Working the Soviet Design Toolbox: Porat Jacobson’s “Smyslova” Set

Porat Jaconbson’s Smyslova Chess Pieces. Porat Jacobson photo.

Berlin Artist Porat Jacobson has designed and produced an original Soviet chess set design melding design concepts spanning six centuries. The pieces are inspired by at least four sets. The knight derives from one found from a Novgorod set of early 15th Century Rus.

Early 15th Century Novgorod Knight. Photo from Isaac Linder, The Art of Chess Pieces (1994).
Porat Jacobson’s Smyslova Knights. Porat Jacobson photo.

The King and Queen are inspired by those of the Smyslov set of the 1920s and 1930s, as are the pawns. Perhaps the most striking feature of the Smyslov design is the dendriform structure of the stems, an Modernist architectural feature found in Frank Lloyd Wright’s dendriformic columns in the S.C. Johnson office building in Racine, Wisconsin USA and in Moscow’s Stalin Award-winning Kropotkinskaya Metro Station.

Smyslova Royals. Porat Jacobson photo.
Original 1930s Smyslov Chessmen. Chuck Grau Collection, photo.

Porat’s pawns echo the Smyslov pawns while exaggerating the ovoid shape of their heads.

Smyslova Pawns. Porat Jacobson

The Smyslova Rook is inspired by those of the Soviet Upright (fka Averbakh II) set of the 1930s and 1940s.

Smyslova Rooks. Porat Jacobson photo.
1930s-40s Soviet Upright Pieces. Chuck Grau Collection, photo.

The bishop is inspired by another undetermined set, but incorporates the Smyslov’s dendriformic stem. Porat melds the ideas borrowed from these disparate Soviet sets with rhyming bases and dendriformic stems (“set identifiers” in Mike Darlow’s parlance).

The Smyslova set manifests Porat’s theory that Soviets had a “toolbox” of ideas from which they drew in different combinations and variations. It also illustrates his corollary that knights in Soviet sets are largely fungible. Different styles of knights can pair equally well with the same set; the same style knight can pair equally well with multiple sets.

Porat Jacobson’s Smyslova Chess Pieces. Porat Jacobson photo.

The Smyslova is the inaugural set of Porat’s new venture, Jacobson Handmade Chess Sets. We can’t wait to see what else he has in store.

Author: Chuck Grau

I'm a chess collector, chess player, and retired attorney. I've been collecting Soviet and Russian chess sets since 2014. I'm interested in their history, design, and the people who made and played with them.

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