Chess as a piece-keeping mission
June 22nd, 2011
01:27 PM ET

Ex-soldier's chess sets: Twin Tower rooks, putting Taliban in checkmate

Chess was originally brought to Europe via Spain from the Arab world. Now, a Canadian veteran is sending Chess sets back to the Middle East – with kings modeled after President Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden.

Jeff Train, who had been in the Canadian military until 1989, was working as a military contractor in Afghanistan when he noticed soldiers buying chess sets from local vendors. Train said he was concerned those vendors, in transporting their wares from Pakistan, were actually aiding the enemy.

“They have to drive through Taliban country and they have to pay the toll,” Train said. “So basically the soldiers were funding the insurgency.”

Train, 48, who lives in the Philippines, said he wanted to develop an alternative product for soldiers, one that would document the history they have lived. In 2009, he began making and selling sets of Canadian and American soldiers that played opposite Taliban chessmen under the company name Hobby Leisure Manufacturing. Then he began getting requests from soldiers from other countries and now manufactures British, Finnish, Norwegian, German and Australian soldiers as well. He also makes a set of Iraqi soldiers that fight Americans.

As Americans anticipate Obama’s impending announcement of troop withdrawals, Train is thinking ahead to how the soldiers will remember and represent their experiences in the Middle East. He said he wants them to be able to use the game to demonstrate actual events of the past decade.

“When a soldier gets older, he can sit down with his kids and his wife, who really don’t understand what’s going on, use the board and say, ‘The world went to war against this guy and these people,’ ” Train said.

And Train is serious about telling the story accurately. The board includes a map of either the Afghan or Iraqi stage.

The details on each resin-sculpted, hand-painted piece are specific, down to the colors used on the handles of weapons to denote whether they are made of wood or plastic depending on the nationality. The cuts of the helmets and the camouflage patterns on the uniforms are copied exactly. The hats on each Taliban piece are specifically selected and the Iraqi pieces are dressed in a combination of street clothes uniforms that had originally been issued to members of the Iraqi police force by the U.S., representing defectors. The Taliban queen, standing beside the king, Osama bin Laden, wears a sky blue burqa.

However precise the representation, Train said some people have found the equating of such a grave concept to a game to be inflammatory, most often because of the use of the World Trade Center as a rook on the American set. But sometimes the loss of a castle can eventually lead to a player taking out the enemy's king.

"Learn to play chess and your Twin Towers will play Osama bin Laden," Train said. "This isn’t politically correct history,  it’s history."

Train said commemorative chess sets depict other wars, including those like the Civil War that are remembered for their particular brutality.

Train has been selling hundreds of sets out of three stores on Afghan airfields, but also through a Canadian distributor who sells them online. They are manufactured and painted in the Philippines, where Train and his wife live.

A March 2011 letter from the CEO of the German military PX exchange that carries the sets in Afghanistan said they have been one of the store's bestselling souvenir items, popular among soldiers of varying ranks. They cost about $290 each (with shipping.) Train said he thinks the popularity is due to a tendency among soldiers to collect articles from their pasts.

" All soldiers have their rooms," he said. "The war museum. When a guy leaves the army, most 15 years from now, guys are sitting in their basement looking at their junk. "

Train said he wanted the soldiers who will be coming home from Afghanistan in the coming years to be able to use the chess sets with the people they fought alongside. The idea is that the chess game will lead to discussion among stories, allowing them to remember their experiences and open up about the more painful ones.

"This is for the guys who have actually been there and done that,  he said. "Half these games will never be played [to completion] because it’ll bring back the memories. It’s to invoke memories and help some of the healing."

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Canada • Germany • Iraq • Osama bin Laden • Taliban • U.S. • United Kingdom
soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Obama is king of the black pieces? That's racist!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darthlawsuit

      Why you don't think a black man can be king of the black pieces just because he is black? Are you implying that because he is black he cannot lead his forces or be the king of blacks? If it was up to you George Bush would be king of the black pieces and all of his troops would be nothing more than disposable pawns.


