by NM Dan Heisman (updated 03/14/2013 )
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A GOOD CHESS BOOK IS A MATTER OF OPINION; there are many good books which will not be listed below. There are thousands of chess books and more are published each day! Pick ones that suit your style. Consider also other media like web pages, CDs, chess videos, chess audios, etc.
IMPORTANT NOTE! - If there is a book link on this page, that generally means the book is NOT in general distribution and that link goes to a site where the book is available. If there is no link, then the book is generally available from most chess book sellers, plus Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc.
SOURCES: Books are available from the US Chess Federation (1-800-388-KING), Chess Cafe (1-866-301-CAFE), and other chess book sellers. Take my Equipment Link for many more booksellers. If you decide to purchase at Amazon.com, click on their graphic link below to give me referral credit, thanks!
Click on this graphic to shop at Amazon and give Dan credit è
Books about starting out, learning the moves, and rules:
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chess– GM Patrick Wolff - Don’t let the title fool you! This is an excellent book for beginners over age 10 (youngsters would have to be helped by an older reader – it written for adult-level readers). It covers not only how to play, but many of the same tips I give my students. Good for students up to the 1400 level! The final third of the book is more advanced and can be put away for later (after doing books on Fundamentals) This book is widely distributed.
Square One – Bruce Pandolfini – A book to teach young beginners how to play (may be out of print; check for used copies).
Comprehensive Chess Course, Vol I - GM Lev Alburt - Teaches you how to play with some great basic problems and concepts. Alburt's series is based on the official Soviet training method! Can sometimes be purchased with Vol II. Special recommendation by a student: Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster software for kids - PC Version - Nintendo Version
Fundamentals For students of all ages. The following five books form a great "set" of basics:
Chess Tactics for Students (Student Edition; 10th anniversary edition) – John Bain – learn motifs (pins, removal of guard, double attacks, back-rank mates, etc.)
Notes: 1) This book is not widely distributed - click on this link and order it directly from Bain 2) In the new edition, problem 180, it is White to move 3) In problem 255 White's King is on h1, not h2! 4) Why Bain? Check out Tactical Sets and Goals and read about tactical sets below.
Guide to using Chess Tactics for Students (IMPORTANT!):
1) Don't look at anything more than “White to Play” or “Black to Play” – use a 3x5 card to cover up any additional information
2) You do not have to do just 5 problems per section first as Bain suggests. You can go thru the book in any order. Some do it front to back; others cut out the problems and use them like flash cards, etc.
3) Set a limit of 5-6 minutes per problem the first time thru the book; if you don’t get the answer in your time limit, look it up
.Since it is best to do the book multiple times, please don't write in the book!
4) Each time thru the book cut the time limit in half so it does not take forever to go thru multiple times. A typical time limit is for each set would be 6 minutes, then 3, then 90 seconds, 45 sec, 25 sec, 15 sec, 10 sec for each problem in the 7th pass.
5) Repeat going thru the book faster and faster until you can get 85%+ within 10-15 seconds
(see #6 just below). THE GOAL IS TO RECOGNIZE THE PATTERNS, not just be able to solve them! You will be amazed how much this helps your chess. - I am becoming more convinced that this homework is one of the most profitable you will ever do.
6) If you think you can do 85%+ within 15 seconds, take this quiz.
) Doing the set gets boring? Make it into a game! Can you get a higher percentage in that section the next time in half the time limit?
Logical Chess Move by Move - Chernev - A classic which explains each move in excruciating detail! A good, but not perfect, first book of annotated games. It is important to read books of games, especially books written just for instruction. (After this, try The Art of Logical Chess Thinking by McDonald, del Rosario's A First Book of Morphy, or Chernev's The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played; see complete list below). Take this link for GM John Nunn's criticism's of Logical Chess on p.7-8 of Nunn's book Grandmaster Chess Move by Move. Logical Chess Move by move is widely distributed.
Everyone’s Second Chess Book – Heisman – (you can find much more - improvement advice in my Novice Nook columns!) Board Vision, Tips, Etiquette, Rules, etc. This book has all my recommendations for both beginning and intermediate adults and younger students all rolled into one place! A third printing was cancelled, so only used copies are available.
