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. CSnSC

    @frank- always funny when an idiot cant get a joke but gets violently offended. I caught that too.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Iraq Vet

    I met Jeff when I was working on MTT in Iraq in 2008 and i rember him talking about this project. I'm really glad it worked out for him. Jeff was a good guy and I enjoyed wroking with him. Good luck to you Jeff.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |

      What a revolting conception this is!!! It makes me sick to see somebody like this profit at the misery of others. It isn't fair!!!

      June 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Another Chris

    How can they get the details of a uniform and weapon exact, but the twin towers look like a three year old made them out of play-doh?

    June 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • concerned citizen

      he's a canadian soldier, and these are hand made. When you fight for a living, you will know the uniforms of friend and foe. And there's not a big chance he personally visited the Twin Towers before they fell

      June 22, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • david

      im a US Marine. i think this is great. if i played chess i would buy a board in a heartbeat. and i can very easily tell you the origin of a soldier by looking at their uniform and quite possibly what branch they are.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. person

    Pawns is a fitting word for all the pieces of each side.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Henry

    It is a little offensive but nothing to get worked up about.

    June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • david

      im what can be considered one of the pawns and im not offended by this.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jtread

    haha...the board was set up incorrectly in the first photo. the queens have to be lined up. however, bush has been lined up with the woman in the burka

    June 22, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • duh

      its obama in the first pic, however, if it were bush, i would see nothing wrong with the set up of the board.

      June 22, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ottospielen

      Honestly... why can nobody in the media ever set up a chess board correctly? Just google "chess" online and copy a picture. I'm not asking them to know anything about chess... just copy the setup correctly.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. scott


    June 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doctor Evil

      No. Not really.

      June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. hlnews7

    I want to buy one!!

    June 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • HLM Operations Manager

      Hello hlnews7,

      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 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dhulfiqar

    Taliban's king should be Mullah Omar (or the CIA) not Osama Bin Laden.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sunny lovetts

    Old rich psychopaths in high positions of power must enjoy this game. WAKE UP ALREADY, as we speak they are trying to create a New World Order of completely unfathomable tyranny and genocide.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. voldemire

    I'm surprised he didn't use horses for knights as it would make playing the game easier, bearing in mind that OBL escaped on a horse, and the first US operatives were also on horses. Also use a mud hut tower or OBL's lair as the other rook, versus the twin towers! Otherwise super idea.

    June 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. qazar

    whoever gets the westerner side better not lose!!

    June 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Li

    This is the dumbest thing I've ever seen in my life, but I can't stop laffing!!! lololol

    June 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Klaus

      Dumber than someone misspelling the word laughing?

      June 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeffrey Train

      stick around and watch the news everyday you will see dumber. You must be youmg.

      June 22, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joe

    Coolest thing I have ever seen, as it truly represents the reality of the two wars. Was the invasion of Iraq anything but a game to G.W.?

    June 22, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mohamed-iraq

    What a wonderful artistic stereotyping masterpieces that send a positive message to the western youths about cultural tolerance and diversity. All Iraqis have Saddam face and carry suicide vests, same thing for Afghans, not to mention all the women with burqas as long as they have a brown skin reflection! really....

    June 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • theseconddavid

      All pieces are accurate. The failure of the middle-east as a member of the human race is not the fault of the western world.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • mohamed-iraq @theseconddavid

      Oh, so now we are not part of the human race, wow please tell me how are you any much different than Adolf Hitler? By you I mean you as an individual, I don't believe all the west share your ideology.

      June 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
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