Home >> Chess Book Recommendations
Chess books are the ultimate source of knowledge on chess. In technical terms, they can provide more detailed material than DVDs. Some players even credit 1800+ of their rating points to a single book! There is an abundance of chess literature out there and today, I'm going to go through some of my personal recommendations. I have broken the suggestions up into categories so they are easier to digest.
Opening books on specific openings are either superseded or go out of date quickly, so I'm not going to recommend any titles in that department. However, you can find some book/DVD recommendations that complement repertoires in my "opening repertoire suggestions" article.
Nunn's Chess Openings by Joseph Gallagher, John Nunn, John Emms and Graham Burgess (1999)
This heavyweight book is still surprisingly useful to me, even though it appears to be outdated. Of course, some of the lines have inevitably been refuted/superseded; nevertheless, it gives an excellent overview of the main lines of many popular openings. This book, written by a team of experienced authors, three of whom are grandmasters, is aimed at advanced players. See my full review on Nunn's Chess Openings.
Modern Chess Openings (15th Edition) by Nick De Firmian (2009)
Another enormous suggestion. If NCO is too advanced for you, Modern Chess Openings has a similar format, but has more worded discussion (hence making it more suitable for lower-rated players). The newest edition was published in 2008 at the time of writing, but new editions are published every few years in order to keep the theory up-to-date. It is possible that there is a more recent edition that I'm not aware of. According to the front cover, the sole author is American Grandmaster Nick de Firmian, a three-time US Champion, who once helped the Deep Blue team prepare against Kasparov. However, there are other contributors to MCO, including John Fedorowicz and John Donaldson.
There are advantages and disadvantages to NCO and MCO, but respected writer and IM John Watson states that "both books have good qualities, and I don't think that you can go wrong with either".
Fundamental Chess Endings by Karsten Müller and Frank Lemprecht Gambit (2001)
This is a highly extensive book on chess endgames. It basically covers everything under the sun (and then some), and includes many puzzles/exercises for the reader to do. This is the best single-volume chess endgames encyclopedia available.
Endgame Strategy by Mikhail Shereshevsky (1994)
A classic endgame book. Shereshevsky masterfully takes the reader through a number of highly entertaining and educational endgames.
Best Game Collections
John Nunn's Best Games by John Nunn (1995)
A model of how a "best games" book should be written. This book is pretty old now, but still excellent. Apart from the extremely thorough analysis of his own games, Nunn also provides the reader with lots of interesting anecdotes.
The Art of Attack in Chess by Vladimir Vuković (1999)
A classic primer on attacking chess. One should never ignore International Masters (as Vuković is in this case) or even FIDE Master authors; they create just as many invaluable books as grandmasters. Sometimes they create ever better books, as GMs can rely on their title whereas others have to prove that their material is worthy.
My System by Aron Nimzowitsch (1991) or (2007)
One of my favourite books. This book covers many aspects of positional chess. Often dubbed as the "chess player's bible", one of my 1900 friends attributed his entire chess growth to this book. There is a 1991 edition edited by Lou Hays which is the one I read, but there is an even newer version published in 2007 (of course no material is new, it just features a new and supposedly improved translation) by Quality Chess which may be even better. According to the publisher's description, the new edition uses "brand-new translation that recreates the author’s original intentions". There is a follow-up book to Nimzowitsch's original My System called Chess Praxis, which I haven't read (somehow the 1936 version is available at Amazon.com and there is also a 2007 edition by Quality Chess). Supposedly, the latter book is mainly comprised of examples whereas the former is mostly worded theory.
Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy by John Watson (1999)
This is also a book focussed on positional play, which complements Nimzowitsch's work. This book won the British Chess Federation Book of the Year Award and the United States Chess Federation Fred Cramer Award for Best Book. Watson has also written follow-up works such as Chess Strategy in Action (2003).
Positional Ideas in Chess by John Love (1985)
I remember reading this book as a beginner and thoroughly enjoying it. Although I do not own a copy (I borrowed it from a chess club library at the time), I recall that it really helped shape my positional play and was an engaging read. It is hard to get a hold of this book at any local place - you will have to look at Amazon.com.
How to Reassess Your Chess: The Complete Chess-Mastery Course (3rd Edition) by Jeremy Silman (1997)
I have only briefly studied this book, but having read other books by Silman, I believe his writings aimed towards amateur players are one of the best available. A chess friend once told me this book helped take him from 1700 to 2000 after a while of 'flailing around'.
