Building a Chess Library
A word to the readers of my column: Some chess fans get upset at certain articles and demand more instruction. They fail to understand that I’m not writing an instructive column, I’m writing a column that answers people’s specific questions. This means that some answers will be of interest to a certain group of people, and perhaps not of any interest to others. Some answers will be technical, some humorous, some will supply brutally honest feedback on what it takes to reach a higher level, some will indeed be instructive, and on and on it goes.
For those that insult other people’s questions, grow up! I try hard to get to as many people’s questions as possible, and I treat every question with respect since it’s clearly of importance to the person that asked. If you want a certain question addressed, don’t wait for someone else to ask it! Write me, ask your question, and I’ll eventually get to it. DO try to keep your questions as short as possible. And, if it seems your question has fallen through the cracks, don’t hesitate to write and repeat it. I admit that I tend to be very forgetful.
Finally, for those that hate me (but have never even met me), either get over your fantasy vendetta, send a polite letter voicing the reason you called for a Silman-fatwah (I’m more than happy to privately tell you whether or not I’m the Anti-Christ), or stew in your own, private hate-filled juices (but please do so quietly … I know it somehow gives you pleasure, and I wouldn’t want to deny you such a deep source of joy).
Please keep the questions coming! Any and all chess subjects are happily chewed up, assimilated, and then disseminated!
Mr. g-levenfish said:
I would be interested in Mr. Silman’s recommendations for a chess library, including his own books.
First off, please keep in mind that there are more books about chess than all other sports and games combined! That’s a LOT of books!
A chess library tends to be a very personal thing, and usually mirrors the needs of its owner. Thus, a lover of chess history would buy a completely different set of books than a 1400 tournament player who is trying hard to improve.
My chess library has close to 4,000 books, and since I write about chess and need a large variety of chess subjects to be at my fingertips, the books I own tend to be on everything imaginable. Though one might deem my library to be huge, there are quite a few people in the U.S. (and even more elsewhere in the world) that have collections which dwarf mine.
Some of the books I own that I would recommend to others (and this is just a drop in the bucket when compared to everything that’s out there!):
INFORMANT 1 – 106. These puppies take up a lot of space, and quite a few “modern” players prefer to buy all these on disk. But I grew up with the Informants, and am delighted to own the whole set (well, I think I’m 1 or 2 behind, but I’ll catch up soon enough). The beauty of the Informants is:
* Each volume offers several hundred – hot off the presses (if you have the latest one) – annotated games. This allows you to keep up with cutting edge theory.
* The newer volumes have a section on the best games for that time period, the most important theoretical novelties, combinations, endings, and statistics.
* The newer volumes have a section that gives several theoretical articles. For example, Informant 104 has a 47 page spread on the Sveshnikov Sicilian, a 4 page study of a line in the Advance Variation of the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2 Nd7 6.0-0 h6 7.Nbd2 Ne7 8.Nb3), 4 pages on the Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4), and 4 pages on another critical Slav line (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nc4 Qc7 8.g3 e5 9.dxe5 Nxe5 10.Bf4 Nfd7 11.Bg2 g5 – yes, this is where the analysis STARTS!).
* Tournament crosstables are also included (for the time spread that the particular Informant covers).
To me, these are must-own books, but players under 1800 can find more user-friendly books that will be more suitable for their needs. Others will simply get this information for free from a well-kept database.
NEW IN CHESS YEARBOOKS 1 – 97. There goes another few bookcase rows! Every day I take my cat for a walk on his leash, and I read one of these (or a science magazine) while I do so (I’m known in my neighborhood as, “the pajama clad insane dude who walks his cat on a leash”). I got into the pajama thing after being invited (along with a couple others) to lunch at Hugh Hefner’s place, where he greeted us in his pajamas (and then gave me a private bunny to show me around). Those pajamas seemed sooo comfortable that I quickly acquired a pajama habit! Anyway, forgive me for the horrible digression!
These books offer:
* Around three-dozen surveys covering important theory on just about every opening.
* A forum section where amateur’s can send in their opening discoveries.
* An opening-oriented article by grandmaster Sosonko.
* Books reviews by grandmaster Glenn Flear.
Read NEW IN CHESS YEARBOOKS and Hefner might invite you over for lunch too!