Winning Chess Strategy for Kids - Coakley - Highly recommended for basic tactics AND strategy- don't be fooled by the "...for Kids". For example, check out the advanced "Steinitzian" concepts on pages 202-204. Don't confuse with the excellent (and more advanced) "Winning Chess Exercises for Kids" You can click on this link and order it directly from Canada.
Starting out: Chess Tactics and Checkmates - Chris Ward - I think this book bridges the tactics gap between a "rules" book and a book like Chess Tactics for Students (above) about as well as any. There are some fairly difficult problems but most are basic and quite fundamental.
OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS:
Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess - Fischer & Margulies - a programmed study of back rank and related mates; good for studying after Bain's Chess Tactics for Students
Pandolfini's Endgame Course - Pandolfini - straightforward examples of basic ideas, lots of typos but great selection. Before reading, suggest using online errata list to correct! To save time, you don't have to make all the corrections to the text (except who is to win!), just the analysis. A follow-up book by Bruce, more difficult and less practical, but still fun, is Pandolfini's Chess Challenges
Checkmate for Children - Stark - A modern book covering checkmate patterns - one of the best I have ever seen at just this particular issue - and not just for children!
Comprehensive Chess Course, Vol II - Alburt (Vol I primarily just teaches you how to play) - Youngsters can use this in conjunction with Bain's book for a real good basis for later improvement.
The Chess Tactics Workbook - Woolum - Somewhat similar to Bain's book but with more problems overall and more mate problems, but less single motif problems. Some "Board Vision" puzzles at the back! By Chess in Education - Steve Eddin's errata list
A First Book of Morphy - Del Rosario - a basic game book showing many basic principles via Morphy games. Downside: does not question weak moves well.
Good Problem Books:
Power Chess for Kids - Hertan - a helpful book about how to find basic forcing moves, easier than Hertan's also very good Forcing Chess Moves; check out his helpful essay "Adventure and Sportsmanship" on p.13, but his key exception on p.19 has exceptions itself! Good for all levels 900-1700! Once again, ignore the "for Kids" - that's just funsy graphics, but not content!
Winning Chess Exercises for Kids - Coakley - Possibly the best "intermediate" book to test the tactics for players of all ages! Highly recommended - don't be fooled by the "...for Kids" part of the title. A follow-up to his more basic "Winning Chess Strategy for Kids." Much harder than Bain and more well-rounded (has defensive and "best move" problems) than any other intermediate books, e.g. Winning Chess Combinations and Sacrifices, etc. Over 900 problems! Errata: #87-1: Put White Bishop at d5. #94-8: White King at h1, not g1. ***This is the book for which I receive the most positive feedback of any book I recommend!***
Practical Chess Exercises - Cheng - An interesting idea with 600 positions from games where all you are given is that there is a best move. It could be the only saving defensive tactic, play and win, or a positional idea.
The Chess Training Pocket Book - Alburt - the 300 most instructive positions needed to get to a rating of 1800. To get to 1400, I would start with positions 5, 15, 18, 26, 27, 39, 63, 68, 75, 80, 82, 105, 109, 118, 125, 128, 129, 133, 163, 203, 206, 238, 242, 247, 265, 280.
Chess Exam and Training Guide - IM Khmelnitsky - 2005 Chess Cafe Book of the Year. A book of excellent test problems; good for taking after doing Alburt's Chess Training Pocket Book. Problems good for all levels of difficulty and not just tactics. 2005 Book of the Year!
The Art of the Checkmate - Renaud and Kahn - mostly a great book about checkmate pattern but lots of problems, too.
Chess Strategy Workbook - Bardwick - Has basic ideas but not all problems are easy. A good follow-up to Coakley's Winning Chess Strategy for Kids
The Winning Way - Pandolfini (basic opening patterns, traps) - similar to another classic, Winning Chess Traps by Irving Chernev. Neither is in the form of puzzles, but example opening patterns
Modern Chess Openings (MCO-15) – Nick DeFirmian - Every intermediate can use a one-volume tome covering all the openings. Like buying a dictionary
Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge – Averbach – This small book contains all the basics for chess endgames.
