The Best Books On Chess

After searching quite extensively to find out which books are most often recommended by chess players to their friends I figured it would make a nice addition to my collection of random subjects here on my blog.

If you, like countless others, went out and bought a chess board after watching The Queen’s Gambit then you might appreciate this list of great books on chess. I also ended up with a new chessboard recently (thanks kids) so I found myself playing chess a little more often than I used to. Is 400 games in three weeks a lot? I don’t know. Anyway, after getting thrashed a few too many times, I figured it couldn’t hurt to maybe read up a little. Of course I went straight for a rather advanced book How To Beat Magnus Carlsen (Cyrus Lakdawala), but something a little less advanced would have been better. I then thought maybe it would be a better idea to see if there are any books that get mentioned more frequently than others when it comes to improving your chess game. After searching quite extensively to find out which books are most often recommended by chess players to their friends I figured it would make a nice addition to my collection of random subjects here on my blog. So I compiled a list and here it is.

Chess Books For Beginners

If you are starting out with chess then here are some titles which give you an easy entry point:

Learn Chess

Learn Chess starts with the very basics. But the book doesn’t stop there. Author Dr John Nunn tells you pretty much everything you need to know to not only be a proficient but a good chess player.

Dr John Nunn has earned a worldwide reputation for the outstanding clarity of his writings on chess. In this book he tackles the fundamentals of chess so it’s an excellent beginner’s book.
You don’t need to know anything about chess. Nunn teaches everything step-by-step, with each point illustrated with examples. After reading this you will be ready to take on opponents across the board, or online. And you’ll be winning!
Nunn covers the rules of chess, but you will also learn chess notation, how to win material, what attacking play means. He covers everything to get you started with your opening, middlegame and endgame. He also covers the very important topic of chess psychology which mustn’t be underestimated.

The author has certainly earned his stripes. He has won four individual gold medals and three team silver medals at Chess Olympiads. In chess problem solving competitions won the world championship title not once, but thrice. One could easily argue that he is the most highly acclaimed chess writer in the world. Three of his books have received the prestigious British Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. His classic work Understanding Chess Move by Move is regarded by many as a must-read for all students of the game.

Chess For Dummies

Sometimes we can overlook some of the best books because we may have an assumption that they are too basic. But I wouldn’t overlook Chess for Dummies. The Dummies series of books are known for their conversational style of writing, so if you’re like me and appreciate this kind of teaching style then Chess For Dummies might be just the thing for you.

Chess For Dummies was written to help beginners not only wrap their minds around the rules of the game and make sense of those puzzling pieces, but to sharpen their chess strategy. It’s got everything to get you started and more: learn the rules of chess, get to know some of the jargon, and sharpen your chess brain. It has easy-to-follow, step-by-step explanations so even a complete newbie can get a grasp on what’s what. New editions of Chess For Dummies are never too far behind so this is a great starting place.

This book covers what you need to know for playing chess online, tournament chess, or friendly games on the dining room table. A great hands-on guide this book does its utmost to capture your interest through its engaging style and light hearted tone. And it will grab your attention. Especially when it shows you how to capture your opponent’s queen. Get up to speed on the game and its components with this book which gives you the know-how you need to put the principles of play into action from the opening to the endgame.

  • Grasp the rules of play and the nuances of each phase of the game
  • Familiarize yourself with the pieces and the board
  • Pick the perfect chess set and chessboard for you
  • Get to know each of the pieces and their powers

If you feel like you’re in a stalemate before you even begin a game, Chess For Dummies is your guide to forcing moves, raking bishops, and skewering your opponents like a true master.

Chess Books For Intermediate Chess Players

For those who have played the occasional game but want to get to know a little more this book has made it onto a few people’s list:

Chess Fundamentals

Chess Fundamentals is a book on chess that has stood the test of time. Even though there have been many developments in chess playing styles since this was written many principles in chess are timeless. If you already know the basics, this book will take you to the next level and equip you with all you need to know to become a better at chess.

