Chess books

So these are my chess books… most of them chosen after some thinking, reading reviews, and browsing through them. As a result there are hardly any I don’t like. Yay! I list them categorised as I have them “in my head”, into a few fairly standard groups (and I suppose one not-so-standard):


Bought to simply build up a repertoire, divided along the usual lines of open, half-open, closed, &c. Additionally there is one encyclopedia to cover “everything”.

Starting Out: the Ruy Lopez – John Shaw

1.e4 e5 for both colours

A bit simple, but then the Spanish is so complex that no book would do much good, and I didn’t want to buy into a repertoire book. This gives a quick and broad overview, which is what I wanted. In the main line closed I normally prefer the Chigorin (or the Breyer) as Black; as White, there isn’t much of choice as you’re following/responding to Black’s system. Actually, NCO (see below) is quite extensive on the Spanish.

Queen’s Gambit Declined – Matthew Sadler

1.d4 d5 for both colours

Very thorough, and very good, although a few lines are missing like the Ragozin and the Cambridge Springs. In reality, as White I never face these variations; as Black, I don’t mind playing the Orthodox and the Tartakower. If I know what my opponent prefers (sharp/tactical or slow/strategic) I use the QGD to play against an aggressive opponent or if I don’t feel up for a slugfest from the outset; else  use the Grunfeld (see below)

Play the 2.c3 Sicilian – Rozenthalis & Harley

1.e4 c5 for White

I really really do not want to get caught up in the opening prep of a Black Najdorf or Sveshnikov player. I also like to win the psychological battle. Therefore, I play the quiet 2.c3, both to play in my preparation, as well as to frustrate any super-sharp slugfests, and instead play a quiet positional game. Unfortunately, in reality, I hardly ever face the Sicilian anyway. Just as well – I feel very comfy in most 1.e4 e5 systems as White :-).

Sicilian Kan – John Emms

1.e4 c5 for Black

Inspired by a line I once read – on – where somebody said they liked this opening because after the main line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd5 4.Nxf3 a6 5. Nc3 Qc7 “it looks like you’re playing like a patzer!”. A thorough book that got rave reviews – but the opening is a bit too… strategic for me. If White just aims for 0-0 and puts his pieces on central squares, it’s really difficult to play for a direct win, and it’s easy to self-destruct. Also, the book is fairly skimpy on plans, so as soon as your opponent plays something out-of-book – and most people do against an oddity as the Kan – you’re a bit at sea. As a result I’ve (temporarily?) given up on the Kan and am was experimenting with the Dragon. After the like second game of playing the Dragon, in which I was defending for 30 moves without ever a chance of playing for more than a draw, then made 1 mistake and got mated, I gave up already. Now thinking about the Kalashnikov/Sveshnikov as they seem to be more robust and can catch white at unawares easily.

Winning with the Catalan – Angus Donnington

To play something else after 1.d4 … as White

Partly inspired by Kramnik’s successes with the Catalan, mostly just to give me a different approach after 1.d4; the QGD can get a bit “grandmasterly” sometimes. Also useful in that the setup with g3 works against different setups for Black, such as the Queen’s Indian and the Grunfeld. Haven’t really been able to use it I must say. Maybe should play more White games with 1.d4.

Understanding the Grunfeld – Jonathan Rowson

1.d4 Nf6 for Black

One of my best – scrap that – one of the best opening books ever, IMHO. Doesn’t just explain the moves, but also the structures, the plans… after going through this I’ve played the Grunfeld a dozen times in online correspondence games, and a few times against my girlfriend, and I am still unbeaten.

Nunn’s Chess Openings (NCO) – John Nunn et al.

To cover everything (else) :-), for both colours

Just a book chock full of hardly anything but variations, a great way to quickly get to terms with every opening. Highly useful. Also useful for scaring non-chess-players by showing them the phone-book style table after table and then proclaiming that I actually understand what’s going on :-).

Whole games

These could be further split into single-player game collections and “just” game collections – but I won’t, because it doesn’t matter and I don’t have enough of them to make it a useful distinction. The reason I don’t have many is that I am not the kind of person to try to “emulate” a certain player’s style – with the possible exception of Lasker, although I mostly like him for his psychology.

