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Interview with Akin Gokyay

Akın Gökay thumb

Interview with Turkish businessman Akın Gökyay, whose collection of 412 chess sets is in the Guinness Book of Records.

Fatma Ozturk: When did you learn chess?

Akın Gokyay: My father was an algebra, geometry teacher and a very strong chess player. He made me play chess with him. I used to get bored but he wouldn't let me leave. In the end I was always losing. Think about it, you play a game and you always lose it.

Fatma Ozturk: I think you didn't like chess at the time...

Akın Gokyay: Of course you wouldn't, why would you? Everyone wants to win.

Fatma Ozturk: Well he could lose on purpose every now and then. Maybe this could have kept the interest alive?

Akın Gokyay: My father was a truthful person. He would never lose on purpose.

He was trying to teach me that chess was not gambling, it wasn't a game of luck. What you get is what you make. No luck at all. My father was a wise man.
In time he showed me how I could beat him.

Fatma Ozturk: How old were you by then?

Akın Gokyay: Around middle school. I started to beat him gradually. You get a big pleasure when you win. Of course, the pleasure is doubled when the opponent is your father.

Akın Gökay


Fatma Ozturk: Chess sets always suit with furnitures. Did this start for decoration and became a hobby in the end? How did this passion begin?

Akın Gokyay: My curiousity isn't related to furnitures or decoration. I like to travel a lot and I do travel a lot. I also like to go shopping. For instance, I, not my wife, do the shopping for our home. I buy everything, be it necessary or not. I saw a nicely-designed metal chess set in Milano in 1975.

The store was closed because it was a saturday. It would also be closed the day after and it was going to open at 15:00 on that monday. So I stayed in Milano for three more days just to buy that chess set. It was a beautiful piece of work. Later I bought a chess set in Hong Kong. I realized there are many interesting and beautiful chess sets. The number of chess sets kept growing. I liked two things about chess; first chess reflects the cultures of nations and countries and second thing is that chess is a game about mind and logic. For example, Crotian flag has a picture of a chess set. Once upon a time city-states were quite common. Venetians came and conquered Dubrovnik.

Prince of Venice was a strong chess player. He heard that the prince of Dubrovnik was a strong chess player too. They made a deal to play a game of chess and if Dubrovnik's prince wins the Venetians promised withdraw their army. And so it happened. Since that time they have a chess set on their flag.

Don't be mistaken by this story though, there are no special chess sets in Dubrovnik.

Every morning I look at the chess sets to discover yet another interesting detail.

Fatma Ozturk: The material, the colours, the history of the countries, cultures and forms... What attracts you about a chess set?

Akın Gokyay: I don't have a special preference of material but I don't buy cast iron sets because they look a lot like each other. As you may know, there are chess sets made of wood, marble, a soft stone called soapstone and cast iron.

I don't give much value to the material. It should be prone to damage and reflect the culture of the country. After a while I had times when I bought a chess set only figuring that I had already bought something similar before by the time I came home. I give such sets as presents. A chess set is an elite present because chess is an elite game.

I have 180 pictures of my chess sets in my laptop. I want to put together a catalogue soon. They have also differences with craftmanship. Some of them are good in this regard. Not every country has chess sets. An example is Bulgaria which has only chess sets for tournaments not of any cultural value.

Fatma Ozturk: In fact they value chess tremendously. For instance World Championship Title Match took place in Sofia previous year.

Akın Gokyay: It is a different thing chess being popular and chess being a way of presentation and reflection of the host country. For instance, people have been making good chess sets in İstanbul. It is the same in USA and South America. Africa has some nice handcraft chess sets. Malaysia and Indonesia has some whereas Japan doesn't.

You can find many different chess sets in Italy, Greece, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Norway. Middle Asia has many as well unlike Azerbaijan.

Fatma Ozturk: Despite Kasparov's birth in Baku and chess being a famous sport in the country you couldn't find a chess set of your taste?

Akın Gokyay: I went to Baku in 2007 and last year. Our buying manager spent several years in Baku. He told me many places where I can find chess sets. I couldn't find any valuable chess sets in those places. We are like relatives with chess now. My wife has this passion as well. If the wife of a man doesn't support him he can't be successful.

Do you know that we have a collection of suitcases at home? I buy many chess sets and then need a suitcase to put those chess sets so I buy suitcases too. This is how we collected a number of suitcases at home.

Fatma Ozturk: Do you buy chess sets always during your journeys? Are there any chess sets which you have bought, for example, by ordering online?

Akın Gokyay: Yes I have bought chess sets online. Although these days I don't buy many sets because I can't find any.

Fatma Ozturk: You have nearly 460 chess sets as of today. Do you plan to open a museum or exhibition where you can present these sets permanently?

Akın Gokyay: I think I should be doing something with them. We have a house in Ümitköy, Ankara. My wife came up with the idea to turn this house into a museum and foundation.