      June 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      lol @ both of you. One guy clearly making a joke about political correctness and the black card and the other making a claim based on that joke that the guy is a racist LOL AWESOMENESS

      June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dhulfiqar

    Obviously the creator has never seen pictures of a Muslim Queen

    June 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • bb

      He is not trying to make pictures of Muslim queens who are educated and tolerable. Get it? Taliban = illiterate and women haters?

      June 22, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bb

    OMG this made my day! Absolutely funny and well thought of. HAHAHA!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    They should change the colors.
    Violet and green would do: you can't get humans like that.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KP

    yoru first sentence is wrong. Chess originated in India, and not in the Arab world.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      That is still up for debate. Some historians argue that chess has its roots in China and developed from the game called "go" - not trying to start any flame wars - just a thought is all

      June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • chessmaster

      That's right. Chess is a short form for the Sanskrit name Caturanga. To the bozo who thinks it originated from Go, put down the afghan hash pipe dude. Chess is from India, and there is no "debate" on that.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      And it is SUPPOSED to be a civil game as I hoped this discussion to be as well. Name calling and put downs weakens your argument as it smacks of an emotional appeal rather than logic. Do some research on the subject. Chess master, you win, I cannot come close to your greatness. I resign ... Congrats on your win oh great one! You sure showed me! Proud of yourself.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • chessmaster

      Done plenty of research, been playing chess since I was 6, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest any relation between chess to go. Maybe you need to evaluate these games and see how different they are. Everything from board size to rules to the differentiated nature of the pieces...Plus, historically the direction of influence has been from India TO China (er, look up "Buddhism" for example). Even the word "Mandarin" in Chinese originates from the Sanskrit word "Mantri".

      June 22, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dhulfiqar

      Author never said it "originated" from the Arabs. Said it was brought to Spain from Arab lands...

      June 22, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. PlayfulDreamer

    I'd get a set like that!

    June 22, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • HLM Operations Manager

      Hello PlayfulDreamer,

      Thanks for the fascination on our work. You could send us your personal inquiry at:

      We'd gladly accommodate your request. Thanks again!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JohnR

    The king and queen are in the wrong spots for the taliban pieces.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. SetRecordStraight

    Chess was invented in India. The author ought to get his facts straight first.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JOE

    The goal of the game shouldn't be to defeat the taliban but rather to impeach and try John Boehner, George W.Bush and the GOP for treason and war crimes. Let's face it, we are still fighting in Afghanistan and suffering casualties ten years later because George W. Bush, John Boehner and the GOP abandoned and prolonged the Afghan war to wage their illegitimate Iraqi war. And today we are spending eleven billion dollars a month in Afghanistan. Yea, I don't know much about chess but the GOP should have a target place on their chests and then flown over to the battle field in Afghanistan. Then we can call for check or what ever they say in chess.

    June 22, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      You're a moron

      June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • clownshoes

      obamas been pres for almost 3 years and nothings changed. get off that liberal bandwagon

      June 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. john

    making money using anything related to those people should be banned

    June 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. svscnn


    June 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cesar The Chorizo Champ Of Chihuahua

    I knew there was a reason I hated chess.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matthew

    For all of you that are upset about the fact that India was where chess was invented the author never actually says that the game was invented in the Arab world only that it entered Europe FROM the Arab world.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Exactly! Concur. Well said. CNN is never know to screw up (joking sarcastic tone) but in this case, they are not saying where the game developed or was "invented" only how it got to Europe and the West.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • windu

      True, but why is relevant for an American news source to mention how chess got to Europe (throwing in credit for Spain as a conduit), but not relevant to mention where it was invented (India)? Especially given that the story is about a Canadian making chess sets for soldiers from all over, mostly Americans, fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq? Interesting.

      June 22, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. _|

    Why anyone would want to relive the traumatic war experiences is beyone me.

    June 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • ActnJackson

      The first step in healing that trauma is to face it and talk about it.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. HERO

    The Brave victorious Taliban will be always the nightmare of invaders,

    June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • clownshoes

      not when they are bombing other innocent muslims lol how does bombing ur own people push out"invaders"

      June 22, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
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