Friday, July 24, 2009

Michael Jackson Bought an 80,000 Dollar Chess Set

By Stephen Dann

It’s easy to question the value of buying an $80,000 chess set these days, as the late Michael Jackson did a few years ago while shopping in Hollywood.

Jackson taught his son Prince to play chess at age 3 on the gold and marble chess set, according to a comprehensive story that appeared July 10 at, which offers many in-depth news stories on the game.

Today, the purchase of a chess set in a dollar store may be questioned. Difficult decisions are being made every day as Americans cope with perhaps the most trying economic downturn since the 1930s. And such was the backdrop of the formation of the U.S. Chess Federation in 1939. As one historian put it, “a number of chess groups merged, as none had the money to do much on their own.”

The St. Louis Chess Club purchased Bobby Fischer’s entire library recently, also for $80,000. In advance, the New York auction firm estimated the value of the lot at $50,000. This was an investment in both historical preservation and education, according to the club patron who donated the funds to purchase the collection, put together from the 1950s through Fischer’s departure from the United States in 1992.

But this writer sees the economic conditions forcing every family, town, school, library and business to weigh the value of chess as a sport, recreational pursuit or teaching tool. Does one have time to “indulge” in a game when there is so much other work to be done?

Chess won out during the 1930s in a number of large U.S. cities as a form of recreation on playgrounds, in schools and probably in libraries. Boston-born George Sturgis (1891-1944), founder of both the Mass. Chess Association and U.S. Chess Federation, promoted all kinds of programs in his 1939 Masta Chess News, two copies of which this writer has been exhibiting at major chess events for decades. It’s a shame the size and condition of these publications does not permit scanning to create a PDF file for mass viewing.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the USCF ( and the 40th anniversary of MACA’s own Chess Horizons magazine, conceived by a high school student from Worcester.

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