainly not the complexities of strategy, nor the need for safety gear.
It comes down to the cost of the horses — or, in the case of chess, the four horse-themed pieces known as knights.
The popularity of chess is surging because of the success of the Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, based on the 1983 novel of the same name written by Walter Tevis.
The story charts the rise of chess prodigy Beth Harmon while she struggles with drug and alcoholism issues, and other personal challenges.
For most of those who eschew the cheap injection-moulded plastic sets, the only way to go is wood.
But quality wooden sets are not cheap, and most of the cost is down to the time, effort and skill required to hand-carve the four knights in each set.
Indeed, even the cheaper wooden sets suitable for tournament play, are still likely set back buyers more than $US120. They will generally have comparatively simple knights.
The knights, with a horse’s head as their key feature, do not share the symmetry of the other pieces. It is this symmetry that allows them to be turned on a lathe, with only the finer details requiring further attention.
Knights are, not surprisingly, considered the piece with the most scope for creativity when it comes to carving.
In the most expensive sets, the detailing can be spectacular, with a flowing mane, teeth, and even a sense of emotion in the horse’s expression.
Each carved knight must, of course, be replicated four times for each set.
The Staunton chess-set design of 1849, created by Nathanial Cook, is the basis for most modern-day chess sets, and the look of these pieces will be familiar to even those with only a passing familiarity with the game.
The Official World Chess Set, which will be used in World Chess Championship matches, costs $US310 for the pieces and $US220 for the board.
The chief executive of the company World Chess, Ilya Merenzon, told the New York Times recently that 10 people specialize in carving the knights for the sets. He said it takes about a fortnight to produce 100 sets, with a set of four knights requiring about six hours in all.
The pieces, designed by Daniel Weil, are inspired by the Staunton design.
Weil’s knight features a base resembling a hoof.