Logical Chess Move by Move – Irving Chernev

Aimed at novices, this is a little too simple for me. Although the games are well-explained – move by move – so you really get to understand why to play what – most of them are of the variety where the losing side simply seems to roll over and surrender. Also, the two “themes” – the “Kingside Attack” and the “Queen’s Pawn Opening” are not necessarily themes you see in every game. You need to be a bit stronger player to absorb the lessons from these positions and apply them to other positions – then you might as well get another book! Still, quite rightly regarded as a modern classic. Just not for me.

The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played – Irving Chernev

Much more aimed at the intermediate player (than the above title), this is one book that helped me a lot. The games run less smooth (than in the above title), the themes are very diverse (technically, one theme per game, but of course there is overlap) and comments are restricted to important moves, not rigidly to every move. As a result, this book is indeed very instructive to the intermediate player. (It also has the side effect of helping your understanding of descriptive  notation :-)!)

Understanding Chess Move by Move – John Nunn

Basically a modern cross between the two above titles; it has a theme per game like tMIGoCEP, but also chapter themes (“opening play” “attacking play”) like LCMbM. It does do comments per move which isn’t so much of a problem as in LCMbM because of the greater variety in openings covered (that’s where repeatedly reading “1.d4 White grabs part of the centre” gets tedious). Apart from that it is a typical Nunn book: a lot of detailed analysis with long variations to get to the “truth” of the position, with a good number of verbal explanations to get the plans across. As a result this book again builds on the groundwork laid down, in a way, by tMIGoCEP. At my level, the long variations are a overkill – I’m unlikely to end up in these grandmasterly complex positions, and if I do my opponent is unlikely to be so accurate that I need that much analysis. Still, a good book.

The Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games – Graham Burgess et al.

Can’t be beaten for value (like 6 quid for 112 games), so worth buying for that alone. Annotations are even more analytical than in UCMbM, with not so much prose to back them up. This is one problem of the book but not even the biggest. What annoyed me, and made me put the book down after playing through like, half of the games, is a problem similar to that of LCMbM: virtually all games are attacking masterpieces. Hardly any (if at all, can’t remember) endgame brilliancies, defensive efforts, or subtle positional squeezes. This gives an effect (to me at least) similar to listening to a “best pieces of classical music” only to find out they’re 90% Allegros from romantic symphonies. However good, it does get boh-ring. So, moderately recommended this one.

Paul Morphy: a Modern Perspective – Valery Beim

A very thin book this one, and peculiar. Beim is obviously a great admirer of Morphy but struggles to get his point – that Morphy was indeed an exceptional player – across because, well, Morphy never played that many high-class opponents so there are few games to get evidence from. Some flaws in Morphy’s play are exposed (positional mostly), and Beim tries to make the point that despite weak opposition, Morphy was improving rapidly to overcome these weaknesses. I find that point a bit strained and Beim seems to me to build on hope (not to say the word “fanboyism”) more than evidence. Still, as a collection of Morphy games this is an honest book that doesn’t just list his brilliant attacking wins – against mostly inferior opposition, as Beim quite rightly points out. Just about but not really recommended.

Why Lasker Matters – Andrew Soltis

As a collection of well-annotated Lasker games, this one is excellent. As I said above, Lasker is probably the only player I come close to admiring for his play; actually also for his “play” in the wider sense of the word, as Lasker was well ahead of his time in using psychology as part of his game. For instance, Lasker would choose openings and a general playing style his opponents were less comfortable with, and Lasker lied about his motivations for doing so.

Soltis makes a good point of debunking the myths about Lasker, such as playing inferior moves to confuse his opponents, instead focusing on the chess motives behind these moves. The games are well-chosen, given in chronological order, and show all aspects of Lasker’s play. Although some criticism has been aimed at this book for not *really* showing “why Lasker matters” or for asking a question no-one was opposing anyway, it is still a good chess book that teaches one not just chess – something that can only be good. Recommended.