José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (1888-1942) was a world chess champion from 1921 to 1927. Capablanca is often said to have been one of the greatest players of all time. He was famous for his exceptional endgame skill and for his incredible speed.

He wrote a number chess books during his career, but Chess Fundamentals (1921) has often been cited as the best book on chess ever written. 

Capaplanca’s style of play (and his books) influenced the play many world chess champions including Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov.
Read it on Gutenberg:

The Amateur’s Mind

This book takes you on a journey through your own mind and returns you to the chess board with a wealth of new-found knowledge and the promise of a significant gain in strength. Most beginners have thinking processes which really don’t help their game. This book will help you address the flaws in your mental armor. Following the advice in this book will lead to a lot less stinging defeats and painful reversals. As with any book the advice is only as good as the degree to which you apply it — and some bad habits may prove difficult to eradicate. Seeking to solve this dilemma, the author wrote down the thoughts of his students while they played actual games, analysed them, and catalogued the most common misconceptions that arose. This second edition greatly expands on the information contained in the popular first edition.

Jeremy Silman has an impressive resume too. He is an International Master and a world-class teacher, writer, and player. His trophies include the American Open, the National Open, and the U.S. Open. Considered by many to be the game’s preeminent instructive writer, he is the author of over thirty-six popular books, including the modern classic How to Reassess Your Chess , The Amateur’s Mind, The Complete Book of Chess Strategy, and The Reassess Your Chess Workbook. Silman served as chess consultant on the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone [uncredited], Monk, and Malcolm in the Middle.

Chess Books For Advanced Chess Players

Lasker’s Manual of Chess

Lasker’s Manual of Chess is invariably going to end up on a list of the greatest chess books ever written. The fact that it was published in 1925 has not diminished its relevance. This is still considered a significant piece of work, even in today’s modern chess world. Lasker was a deep thinker and his book demonstrates this. He had exceptionally successful experiences in the chess world over many years and he chronicles much of this in this book. He teaches what he considered to be the most important elements in chess. These general principles and methods remain applicable in any situation. Once you have read this manual, you can’t help but feel wiser. This 21st-century edition has been expanded with archival photographs of Lasker and his contemporaries. In addition, an entertaining and instructive feature, “Lasker Lore”, highlights the chess history and trivia of the Lasker era. Finally, if the significance of Lasker’s Manual of Chess needed to offer more, the greatest chess instructor of the modern era, Mark Dvoretsky, has added a special foreword to this new edition of the legendary classic.

Emanuel Lasker (December 24, 1868 – January 11, 1941) was a German chess player, mathematician, and philosopher who was World Chess Champion for 27 years, from 1894 to 1921, the longest reign of any officially recognised World Chess Champion in history. In his prime, Lasker was one of the most dominant champions. Lasker is regarded as one of the strongest players in history.

Lasker’s contemporaries said he used a “psychological” approach to the game. Contemporaries wondered if he would occasionally play inferior moves and thus confuse his opponents. Recent analysis, however, indicates that he was simply ahead of his time and used a more flexible approach than his contemporaries. Either way he certainly mystified many of them. Lasker knew contemporary analyses of openings well but didn’t take them as gospel truth and actually disagreed with many of them. He published chess magazines and five chess books. His advanced ways of thinking often meant that later players and commentators found it difficult to draw lessons from his methods.

Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces

This book is not only great for improving one’s game. It is considered by many to be an important piece of chess history. You see, the author Hans Kmoch visited the Rubinstein family home in 1933 hoping to convince this brilliant chess player to return to active play. Rubinstein however wasn’t keen. So his family, who felt there was an opportunity here to help lift them out of poverty asked Kmoch if perhaps some sort of fund raising could be implemented and maybe a book could be published. An ad was placed to raise finance for this book on a subscription basis. “Rubinstein gewinnt! : Hundert Glanzpartien des großen Schachkünstlers. Erläutert von Hans Kmoch. Biographische Einleitung von Jacques Hannak. Verlag der Wiener Schachzeitung, Wien 1933” was the book that ensued. That book was then translated and renamed with a slightly punchier title “Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces“. It was a direct translation. All the games are the same. It doesn’t look like there are any significant changes in the translated version, if any. This 2012 edition is reprinted as ISBN 4871875806.

