Chess collection puts checkmate on all others

Chess collection puts checkmate on all others

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency
Chess collection puts checkmate on all others

CİHAN photo

You don’t have to be Garry Kasparov to enjoy a game of chess – or more precisely, chess sets. At least that’s the case with Turkish businessman Akın Gökyay. Though admittedly not a great chess player, Gökyay has built the world’s largest chess set collection. Now including a Guinness record of 560 sets, Gökyay is seeking greater help for his museum, the Gökyay Foundation Chess Museum in Ankara.

“I learned to play chess when I was 10,” Gökyay said. “My father was very good at it. There is no room for luck in chess; everything is in your mind. It shows you the reasonable way. Every person should play it.”

His 560 sets depict various subjects from cartoon characters to political and historical events and from cultural themes to football teams. 

Gökyay said he bought his first set in 1975 in Milan. “My aim was not to have a collection. I was interested in design because of our business and I liked the design of that set. The store was closed and the weekend was coming. I had to wait for three days to buy the chess set,” he said. 

Particularly interested in traveling, Gökyay said it had become a hobby to buy chess sets in various countries.

“I saw during my travels that each country has different sets. I’ve traveled to 103 countries, but my collection includes sets from 93 countries. I bought the objects featuring the traditions and history of those countries.”

Not every country has a chess set, and even if they do, it is not easy to find one, he said. 

“It is hard to find, costly to buy and difficult to package and carry it. I brought most of my chess sets after wrapping them in toilet paper. We were able to keep 20 sets at home but [housing] the rest was impossible.”

He said some time later he carried the sets to his display store, adding that his collection entered the Guinness Book of World Records when its number reached 412. “It has reached 560 and continues increasing,” he added. 

‘They are like my children’

The businessman said he wanted his collection to survive after he passes away.

“I founded the Gökyay Foundation at first. I donated cash money to the foundation so that the museum building could be purchased and established. What you see here does not belong to me anymore but to the foundation. I buy new sets as I travel abroad; my friends give them to me, too. I have received a lot of demand for traveling exhibitions. We are thinking of organizing a traveling exhibition after separating the similar or same sets. It is very hard to bring the sets outside,” he said. “We need permission [from the Ankara Ethnography Museum]. Also, it is too hard and risky to carry them,” Gökyay said.

Stating that he preferred thematic sets symbolizing a culture or events when buying a chess set, Gökyay said: “I choose the attractive ones. I love my first chess set, but all of them are like my children; I can’t discriminate among them. Each of them has value; there are some sets that I will not be able to find anymore.”  

Gökyay said the prices of the sets in the museums varied between $150 and $10,000. 

“Some of them have very fine details that are like a work of art. The collection has 50-60 designer sets. The latest fashion in chess set design is to symbolize cities. The chess pieces symbolize the notable buildings in cities. It is possible to see historic events and the culture of countries in chess sets. The War of Dardanelles [Battle of Gallipoli] and the Sept. 11 attacks are among them,” he said. 

When asked about a chess set that he wanted to buy but could not, Gökyay said: “There was one that featured the Turkish revolutionaries. Its price was about $4,000 and I found it too expensive. I wasn’t able to buy it because I did not have the money. I followed the set for the next three-four years but I failed to buy it.”

‘This museum should be a source of pride for Turkey’ 

Gökyay said the museum price was 10 Turkish Liras for adults and 5 liras for students. 

“We also have group discounts. The museum needs a certain income to survive. Actually, this income is not enough. This place is my pride, but this museum should be a source of pride for Turkey. I think this museum is the largest of nearly 15 chess museums in the world.”

Gökyay said he still held the Guinness record for most chess sets but would soon apply to renew the title.