Practical Chess Endings - Chernev - An excellent collection of endgame problems covering most practical ideas. Can be used after Pandolfini's Endgame Course
Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played – Chernev – a book of games, each with an individual idea – written at a good intermediate level. Older version is in descriptive notation. A second book with this same idea, if you like this one, is Grandmaster meets Chess Amateur by
50 Essential Chess Lessons - Giddins - positioned as a more modern, slightly more advanced "Most Instructive Games"!
Silman's Complete Endgame Course – Silman – Great book: Could be listed as "Basic - Intermediate - Advanced" since it covers ALL the endgame bases in a comprehensive manner. Interested layout by "class"; I used that layout in The Improving Chess Thinker.
The Amateur’s Mind – Silman – Examines faulty thinking processes. Silman's book order recommendation. Need basic positional theory as prerequisite. e.g. Winning Chess Strategy for Kids - Coakley.
Pawn Power in Chess – Kmoch (on a more macro scale, try Andrew Soltis’ Pawn Structure Chess, to be updated 2012+) – How to use pawns in chess. This subject is a must for any serious player. Don't worry about the arcane definitions! It's a great book!
Elements of Positional Evaluation – Heisman – explains the most basic ideas underlining how pieces get their value – A CULT Classic. Super-expanded fourth edition! This book is not about how to evaluate positions, but rather the elements for understanding what makes good and bad pieces, and how to value them.
The Logical Approach to Chess - Euwe, Blaine, Rumble - similar in some ways to Elements - very logical (!) and somewhat basic, but also lots of good general knowledge/principles for beginner/intermediates. Very underrated.
Improver's It's Your Move - Ward - 50 problems on finding the right plan (a more basic, but generally instructive book than the also good It's Your Move)
Inside The Chess Mind - Aagaard - A collection of "think out loud" protocols from titled players over 12 positions (but only protocols - doesn't include "thought process" text or discussion). Good for intermediate/advanced players. If you want a book with protocols for all levels...see next book...
The Improving Chess Thinker - Heisman - My book on thought process - the one I always wanted to write - has received excellent feedback. Includes not only thought protocols of players of all classes, but also chapters on thought process basics and time management.
Learn Chess Tactics - Nunn - Superb descriptions of how each tactic works. This can almost be viewed as a successor book to my Back to Basics: Tactics since the problems are on the average much more difficult
The Art of Planning in Chess - Neil McDonald - even better (and more advanced) than his good anthology The Art of Logical Chess Thinking - the third book in this "Chess Secrets" series is Chess Success: Planning after the Opening and then Giants of Strategy and The Giants of Power Play - all good!
Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids Vol 1 and Vol 2 - Jeff Coakley - Don't be fooled by the titles! These books are gems - in additional to some basic puzzles, there's a fascinating collection of challenging and instructive puzzles, including many "board vision" puzzles such as "Switcheroos", "Double Whammies", basic retrogrades, and much more!
The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess - Soltis - 288 principles with examples. Just terrific stuff and very practical. Besides, Andy gives me two entries!
Chess Rules of Thumb - Alburt and Lawrence - 230+ Guidelines and principles, but not quite as good as Soltis' Another cute but effective pocket book by Alburt. Recommended for older players; not for kids. These ideas are so important they are part of my "Big Five" things you should learn first.
Chess Strategy for Club Players - Grooten - Good follow-up to Winning Chess Strategy for Kids. A "more advanced" strategy book with lots of games examples (can treat it like an annotated game anthology) Studying Chess Made Easy - Another great book by Soltis; chock full of practical advice. It must be good - it matches (and explains from Soltis' point of view) much of my "good" advice. Other good "practical" books:
- Chess for Tigers (2nd ed) - Webb
- The Seven Deadly Chess Sins and Chess for Zebras - Rowson (see below under "Advanced")
How To Reassess Your Chess and the How to Reassess Your Chess Workbook– Jeremy Silman – How to use imblances to figure out what to do. The books I would recommend after reading Amateur’s Mind. See Silman's recommendations on book order. The first 52 pages of HTRYC (3rd ed) is much more basic than the remainder. The 4th ed. of HTRYC is clearer and more focused. Recommended once you no longer play "Hope Chess" and lose material to unseen threats (USCF 1600+)
Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) – Five volumes to cover in more detail than NCO; of course, if you play a particular opening, get a book on that opening!
Understanding Chess Move by Move - Nunn - sort of a modern MUCH more advanced version of Chernev's Logical Chess Move by Move.
