I often get asked various questions about how to play the middlegame, and I think playing many long-time control games slowly against good opposition and then carefully reviewing those games afterwards is the best way to learn about pretty much any part of the game.
However, many players have a big reliance on books and, as an author of 11 myself, I have to admit that used correctly, this can be a very helpful source. By the way, if you just "Don't Know What to Do" in the middlegame, take the link in that just-completed quote to my award-winning article on that subject .
When I discuss the middlegame in the context of these book suggestions, I am not including tactics, as keeping your pieces safe and winning opponent's pieces (and getting and preventing checkmate) is pretty much the prerequisite for all parts of the game, especially middlegames, where things can get quite complex. So let's assume that you already have a handle on tactics, or at least how to improve in that area (hint: Chess.com has a Tactics Trainer), and address the middlegame in general. If you are not tactically sound (and most players below 1600-1700 FIDE are not), then the reading list below will be much less helpful; work on the safety issues first.
Similarly, I am excluding game books, a wonderful source of learning how to play middlegames (and all other parts of the game). I read about 2,000 annotated master games in my first three years of tournament play, which helped me greatly. But game books are not "just" middlegame books, so they don't qualify.
Overall improvement books like the recent Move First Think Later by Hendriks, Studying Chess Made Easy by Soltis, Rapid Chess Improvement by de la Maza, and my A Guide To Chess Improvement again can be very helpful, but fall outside the scope.
The fourth category I will exclude is "How to Think" books like Silman's The Amateur's Mind, Soltis' How to Choose a Chess Move, and my The Improving Chess Thinker. Those books, again, are quite helpful to your middlegame, but wouldn't exclusively qualify as middlegame books. As you can see, there are several aspects of chess which can help your middlegame which are not, strictly speaking, middlegame books!
Excluding the above genres, the following is a suggested reading list. Warning: it should go without saying, but this list is my opinion. I am sure every experienced player would have a different list and I respect that (want to post your list, or a particular book you found instructive, in "Comments"? - that can be helpful and interesting for readers!). I have not read every chess book, and many that I have read are quite good but may not be on this abbreviated list. I won't try to explain why I excluded some "classics". That's part of the point; I am trying to make the list short and readable, not extensive and comprehensive. The books are listed roughly in order of difficulty and/or suggested reading order. Similarly, I do have a full list of Recommended Books.
So, without further ado, here is my "short but helpful" middlegame reading list:
- Winning Chess Strategy for Kids by Coakley. Don't be fooled by the title. Coakley's books, in general, are excellent for all ages and this is a great introduction for anyone.
- Elements of Positional Evaluation by Heisman. My book addresses what makes each piece good and bad, a great basis for understanding what makes an army good and bad in the middlegame. The recent 4th edition is tripled in size to add over 100 examples.
- Modern Chess Strategy by Pachman. This is the only book I had to debate for inclusion. It seemed wise to include a more advanced follow-up to Coakley's book and there were a few good alternatives. However, for now, I settled on this classic. This book is an adbridged (by Alan S. Russell) version of Pachman's three-volume series, "Complete Chess Strategy."
- Pawn Power in Chess by Kmoch - pawns, being relatively static and consisting of half the starting pieces, are the basis of all positions. This very helpful book deals with what those pawns are telling you at the micro level. Ignore, or at least don't worry about his arcane nomenclature at the start. There won't be any quizzes ten years later.
- How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th edition by Silman. I was quite impressed how IM Silman converted his original "bishops vs knights" based book into the general "find and utilize imbalances" book that the 4th edition has become. With the 4th edition, he now covers the kind of material you could only formerly get via a book like the classic Judgment and Planning in Chess by Euwe.
- Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis - This deals with a similar issue as Kmoch's book, but from the macro level - how to play games based on what the pawn structure is telling you. A new version just came out a few weeks ago!
- Understanding Chess Middlegames by Nunn - A very practical book, showing examples of all types of middlegame issues. Dr. Nunn gives some entire games, so this book could almost count as an "other" category, a game book.
- The Art of Attack by Vukovic - I will let you figure out for yourself what this work covers...
Finally, a nod to IM John Watson's advanced and fascinating Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy
and its sequel, Modern Chess Strategy in Action
. These wonderful works look at how modern chess has evolved, with emphasis on changes in perspective on old classic and hypermodern positional dogmas. In that vein, a much shorter and perhaps slightly more basic work, Break the Rules
by Neil McDonald, has just been published, and I am reading it now. But that's getting ahead of ourselves; Watson's books are not recommended until you are at least 1900 FIDE. You have to learn to walk before you can run