One of my most popular blog posts has been A Chess Tourist in New York City, and I have made several other "chess tourism" posts over the years. On a recent jaunt I realized I ought to add Princeton, New Jersey, to my list of attractive destinations for chess fans.
If you are as much a fan of libraries as I am and enjoy doing chess research, you will want to make a trip down to Princeton's Firestone Library, located at the corner of Nassau Street (Route 27) and Washington Road across from the Princeton Garden Theatre. They have one of the most extensive chess collections in the country, and while it's not worth comparing with the Cleveland Public Library, it's still one of the top five collections not in private hands. Before you go, be sure to read up on their access policies: anyone can purchase access at $29 per week (about the price of a chess book these days), and you can get free access if you have an academic affiliation (as a student or faculty at many institutions, with a current ID).
The Firestone Library houses quite a large number of volumes, including historic and rare books from the Eugene B. Cook and William Spackman chess collections. They seem to have stopped making significant additions to the collections after about the year 2000, but there are still quite a few more recent volumes (including Kasparov's books, NIC Yearbook, and many historical works). It is a very useful collection and offers access to a wide range of reference works, including ECO, Informant, Chess Results, and many expensive historical and out of print books. I have been visiting the library for almost 18 years and still wish I could spare several days to explore it more fully (especially its periodicals). If you enjoy rare and historical chess books, be sure to visit their Special Collections which were featured in an exhibition called The Art of Chess in 1997. Before I go, I usually spend some time searching the Princeton University Library catalog, assembling a list of specific texts and their locations. This is worth doing even if you have more time than I do, since you will then be better able to relax with the books you pick out in one of many excellent places throughout the library.
The bulk of the collection can be found in the area of GV1439-GV1450 (located on the B-level, to the left as you come down the stairs), but there are also volumes in oversize and in the 4280s (on the C-level below). I recommend you get a map of locations, available on every floor. In recent years, many books have been shipped off to the annex for storage and visitors need to "recap" or request certain titles. I have only done this once but found no problem in gaining access to a book with only 48 hours notice (calling ahead and speaking to a reference librarian). Despite the fact that accessible volumes seem to have been cut considerably since I began visiting the library, it is still a formidable collection.
I have gotten the most use out of the Informants (only through 2002), New in Chess Yearbooks (current, but with recent volumes usually checked out), and older periodicals like American Chess Quarterly and BCM. For those interested in openings, there are lots of excellent but older volumes and NIC Yearbook. I most recommend searching through the article listings for NIC Yearbook to identify particular articles of interest, since thumbing through volumes will waste a lot of time. On my most recent visit, I photocopied an extensive two-part article by Glek on the Glek Four Knights featured in NIC Yearbook volumes 42 and 43.
Since I have limited time these days, I have to plan my trip to the library as though it were a bank heist. I have had excellent luck finding parking on Nassau Street, usually right in front of the library, where it costs $2 in quarters for 2 hours. You cannot feed the meters, so I have learned to keep my visits to exactly two hours; if you want to spend more time (and you definitely will on a first visit) then you will have to pay for municipal parking.
Copy cards can be purchased in denominations of $5, $10 or $25 from the circulation desk as you come in. It is 10 cents per copy, plus a $1 surcharge for new cards (though there is no place to add value to cards in the library itself). I find I don't have time for more than $10 worth of copying in my 2 hour visits, but you could easily spend much more. The machines on the B-level are excellent and generally not in use during early weekday hours.
Either before or after hitting the library, I recommend you also drop by the Barnes & Noble store in Market Fair Mall on Route 1. This has got to be one of the nicest big retail bookshops I've visited in a while, and they have the most extensive chess section I have come across in Central New Jersey.
Though Steve Stoyko told me he had visited the shop the day before I did, I still found about 250-300 titles from a pretty good variety of publishers, including Gambit, Everyman, and New in Chess. Even in this age where the best place to shop for chess books is definitely online, nothing beats being able to thumb through recent books to see what they contain. I doubt, for instance, that I would have bought Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov online, despite its great reviews; but seeing it in the store, I recognized its value. Besides, I had a $50 B&N gift card burning a hole in my pocket....
If you go to the bookstore before going to the library (as I did on my last visit), I recommend taking the Canal Pointe Boulevard to Alexander Road/Street as the most direct route to campus and to Nassau Street. It's a pleasant and scenic route.
If you are serious about exploiting the full chess tourist potential of the area, you might also consider dropping by the Hamilton Chess Club, which meets on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Ray Dwier Recreation Center, 392 Church Street, Groveville NJ 08620, less than 30 minutes drive south. Basic information about the club can be found at their old website, and current Wednesday activities are listed at the club's forum and Saturday tournaments in Chess Life. Take Route 1 South to I-295 South (6.9 miles) to exit 61A, Arena Drive toward White Horse and Yardville (1.5 miles), right at Hempstead Road (0.3 mile) left at South Broad Street (3.3 miles) and right at Church Street (0.2 mile). Directions can also be found at the Central NJ Camera Club's website.
Of course, there are lots of other touristy things to do in Princeton. You'll find upscale shopping at the Market Fair Mall and downtown around Palmer Square. If you are into books, I recommend Labyrinth Books which has a wide range of mostly academic titles. If you are into the arts, there is the Princeton University Art Museum (free admission, open Tuesday through Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 1-5), the McCarter Theatre (for plays and performances), and Princeton Garden Theatre (for off-beat films). If you are into the outdoors, there are lots of great hikes along the Raritan & Delaware Canal and through several other parks. And simply strolling around Princeton's historic campus on a nice day is very relaxing. In other words, there are lots of things to keep your significant-other busy while you hang out in the basement of the Firestone Library!
As always, I welcome reader input and additions.