A chessy post not without obiter dicta – UPDATED (more pics)

UPDATE 9 Dec 21:

One of you wrote:

“But Father! But Father!  You showed interior of the finished board and some pieces, but you didn’t show a photo of it set up!  Inquiring minds…”

Okay,  that’s fair.  Scroll to the bottom of the post for more pics.

Originally Published on: Dec 8, 2021

I’m working on my bucket list. One of this list’s items is a return to playing chess halfway decently.

As I compose, the e4-e5 Round 10 of the World Championship is winding to a draw.  Magnus, who lives up to his name, is up 6.5.-3.5 over Nepo, who got rid of his dopey “man bun” wayyyyy too late.   In the press conference yesterday, a reporter asked Nepomniachtchi, if, like a dishonored samurai, he had cut off his top-knot in shame for his pawn blunder in Round 8.   Given the even more spectacular b7 bishop blunder… a phrase which somehow goes together easily these days – he might have to shave his head.

If only more bishops could be dealt with this way, after the USCCBs astounding 27… c6.

I have a history with chess. I learned very young, and played a lot, without a man or boy bun, and won a lot.

Here is an relic of childhood, recently recovered after years of storage.

Not for tournaments, of course.

In short, my maternal grandparents made this, my grandmother all the ceramics (the white are pearlescent with infinite cracks), my grandfather the cabinetry (it has a drawer beneath with individual slots).

And here’s another interesting item, a 1950’s era Soviet tournament board and monstrous bakelite clock.  It works.

I use board in tournament back in old day of Cold War?  I not say.

The shelf, by the way, was a gift from a reader via my wishlist!  Thank you, BA.

The same clock appears in an episode of Queen’s Gambit.

Now to the point of this post…

Along with other chessy things that emerged from storage was an old clam-shell wooden board, pretty dinged up.   I figured I could spruce it up a little.

The hinges are pulled.

Let the sanding begin.

Sanding having been completed, I applied tiny vinyl numbers and letters.

But wait!  There was a problem.  The humidity, being high, started to curl up some of the squares.

Happily, in my kitchen I have various syringes for treating meats and one of them was great with wood glue.

After which, I clamped and set lots of weight.  This took a couple weeks to solve in stages.

Then the shellacking began.  There were some nicks and holes and dings but I only filled in the bigger ones, without much attempt at matching color.

Coats.   And then polyurethane (the kind that can go on shellac).

Then another stage.  I figured I would line the thing with green felt, because that rough wood was sorta kinda awful and felt would dampen the sound of something moving inside.

Sooo, I gave it to my mother who did the honors with the felt.

I put new latches on the outside and new hinges.  I had to widen the slots.  And should have put the hinges in before the felt stage.

Meanwhile, I got a couple of lightweight nesting wooden trays for pieces.  Alas, these are only single-weighted and without extra reginae.   I could load them, I guess.   Back in the day, if we promoted a  we would use an upside-down turris (if there was one available, which there usually is at pedes promotion stage).

So, on this last day of the Year of Joseph, a little woodworking project is complete.

It was banged up and never fancy.  Now it is somewhat enhanced and it has a personal, and maternal, touch.

It does occur to my that as I now have chessy “heirlooms” with grandpaternal and maternal touches, and now maternal, they really aren’t heirlooms at all, are they, since I have no one to leave them to.    C’est la vie.   For now, they are pleasant visual features.

Did you know that Latin for castling is adrochatio?

UPDATE 9 Dec 21:

Continuing the update from the top, I decided to set up the newly spruced old board with my lovely Lewis chessmen, sent by one of you long-time readers from my wishlist.   They are spiffing.   Thank you, MH!

In play and practice I prefer Staunton, but these are so nice I thought it a shame for to leave them languishing in a box.  One of the reasons why is that these 12th c. chessmen have “warders” rather than “rooks”, crazy looking berserker guys with swords who, in their frenzy, are biting the tops of their shields.

I’ll keep them out for a while and enjoy their company.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Chess, What Fr. Z is up to and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Pingback: A chessy post not without obiter dicta – Via Nova Media

  2. acardnal says:

    Nice job, Father! A clerical MacGyver!

  3. Kerry says:

    This woodworker applauds your skill. (Chairs here: http://sacrecoeurwoodshop.com/) And especially your use of shellac. “No matter the question, the answer is usually shellac.”

    If the veneers should curl up again, you might try a bit of super glue. It mixes well with or into sawdust to fill small gaps. Bravo zulu.

    [Beautiful chairs!]