Understanding Chess Middlegames - Nunn - Another good one from the doctor, with 100 different middlegame issues and two sample games/snippets of each
The World’s Greatest Chess Games – Nunn, Burgess, and Emms – The 100 best games of all-time, as analyzed by computer and authors down through the ages - new version has, I believe, 112 games.
Secrets of Grandmaster Endings – Andrew Soltis – a gem of a book – covers most everything you need to know that is above the Averbach “Essential Knowledge” level
100 Endgames You Must Know - de la Villa - Every time I read this book I like it more. It's advanced, but seems to have its pulse on just what it claims
The Art of Attack – Vukovic – covers advanced attacking techniques, e.g., the classical Bishop Sacrifice. Excellent chapter on focal points.
Judgement and Planning in Chess – Euwe - Chess planning is a difficult subject. This is one of the few advanced books on the subject.
Thought and Choice in Chess - deGroot (now back in print) - The definitive book analyzing how strong chessplayers think. Warning! Reads like a PhD thesis, not a chess book. For how players of all levels think, check out my book The Improving Chess Thinker.
The Seven Deadly Chess Sins - Rowson - a book on thinking - psychological aspects - avoiding time trouble, etc. - The follow up is the similar and good Chess for Zebras. I strongly recommend anyone who is considering chess lessons to read the first chapter of Chess for Zebras, where GM Rowson explains that gaining more chess knowledge is not the way to become a better chess player!
Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy - Watson - The most advanced positional book - great.
Rethinking the Chess Pieces - Soltis - Advanced book about the changing value of the pieces, playing imbalances, when to trade, etc. My award-winning review at Chessville
How to Choose a Chess Move - Soltis - another good general book, this time on thought process, by the GM
The Method in Chess - Dorfman - not a well-written book, but some important ideas about planning and imbalances
The Kaufman Repertoire for Black & White - Kaufman - Probably the best opening repertoire book - the 2011 completely re-written version based on Larry's own play and expert computer evaluation
***NEW*** The Joys of Chess - Hesse - it's "just" a fun book, but a really good one in the mold of old Chernev and Assaic books like The Bright Side of Chess
Transpo Tricks in Chess - Soltis - Some really great practical advice about how to get the most out of many openings. Another Soltis winner.
"My recommended order (though all stand alone):
1) Read Reassess Your Chess through page 52. Then put it away! [Dan's note: You can skip this 1st step with the 4th ed. of How to Reassess Your Chess]
2) Read all of The Amateur's Mind.
3) Read the rest of How to Reassess Your Chess.
4) Read The Workbook.
And yes, you have to start people out with tactics and the basic mates else they will get shredded instantly.”
- IM Jeremy Silman in an e-mail to Dan, 11/16/2001.
1) Excelling at Chess
2) Excelling at Chess Calculation
3) Excelling at Technical Chess
4) Excelling at Combinational Play*
5) Excelling at Positional Chess*
6) Practical Chess Defence*
I also recommend my two DVDs on the attack from ChessBase.
- IM Jacob Aagaard in an e-mail to Dan 8/18/2006
TACTICS SETS: What makes for a great tactics set to form the basis for all later play? I claim:
All of the problems have to be easy enough to eventually be solved on recognition, within reason. They also have to be basic enough to either be single motif, or very easy double motif. They should be building blocks for more difficult problems.
Most of the problems are to win material not checkmate. In chess most games are won by attrition, not checkmates with equal material (what percentage of the games has the reader won with checkmate from a position of even material?). So a problem set that is 75% or more material wins ("X to play and win") and less than 25% checkmates seems about right.
Most of the problems are from normal looking positions that may occur frequently in games. No crazy positions; instead lots of problems featuring trapped pieces, removal of the guards, double attacks - normal stuff - not too many queen sacrifices, etc.
Obviously, great sets can come in the form of books, CD's, DVD's, flashcards - the form is not important for content. However, interactive hints, scoring, timing, etc. by software can add effectiveness to any grade of content. Online websites with basic tactics explained: Predator at the Chessboard or the interactive Chess Tempo (or the usually less preferred Chess Tactics Server, which times problems). To emulate the Bain level on Chess Tempo, set the level of problems to ~900-1250.
Another site with MANY basic problems from several books (hopefully all legal) is Improve Your Chess Tactics by Coffey.