MODERN CHESS OPENINGS by DeFirmian and FUNDAMENTAL CHESS OPENINGS (FCO) by Paul van der Sterren are two popular “all openings in one book” reference sources. I rarely use these myself, but they are highly recommended for players under 1800.
I have two thousand opening books, which translates to many dozens of books on each and every opening. My favorite opening writers (and there are many excellent opening writers, so I’ll just give a few names): John Watson, Richard Palliser, Boris Avrukh, Lars Schandorff, Mihail Marin, John Nunn.
For non-masters, the DANGEROUS WEAPONS series (for those 1600 to 2199, by Everyman Chess) is very interesting, and the STARTING OUT series (for players 1400 to 1800, also by Everyman) gives plans and ideas along with the right moves for one specific opening.
HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS 4TH EDITION by Silman (appropriate for 1400 - 2100 USCF).
THE AMATEUR’S MIND by Silman (1200 - 1700).
THINK LIKE A GRANDMASTER by Kotov (1600 - 2200).
THE MIDDLE GAME BOOK 1: STATIC FEATURES by Euwe and Kramer and THE MIDDLE GAME BOOK 2: DYNAMIC AND SUBJECTIVE FEATURES by Euwe and Kramer (1200 – 2000).
The Pachman series: COMPLETE CHESS STRATEGY - VOLUME 1: FIRST PRINCIPLES OF THE MIDDLE GAME, COMPLETE CHESS STRATEGY - VOLUME 2: PRINCIPLES OF PAWN PLAY AND THE CENTRE, COMPLETE CHESS STRATEGY - VOLUME 3: PLAY ON THE WINGS (1400 - 2100)
THE ART OF THE MIDDLE GAME by Keres and Kotov (1400 – 2200).
THE ART OF ATTACK IN CHESS by Vukovic (1200 - 2100).
THE ART OF SACRIFICE IN CHESS by Rudolf Spielmann (1200 - 2000).
CHESS PRAXIS by Nimzovich. A classic – the author uses his own games to teach various positional ideas. Offers a clear look at such topics as centralization, restriction, overprotection, wing play vs. the center, and much more (1400 – 2100).
MY GREAT PREDECESSORS 1-5 by Kasparov. A great introduction to chess history.
THE OXFORD COMPANION TO CHESS by Hooper and Whyld / THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHESS by Golombek. Great reference sources. I have another 16 books of this nature, but these two are the ones I usually turn to first.
BLINDFOLD CHESS by Eliot Hearst and John Knott. The ultimate book on this subject!
As usual, there’s an overwhelming amount of tournament books out there. Databases make many of these obsolete, but a few exist that are, in my view, must-owns (due to the amazing annotations, and to the raw excitement that’s created when you read about the event):
ZURICH INTERNATIONAL CHESS TOURNAMENT 1953 by David Bronstein.
FIRST PIATIGORSKY CUP and SECOND PIATIGORSKY CUP. If you get lucky, you might find the lovely hardcover first editions at a used bookstore.
NEW YORK 1924 (notes by Alekhine).
KARLSBAD 1907 by Marco & Schlechter (Marco’s notes are as good as it gets).
DECISIVE GAMES OF CHESS HISTORY by Pachman. The author takes over 60 of the most important tournaments and matches in history, gives a blow by blow that puts you in a frenzy, then trots out the event’s decisive game. You not only learn a lot about chess history, but few books will fire you up emotionally like this one will. This book is suitable for players of every level (beginner to grandmaster).
SOVIET CHESS 1917 – 1991 by Andy Soltis. A Masterpiece. Big, full of amazing content, beautiful, and expensive.
BIOS AND GAME COLLECTIONS
There’s some superb stuff under this category. In particular, MacFarland and Company has offered up more than a few amazingly good tomes (which, unfortunately, are extremely expensive). All the books in this section are fine for anyone of any rating but, as usual, I’ll just list the ones that are in my collection and that I personally cherish (of course, I also feel that most readers would also really enjoy these books):
PAUL MORPHY: THE PRIDE AND SORROW OF CHESS by David Lawson. Light years ahead of every other Morphy book!
DE LA BOURDONNAIS VERSUS MCDONNELL, 1834 by Gary Utterberg. I can hear many of you saying, “Who … what?” These two players were the best on Earth during that time period, and the epic match they played is a marvel to behold. The book is gorgeous and informative.