  4. PostCatholic says:

    What a lovely project. But what caught my eye was your straight edge ruler, a remarkable tool. Why? Because I know exactly where I’ve seen that legend, “Virtutem Forma Decorat,” before. HERE.

  5. teomatteo says:

    Some fine woodworking can only bring a smile to the patron of the universal church who holds a square. Nice to see this. Thanks Fr Z.

  6. JonPatrick says:

    Nice work! Over the weekend we had a visit by my chess playing son and his wife wherein he and I played a couple of games, the first one I was creamed due to carelessness becoming down a couple of pieces, the second one proceeded to endgame and I actually won after taking his rook. We also watched “Searching for Bobby Fischer” which is an excellent movie that I found out about from this site. Both my son and my wife are avid players, me usually not so much, but I am trying to learn.

  7. PostCatholic says: “Virtutem Forma Decorat”

    Yes, indeed. I was able to go to an exhibit some 20 years ago at the National Gallery which featured the Benci panel. As you know, exhibits always have purchasable swag and that diminutive ruler was purchased… by me. It languished in storage for a long measure of time, but it is back in service.

  8. adriennep says:

    I was the donor of that heavy workbench recently {and not the fancy chess set on your list, since you said this was a high priority). Nice to see it put to very good use. Along with chess, carpentry skills have gone the way of abandoned fathers.

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fine work on an excellent workbench – wow!

    I expect the little folk I play chess with at coffee after Mass would be delighted to try those Lewis chessmen – I’m sure I would! (though I’d be interested to feel the weight and form of the striking ceramic chessmen, too).

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    acardnal said it and said it well: “a clerical MacGyver”

    Kerry: Fine work. Several friends got into woodworking from Eric Sloane’s books.

    Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who years ago defeated Deep Blue several times and also resisted Vladimir Putin, sets pen to paper regularly in the op-ed industry. Yesterday, Kasparov wrote a column at the Dispatch criticizing Tucker Carlson’s largely pro-Putin monologue earlier in the week.

    Kasparov and the Dispatch (Jonah Goldberg et al) often are insightful- but they do suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome. In his Dispatch column Kasparov rightly criticizes Carlson, but then Kasparov cannot restrain himself from indulging in his and the Dispatch’s favorite obsession, bemoaning:

    “Why would a flag-wrapped nationalist like Tucker Carlson take Putin’s side? Because Putin took Trump’s?”

    Putin is for Putin, Holy Mother Russia and chaos in the West, he is not for Trump. This should not be difficult for Kasparov to grasp.

    “Or perhaps it’s that Trumpists, much like Putin, don’t see democracy as anything but trouble despite their claims of being freedom-loving patriots.”

    Vile, absolutely vile by Kasparov and the Dispatch- particularly given the deaths and thousands of destroyed buildings here in the U.S. over the past two years, not to mention many problems stretching back decades, such as terrorist attacks and bombings by Leftists on the U.S. Capitol. It was not “Trumpists” that manipulated election results last November, destroyed evidence and threatened freedom-loving American citizens with reeducation camps and death for demanding recounts and audits.

    While we’re at it, Kasparov is also egregiously wrong in his January 12 CNN op-ed regarding the January 6 events. Kasparov’s main error is his refusal to examine the details (many of which were already available by January 12). Instead, Kasparov ranted like an authoritarian ideologue, scapegoating concerned and alarmed American citizens across the country as “Trumpists.”

    Now, a helpful circumstance presents itself, provided by none other than Garry Kasparov. On November 29 he stated during a Q&A with the TDS-suffering Jennifer Rubin at the TDS Washington Post:

    “Dictators know that divided societies are easier to subdue, so their goal is to sow dissension. Unfortunately, they often succeed.”

    A good point, this is helpful. Kasparov and the Dispatch must now reflect on that, heal themselves of their TDS, and acquire greater situational awareness of who is doing the violent and authoritarian dividing-and-conquering in this country. Again, abundant evidence is available for those with eyes to see.

    Interestingly, here is Kasparov’s very next sentence:

    “The key is for us to recognize three things: First, that we are going to have to work with people we may not like; second, that we’ll have to prioritize the broader struggle for democracy [more accurately: preserving our constitutional Republic and its heritage “in Order to form a more perfect Union”] over our personal policy preferences; and third, ego is the enemy of unity.”

    Voila. Bon appetit.

  11. L. says:

    I just saw the following “dad joke” and had to post it:

    “I met some chess enthusiasts in a hotel lobby recently.
    They just kept bragging about how good they are at the game.

    There’s nothing worse than chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.”

    [b’DM bm]

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