Need explanation of how tactics work? I suggest Starting Out: Chess Tactics and Checkmates by Ward, Power Chess for Kids by Hertan, & my Novice Nook The Seeds of Tactical Destruction
Email from a student: "I've worked nearly 7,000 tactics problems on the website and have achieved a rating of 1451 max. This seems to help my tactical vision a great deal. Remember the tournament I've been playing in since August? The official results are finally on USCF. My rating went from 1306 -> 1457. I have you to thank for this. The training and Novice Nooks have helped tremendously! Tonight I'm getting my first trophy for first place under 1400 :-)"
- Chess Tactics for Students - John Bain* (can do repetitively - see above)
Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess - Bobby Fischer and Margulies*
Starting out: Chess Tactics and Checkmates - Chris Ward*
- Winning Chess Strategy for Kids - Jeff Coakley (a great author)
- The Chess Tactics Workbook - Al Woolum
- Back to Basic: Tactics - Dan Heisman (use cleaned-up 2nd printing)
- The Winning Way - Bruce Pandolfini (more difficult to find)
Power Chess for Kids - Hertan - a helpful book about how to find basic forcing moves, easier than Hertan's also very good Forcing Chess Moves; check out his helpful essay "Adventure and Sportsmanship" on p.13, but his key exception on p.19 has exceptions itself!
Need more basic patterns? Throw in:
Checkmate for Children by Kevin Stark has an excellent array of basic checkmate patterns
The Art of the Checkmate by Renaud and Kahn
Winning Chess Traps - Irving Chernev
Novice Nook on why using these puzzles to reject your candidate moves is the main idea for studying basic tactics
IM David Pruess's interesting insights on the 2,000 basic patterns
- Anthology of Chess Combinations - Matanovic
- Chess Combinations of the World Champions - Tangborn
- Combination Challenge - Hays and Hall
- John Nunn's Chess Puzzle Book - Nunn - each problem checked by computer. - Excellent but very difficult.
- Sharpen Your Tactics - Lein and Archangelsky
- Blunders and Brilliancies - Mullen and Moss - The chapter on positions where masters resigned where they were not losing is worth the price alone!
- Tactical Chess Training - Shamkovich and Cartier
- Tactical Targets in Chess - Vol I - Pongo
- Test Your Chess IQ, First Challenge - Livshitz
- Logical Chess Move by Move - Irving Chernev
- Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking - Neil McDonald
- The World's Most Instructive Amateur Game Book - Heisman
- (Note: the non-anthology A First Book of Morphy by del Rosario can be read here)
- Simple Attacking Plans - Wilson - contains a variety of master-master, master-amateur & amateur-amateur games
- Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played - Irving Chernev
- The Art of Planning in Chess - Neil McDonald
- Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur - Euwe and Meiden
- 50 Essential Chess Lessons - Steve Giddins
- Chess Success: Planning After the Opening - Neil McDonald
- (Chess Strategy for Club Players - Grooten can be read here - it has mostly games but some game snippets)
- The Giants of Strategy - Neil McDonald
- 50 Ways to Win at Chess - Steve Giddins
- Understanding Chess Middlegames - John Nunn - Even though some of the games omit openings, this book is similar to Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played in that the games are organized by themes, and thus very helpful.
- Winning Chess Brilliancies - Yasser Seirawan (after this book I would go to individual game collections)
- Giants of the Power Play - Neil McDonald - the final of this excellent five-book set
- Understanding Chess Move by Move - John Nunn
- Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces - Igor Stohl
- Zurich 1953 - David Bronstein
IM David Pruess's interesting insights on Silman's suggestions about how many games you need to review.
Novice Nook on how to review chess games
Individual Game Collections (chronological order)
- Paul Morphy - A Modern Perspective - Beim (A First Book of Morphy - del Rosario is much less advanced)
- Marshall's Best Games of Chess - Frank J. Marshall
- Alekhine's Best Games of Chess (2 volumes) - Alexander Alekhine
- The Road to the Top and The Quest for Perfection - Paul Keres series
- My Sixty Memorable Games- Bobby Fischer
- Larsen's Best Games of Chess - Bent Larsen
- Life and Games of Michael Tal - Michael Tal
- Jon Speelman's Best Games - Jon Speelman
- My Great Predecessor Series - Garry Kasparov