The battle for world's tallest chess piece

by Macauley Peterson
4/25/2018 – The World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum, which opened across the street from the Saint Louis Chess Club in September, 2011, has long boasted of having the "world's largest chess piece" outside its front door. King ‘Kong’, as it was known, was massive and many doubted the record — officially sanctioned by Guinness World Records — would ever be broken. But in 2014, St. Louis were bested by a small town in Belgium! Now they've taken the record back. | Photo: Austin Fuller

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King Kong 2

The chess scene in St. Louis is booming. What started in 2008 with the opening of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center has now expanded to a sprawling "chess campus" which includes a restaurant, multiple residential houses, and of course the World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum. As everyone who's ever visited will tell you, they don't do half measures.

The most visible sign that you have reached the chess campus when cruising down Maryland Avenue in the Central West End has been the ginormous king stationed out front. The wood structure measured 4.45 metres high (14 feet 7 inches) and weighed in at 1034 kilograms (2,280 pounds).

King Kong chess piece

"King Kong" debuted outside the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2012 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Despite its immense heft, the 'Kong' wouldn't remain king of chess pieces for long. A mere two years later, a new Guinness World Record was claimed in a small village just north of Antwerp, in Flanders.

Kalmthout, a town of 18,000 people, and one giant king | Google Maps

A team of students and teachers at Gitok, a school in Kalmthout, unveiled something even bigger. At over 5 metres tall and over 2 metres at its base, the mammoth monarch was a head taller than 'Kong'.

Kalmthout king

Humbled knight bows to Kalmthout King | Photo: Richard Bradbury / Guinness World Records

"Every year we organize an action for charity," teacher Maurits Meire told, in April 2014. Gitok teachers and students chose eight records deemed feasible to break, and "world's tallest chess piece" was one of them.

Obviously, this could not stand. After all, the folks in St. Louis spare no expense to be the best. We're talking about a team that hired lobbyists and a PR firm in an effort to get the city officially recognized as the "National Chess Capital". (It's often cited as such already, after a "simple resolution" in the US Senate was agreed to by unanimous consent in 2014, but technically the Congressional Chess Caucus — yes there is one — needs to get a similar resolution through the US House of Representatives as well.) Clearly, being bested by Belgians is nigh intolerable.

And so on April 12th, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Championship being held in St. Louis, the World Chess Hall of Fame took the wraps off a new world record piece. It stands over 6 meters tall with a base of 2.8 meters, and weighs nearly 5,000 kilograms! Checkmate Belgium!

The king is made of "African Sapele Mahogany and finished with a tung oil sealant", according to a press release. Hand-carved and sculpted by R.G. Ross Construction in Saint Louis — one of the Chess Clubs principal contractors, who also built the original King Kong — the new black king is an exact scale replica of the Staunton piece designed for the inaugural Sinquefield Cup in 2013.

With any luck, this king will stand the test of time. Now it just needs a nickname.


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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