CAPABLANCA by Edward Winter (Winter is the world’s foremost Capablanca expert).
MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS 1905 – 1954 by S.G. Tartakower. If you can find the two volume hardcover set, grab them as fast as you can! Fortunately, they also come as a one-volume paperback. Detailed notes by one of the greatest chess writers (and humorists!) of all time.
V.V. Smyslov MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS 1935 – 1957 (an inexpensive Dover paperback which happens to be a truly great book).
THE LIFE AND GAMES OF MIKHAIL TAL by Tal. Many consider this to be the best chess book of all time.
TAL – BOTVINNIK, 1960 by Tal. This is also a popular choice for the top 10 chess books ever.
ARON NIMZOWITSCH: A REAPPRAISAL by Keene.
TIGRAN PETROSIAN: HIS LIFE AND GAMES by Vasiliev.
GRANDMASTER OF CHESS (by Paul Keres) in 3 volumes: THE EARLY YEARS OF PAUL KERES, THE MIDDLE YEARS OF PAUL KERES, THE LATER YEARS OF PAUL KERES. If you find the original Arco hardbacks, don’t hesitate to grab them!
100 SELECTED GAMES by Botvinnik. There are larger Botvinnik game collections, but this inexpensive, charming little Dover edition is my favorite by far.
PAL BENKO: MY LIFE, GAMES, AND COMPOSITIONS by Benko and Silman. Aside from 138 deeply annotated games, a huge amount of incredible problems and compositions, interviews, dozens of amazing photographs, and an opening survey by Watson, this book tells the story of a life in and out of chess where relationships, the brutality of war, torture, poverty, politics, sex, and the hardships of making a living on the 64 squares are all given equal time.
THE LIFE AND GAMES OF AKIVA RUBINSTEIN by John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev (in two volumes)
RUBINSTEIN’S CHESS MASTERPIECES by Hans Kmoch
FRANK MARSHALL, UNITED STATES CHESS CHAMPION by Andy Soltis.
MARSHALL’S BEST GAMES OF CHESS by Frank J. Marshall
COMPLETE GAMES OF ALEKHINE by Kalendovsky and Fiala in 3 Volumes: Volume 1: 1892 - 1921, Volume 2: 1921 - 1924, Volume 3: 1925 – 1927. All his games up to those dates plus an incredible amount of information about every aspect of Alekhine’s life!
A. ALEKHINE: AGONY OF A CHESS GENIUS by Pablo Moran
BENT LARSEN: MASTER OF COUNTER-ATTACK 1948 - 1969 by Bent Larsen (also titled, LARSEN’S SELECTED GAMES, 1948 - 1969). An amazing player, and an amazing man. He was also the greatest story teller that I’ve ever met.
SILMAN’S COMPLETE ENDGAME COURSE: From Beginner to Master by Silman (for beginners right up to 2200).
CAPABLANCA’S BEST CHESS ENDINGS by Chernev (from beginner to 2100).
ENDGAME STRATEGY by Shereshevsky (from 1600 to master)
The legendary series by Yuri Averbakh (very advanced): KNIGHT ENDINGS (with Chekhover), ROOK VS. MINOR PIECE ENDINGS, QUEEN VS. ROOK / MINOR PIECE ENDINGS (with Chekhover and Henkin), BISHOP ENDINGS, QUEEN AND PAWN ENDINGS, ROOK ENDINGS (with Kopayev) PAWN ENDINGS (with Maizelis). Very advanced stuff!
PRACTICAL ENDGAME PLAY by Fred Reinfeld (I love this book! For players 1200 to 2000).
Note that I recommended quite a few old books. There are, of course, lots of modern stuff on these same themes, but I just find the classics to be charming and far more fun to read. Nevertheless, owning all these books would give you enough stuff to study for a lifetime. Get them all (unless you’re a very advanced player, you can do without the Informants, the NIC Yearbooks, and the Averbakh endgame series), and you’ll have a well rounded chess library to be proud of!
Finally: Every player will have a favorite book that he will want to add to this list. I only mentioned a small few, so if you don't like these titles or want to build a really big library, I'm sure fellow chess.com members will feed you their favorites.