The Dubrovnik Chess Set

There's a legend of the most beautiful chess set ever that is impossible to buy, made in a country that no longer exists.

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The Dubrovnik.


The year was 1949. A Serbian sculptor P. Poček was commissioned by FIDE to design new chessmen for the upcoming IX. Chess Olympiad in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. In the spirit of the times a special ad hoc art committee of the ruling Communist Party was formed to approve the design.

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No religious symbols was the order of the day. Poček came up with a beautiful set with smooth curves, opposite capped bishops (for easier bishop/pawn distinction) and surprisingly elegant knights. Unconventionally wide at base, felted in green, light, sturdy, utilitarian but elegant chessmen with a nod to great Staunton/Jaques of London tradition, the pieces were made out of maple and chestnut in natural color. No extra queens, a laughable idea at this side of the iron curtain. Every set was boxed in a big folding veneered chessboard felted with baize, field size 60 mm. Big mother of a board folding into a box with a simple hook latch. A small metal badge with inscription “IX. šah olimpijada 1950 Dubrovnik Jugoslavija” adorned the inside of the box.

Vasja Pirc Original Dubrovnik 1950 - 05
Vasja Pirc Original Dubrovnik 1950 - 09
Vasja Pirc Original Dubrovnik 1950 - 13

The unweighted (!) pieces were produced at the unnown workshop in Subotica, Serbia. Only about 50 sets were made by hand and were gifted to the Yugoslav team and some other top players after the tournament. The rest were sold off at a price equevalent to one average months pay in 1950’s Yugoslavia. Only a handful remain today.

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The original Dubrovnik design was used again in 1958 Interzonal tournament in Portorož, Yugoslavia with young Bobby Ficher competing and earning his Grandmaster title at age 15. This was his first encounter with the Dubrovnik design, later proclaimed as his favorite. Again, a limited number of sets was produced. We have no information on what happened to them.

In the Sixties the renowned Croatian cartoonist Andrija Maurović designed a reissue of the famous 1950 Dubrovnik set to be mass produced and sold to general public., Some minor details were changed, most notably the carving of the knights and the number of cuts in the queen crowns. Pieces were made in the Jakovljević workshop in Zagreb, Croatia.

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The Dubrovnik II sets were available for sale in chess shops and were usually purchased as prizes in local tournaments. Here’s an example of such a set given away to a tournament winner in Deskle, Slovenia on December 22nd 1968. Note the added ornamentation at the bases of chessmen:

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Dubrovnik 68 - 12

The lower price & quality replicas of the Dubrovnik II were sold wildly in early seventies in Yugoslavia and neighbouring countries. There was a lot variety in carving quality and coloring of the pieces, the cheapest sets were often laquered in black. They were later discontinued as the cheaper and simpler Subozan sets from Subotica flooded the market. By his own admission, world champion Bobby Fischer bought his Dubrovnik II in 1970 in Zagreb. He can be seen analyzing with his 1970 Dubrovnik II in numerous photographs and film clips. Sadly, his set was later stolen.

Bobby Fischer 03 - Dubrovnik


By his request, the original 1950 pieces from a private Belgrade collection were used in 1992 Fischer/Spassky World Championship Rematch at Sveti Stefan, Montenegro that year. Fischer later proclaimed it his favourite chess set ever.

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Today the original sets are impossible to find. An old grandmaster friend of mine showed me six pieces. He does not have a complete set. No, he’s not parting. All I could do was take a picture on his coffee table.

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Another grandmaster from Serbia is selling his set. Or is he? The price is vague and a bit ridiculous.

The spirit of the new design lives on. Today a rough and simplified plastic replica of the Dubrovnik set is being made in Serbia and elsewhere and is because of it’s low price the most popular chesset worldwide ever, by far. There’s a wooden version too, but the knights are very, very, very simplified.

Some setmakers are using the basic idea only but introducing own designs and naming conventions like “Zagreb” or “Yugoslavia”. Note the opposite colored finials on kings and queens in the modern variants -- in the original Dubrovnik only the bishops enjoyed the privilege. However, these sets are not even close to utility and specifications of the original pieces and have dubious historical origin.

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(These designs were never in use in any tournament on Yugoslav soil.)

A small family business in Slovenia is still producing exact replicas of the historic Dubrovnik chess sets, both 1950 and 1968 designs. The original 1950 pieces used in the 1992 Fischer vs. Spassky rematch were used as a reference courtesy of a Belgrade collector Novica Matić. Yes, these were handled by Bobby and Boris personally:

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The knights are the trademark of the Dubrovnik set. At this time there are only two artisans in the world (in Brezovica and Slovenske Konjice, Slovenia) having the necessary carving skills to do the Dubrovnik knights properly. Just take a look at the prestigious House of Staunton’s try at it, I rest my case. It is a dying art.

The Dubrovnik II replicas are based on original blueprints and drawings provided by Šahovska naklada of Croatia.

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Here’s a pic and a video of my personal red stained Dubrovnik II, modified with DGT coils:

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And here’s the 1950 reissue Dubrovnik:

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-Izmet