Akiba Rubinstein was born on 12 December 1882 in Poland. He has long been regarded as the strongest chess player in history though he never became world champion. This is a player though who defeated Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine the first time he played each of them. Rubinstein won five tournaments in a row during the period 1912-1914. There is little doubt that he was the strongest player in the world at that time. Rubinstein’s contribution to chess opening theory has been enormous. Almost every major chess opening has a Rubinstein Variation or a Rubinstein Defense. Think about it: There is no Fischer Defense, no Capablanca Defense. But there are many variations called the Rubinstein Defense or Variation. The only name that has as many opening defenses associated with it is Steinitz. However Steinitz Defenses are seen as outdated and aren’t really played.

Beating The Sicilian

Here’s a book that might not always come up in a search on “chess books” since it doesn’t have the word “chess” in its title. Yes it’s our second book from Dr John Nunn that’s made it onto the list and it’s one you don’t want to miss. The Sicilian is a popular aggressive opening which trips up players who don’t know how to respond to it. In this book a you have a complete repertoire showing you every possible response short of drawing swords. This book will enable you as a chess player to face the Sicilian with confidence. By basing the material on key selected games, the author helps you develop an understanding of the attacking plans for White and the importance of different move orders. YES! MOVE ORDERS ARE IMPORTANT!

Bonus Titles

Still hungry for more?

Check out these great titles:

Botvinnik’s Best Games 1947-1970

Mikhail Botvinnik won the World Chess Championship in 1948. He held on to his title (with only two breaks) until 1963. He kept playing professionally until 1970. This book covers the entire period when Botvinnik was World Chess Champion and beyond.

“Chess”. wrote Botvinnik, “is an art which illustrates the beauty of logic.” He could not abide errors which spoiled the beauty of the game, and the secret of his success was thorough preparation and routine, which fully justified his own self-confidence – and which were systematically adopted by the Soviet school. In controlled positional play, Botvinnik was an absolute virtuoso comparable to Bronstein, Smyslov, and Tal, among many others.

Think Like a Grandmaster

This book has been well-established as an excellent training manual. It encourages the average player to understand how a grandmaster thinks. More importantly it gives you insight into how a grandmaster actually works. Kotov lays out the fundamental issues such as knowing how and when to analyze, the tree of analysis, a selection of candidate moves and the factors of success.

While best remembered today as an author, Alexander Kotov also had a number of good results as a player. One of his best early results was his second-place finish in the 1939 USSR Championship, in which where Mikhail Botvinnik came first in the final round. This result still won him the Soviet Grandmaster title, the third Soviet player to hold the title after Botvinnik and Grigory Levenfish. Kotov was Moscow champion in 1941. He won the Soviet title jointly with David Bronstein in 1948, and won at Venice in 1950, ahead of Vasily Smyslov.

Leonid Stein, Master of Attack

Leonid Stein’s brilliant chess career, cut tragically short in 1973, included overwhelming victories against the world’s leading grandmasters. Stein not only stormed to an incredible total of 3 first prizes (out of 4 attempts) in the USSR Championships, but also won what were arguably, at that time, the two strongest tournaments of all time, (Moscow 1967 and Moscow 1971).

Leonid Zakharovich Stein (November 12, 1934 – July 4, 1973) was a Soviet chess Grandmaster from Ukraine. He won three USSR Chess Championships in the 1960s (1963, 1965, and 1966), and was among the world’s top ten players during that era.

The Art of the Middle Game – Keres and Kotov
The Middle Years of Paul Keres – Keres
The World Chess Championship – Gligoric and Wade
Pawn Power in Chess – Kmoch
The Guardian Chess Book – Barden

Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal – Keene

Header photo by Heidi Walley on Unsplash

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