The Complete Book of Chess Strategy: Grandmaster Techniques from A to Z by Jeremy Silman (1998)
This was one of the first books I ever read. It should be a classic, although it hasn't gathered as much attention as How to Reassess Your Chess. Basically, Silman covers the whole game of chess (including psychological factors) in very lucid and flowing writing. His explanations and coverage of the three phases of the game - opening, middlegame and endgame is especially impressive. Click here to see my full review of The Complete Book of Chess Strategy.
Play Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov (1978) or (2003)
This book has a more famous brother Think Like a Grandmaster, however, I have always enjoyed this one more. Both books are somewhat advanced and not suitable for a beginner. Play Like a GM summarises the points discussed in Think Like a GM in one of the chapters. This book discusses a range of grandmaster strategies including positional judgement, planning, combinational vision and calculation. I have an algebraic edition from 1978 (reprinted 1982), although the newest edition may be Batsford's 2003 book.
The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games by John Nunn, John Emms and Graham Burgess (1998)
This is an excellent game collection (or should I say, the 'greatest' chess game collection) written by the three authors who compiled Nunn's Chess Openings (above) less Joe Gallagher. The games are all thoroughly annotated and explained, even with summary discussions at the end of each game detailing important points to remember.
Understanding Chess Move by Move by John Nunn (2001)
In the footsteps of Irving Chernev's Logical Chess: Move By Move (a book which I have heard a lot of praise about, but have never got around to reading), John Nunn gives a collection of annotated games where he comments on every single move. This is an excellent for beginner/intermediate players and is also a model for how to annotate your games. Although, be warned, Nunn's technical analysis can often be very detailed and long.
The Road to Chess Improvement by Alexander Yermolinsky (2000)
Yermolinsky tells the story of how, for many years, he was at a standstill in playing strength. He finally reached a breakthrough after realising that the thorough analysis of one's own games is critical to improvement. Yermolinsky provides many examples of excellent annotations.
Secrets of Practical Chess: New Expanded Edition (2007) and The Survival Guide to Competitive Chess (2006) are also recommended and have been reviewed in earlier articles.
Other notable books
...which I haven't had a chance to take a look at:
International Chess Tournament, 1953 by David Bronstein
The Art of Defence in Chess by Andy Soltis (1980)
Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres (1986)
The Art of the Middlegame by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov (1990)
Fire on Board by Alexei Shirov (1996)
Paul Keres: The Road to the Top by Paul Keres (1996)
Paul Keres: The Quest for Perfection by Paul Keres and John Nunn (1997)
Improve Your Chess Now by Jonathan Tisdall (1997)
The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal by Mikhail Tal (1997)
Logical Chess: Move By Move by Irving Chernev (first released 1957, new edition 2003)
Vishy Anand: Best Games of Chess by Viswanathan Anand (2nd Edition, 2001)
Bent Larsen's Best Games of Chess by Bent Larsen (2003)
Grandmaster Chess Move by Move by John Nunn (2005)
Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual by Mark Dvoretsky (2006)
My Great Predecessors by Garry Kasparov (Volumes 2-5, 2003-6)
Sorcerer's Apprentice by David Bronstein (New edition 2009)
If you can't find a review, perhaps the book is too new. A warning on buying older opening books, they can become out-of-date really quickly and you may be wasting your money.
I recommend purchasing books from Wholesale Chess. They provide the highest quality chess products at the lowest prices, especially for US and Canadian players. They even offer to match prices with other chess websites! Even though I live overseas, this is where I choose to purchase chess goods.
I have tried to provide a good overview of the great chess literature that is out there. Surely if you make an extensive study of a number of these books, coupled with steady practice, you can easily reach 1800-2100 FIDE.
The number of great chess books and quality authors are endless. If you're considering purchasing a book, I recommend you look up a review of the book. IM Jeremy Silman's website is the largest collection of chess reviews on the web. It is maintained by highly competent and experienced reviewers such as Silman, IM John Watson and IM John Donaldson. If you can find a review there, try Googling the book title in quotation marks followed by the word 'review'; for vague titles, use the author's surname too, e.g. for Bronstein's book Sorcerer's Apprentice, search "Sorcerer's Apprentice" Bronstein review.
For chess opening training and repertoire maintenance, I highly recommend the software I use, Chess Openings Wizard. This software was approved by Grandmaster Peter Svidler (FIDE rating 2744 as of January 2010) many years ago.
Posted by Webmaster on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 (edited 11/12/10).
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