Specific subjects”

This is the not-so-standard category of chess books – and the one where many of my most useful books reside – books I bought to specifically address one aspect of my game and improve it. Also some of the most interesting and best (to me) books are in this category.

the Seven Deadly Chess Sins – Jonathan Rowson

After picking up chess again (in the latter part of 2011), this was the book that helped me improve most. Rowson lists (admittedly arbitrarily) seven ‘problem areas’ that impede your chess psychologically – and gives advice on how to cope with them or avoid the problems altogether. If, like me, your chess is already decent, this is a great help to reaching a higher level – mostly by making your play much more consistent (for more error-free). As a bonus, Rowson is a very entertaining writer and this (as well as his other books) is littered with enlightening quotes from a manifold of sources. Highly recommended.

How to Choose a Chess Move – Andrew Soltis

secrets of practical Chess – John Nunn

Rethinking the Chess Pieces – Andrew Soltis

Chess for Zebras – Jonathan Rowson

The Reassess Your Chess Workbook – Jeremy Silman

How to Calculate Chess Tactics – Valery Beim

How to Play Dynamic Chess – Valery Beim

How to Defend in Chess – Colin Crouch

Understanding the Sacrifice – Angus Donnington

Secrets of Practical Chess – John Nunn

Excelling at Technical Chess – Jacob Aagaard


If you want to quickly score more points, as a beginner/intermediate, the endgame is where you gain. At least, that was what I read, and I didn’t really believe it – until I started to improve my endgames… and started to win games in the endgame that were drawish, and draw games in which I was worse! Once you get past the “it’s just dry and boring” mindset, scoring these points is the best motivation :-).

Just the Facts! – Alburt & Krogius

I didn’t want to get a Big Bad Complete and Dry book, so I got this one. It’s simpler than other books but is good in explaining schematics, not just lists of positions with even more lists of moves – that I could never remember anyway. Also a useful chapter on transitions from middle-games to endgames, a part of the game you don’t often see covered in books; but one I quite like and in a way “specialise in”.

Endgame Secrets – Christopher Lutz

OK this is a bit advanced for me… I mainly bought it because it was massively discounted (only a fiver), and it might serve me at some point when I got better at endgames. Meanwhile I’ve got to thinking that day may never come. Oh well. It’s a good book, just not for me.

Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings – Irving Chernev

This book could also feature under “whole games” as every game is given entirely. This takes up little extra space (just the score is given without comment) but adds a lot to the instructional value, as you get to see how to arrive at these (winning, or at least better) endgame positions. Thus, you also get an idea of how to simplify. The endgames are explained mostly via ideas, not variations, which again adds to the instructional value (Chernev of course was one of the best chess writers for amateurs in history, see his other books below), and an extensive key makes it easy to find back the material balances. Great book.


These books focus at least as much on the “stories” than on chess; I will not give much of a description of their contents as this is no place for book reviews :-)!

Chess is my Life – Viktor Korchnoi

Korchnoi’s autobiography. Read it to halfway then stopped. Not because it’s bad though… but because my holidays were over! Well-written and entertaining, keeping in mind that Viktor has his own opinion about many things which isn’t necessarily the truth!

From London to Elista – Evgeny Bareev

Although a lot of chess in here – it might easily fit into the “whole games” section – of course the main subject of this book is to provide an insight into the camp of Kramnik before and during the three World Championship matches he played – against Kasparov (2000), Leko (2004) and the infamous match (featuring “toiletgate”) against Topalov (2006).

Schaakzaken – Jan Timman

Oddities & leftovers

Mostly stuff that I don’t use anymore for it being too old or too simple – sorry! And some are even in Dutch… Won’t comment much on these either, they’re out of print anyway.

Schaakhandboek – Theo Schuster (vert. Minze bij de Weg)

Prisma Schaakboek 1,2 & 4 – Hans Bouwmeester

Oordeel en Plan, de strategie van het Schaakspel – Max Euwe

Winning Chess Strategies – Yasser Seirawan

Common Sense in Chess – Emanuel Lasker

The Art of Checkmate – Renaud & Kahn