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Heyl: U.S. Steel a major player in Pittsburgh … chess set

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Brad Cline of Cranberry has designed a chess set with pieces inspired by Pittsburgh architecture.
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Brad Cline of Cranberry has designed a chess set with pieces inspired by Pittsburgh architecture.

For more than four decades, the 64-story U.S. Steel Tower has reigned as king of Pittsburgh skyscrapers.

So it’s fitting that the city’s tallest structure is king in a chess set whose pieces are unabashed tributes to local landmarks.

It took 155 years after the first modern chess tournament was organized in London, but a yinzer-themed chess game finally is a reality. An affectionate nod to some of Pittsburgh’s most identifiable architecture, Steel City Chess sets will be available online and at select retailers beginning in May.

They are the brainchild of Brad Cline of Cranberry, who acknowledges his skill at playing the game won’t make anyone forget the late American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer.

“I was a pretty avid player growing up; I just wasn’t any better than mediocre,” said Cline, 46, a software implementation consultant. “But along the way, I came up with the idea of fashioning a chess set using Pittsburgh’s buildings as the pieces.”

Some choices were obvious, others less so.

The U.S. Steel Tower, the tallest building between New York and Chicago when it opened in 1971, was the natural choice for king. For the queen, Cline took the closest skyscraper next to it on Grant Street, the 55-story BNY Mellon Center.

“But my initial inspiration really was PPG Place, which kind of resembles a castle,” Cline said. “I thought it would make the perfect rook.”

Cline made one bishop the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. What better place for a bishop than a cathedral?

For the other bishop, he selected One Oxford Centre, which is more suited for lawyers than bishops. But there never has been an attorney chess piece, and making Oxford a bishop did get an iconic building on the board.

For pawns, Cline selected the Gulf Tower, which was the city’s tallest building until the U.S. Steel Tower eclipsed it. The knights are Fifth Avenue Place, which architectural purists will instantly notice is missing its trademark antenna.

“That was intentional,” Cline said. “The antenna would have been too susceptible to breaking.”

After intermittently researching his idea during the years, Cline early in 2014 decided to develop a prototype board. For the pieces, he opted for polystone.

“That’s a resin mixed with stone that creates a durable and detailed figurine,” he said. “The pieces feel like porcelain.”

Priced at $185, the 13-pound chess sets likely aren’t something parents would purchase for kids learning the game’s strategic nuances. It’s more for the collectibles crowd.

“This is something to get if you love Pittsburgh or know someone who loves Pittsburgh,“ Cline said. “But it’s probably not something you’re going to set up in your kitchen.”

Probably not. Who wants to fish a Cathedral of Learning replica out of his soup?

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or [email protected].

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