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The Best Chess Books Ever

The Best Chess Books Ever

Lately I’ve gotten several letters from chess fans who want to know what kind of chess books I like, and what books I consider to be the best of all time.

That kind of “best-ever” list is very much a matter of taste, and a small list is impossible due to the enormous number of books that are written every year. 

Keep in mind that more chess books have been written than books about all other sports and games combined! And though I have around 4,000 chess books, a couple of my friends have far more than that!

In fact, my collection is considered to be nothing more than a good “working” library.

I asked a few chess friends to chime in about their favorite chess books, and I’ll give their lists before sharing my views on the subject.

You’ll notice that some books are in just about everyone’s list, which tells you a lot about those particular tomes.

 

YASSER SEIRAWAN

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A grandmaster and four-time U.S. chess champion, Yasser is also a fantastic chess writer and has written many fine chess books.

His Play Winning Chess series is highly thought of, and is a favorite of players from beginner to 1800. His book (with co-author George Stefanovic) on the 1992 rematch between Fischer and Spassky (No Regrets: Fischer-Spassky 1992) is one of the finest match books ever written. His latest book, Chess Duels: My Games With the World Champions is a fantastic read.

Yasser pointed out that any list is very subjective, but he listed the following as personal favorites:

  • TAL-BOTVINNIK, 1960 by Mikhail Tal
  • MY 60 MEMORABLE GAMES by Robert Fischer
  • THE LIFE & GAMES OF MIKHAIL TAL by Tal
  • ZURICH INTERNATIONAL CHESS TOURNAMENT 1953 by David Bronstein (the original title was The Chess Struggle in Practice)
  • MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO by Alexander Alekhine
  • GRANDMASTER OF CHESS: THE EARLY GAMES OF PAUL KERES by Paul Keres
  • GRANDMASTER OF CHESS: THE MIDDLE YEARS OF PAUL KERES by Paul Keres
  • GRANDMASTER OF CHESS: THE LATER YEARS OF PAUL KERES by Paul Keres
  • GRANDMASTER PREPARATION by Lev Polugaevsky

Seirawan said: “All these books have held me in endless fascination. Indeed, I feel like I’ve read them many times. Instead of simply naming titles, I prefer to mention authors. I enjoy the works of Larsen, Bronstein, Tal, Kasparov, Karpov, Silman, Nunn, Watson, and Christiansen, among others. Their works stand out against other very worthy authors. We will have to wait for the autobiographies of Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, Nakamura…”

 

JOHN DONALDSON

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image via wikipedia

John is an international master, six-time captain of the U.S. Chess Olympic team, chess historian, and author of many chess books, including his two-book masterpiece on Akiba Rubinstein (co-authored by Nikolay Minev). John is currently working on the ultimate book about Fischer. I’ve been following his progress on this book for quite some time, and when I say it’s the ultimate book on Fischer, I mean it. 

Knowing John was completely immersed in his Fischer project, I didn’t expect him to give me any feedback about the “best books.” However, he innocently mentioned one and I grabbed it since it’s also a favorite of mine!

  • SECOND PIATIGORSKY CUP by Gregor Piatigorsky and Isaac Kashdan

He had this to say about this particular book: “I would go with the Second Piatigorsky Cup where eight of the participants annotated all of their games (Donner did nine and Bobby sadly only one). I’ve always been fond of games annotated by both players.”

 

ANTHONY SAIDY

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image via wikipedia

Dr. Anthony Saidy (the real star of the HBO Fischer movie) is a legendary IM who played Fischer (a close friend of his) many times, and beat many big names (Korchnoi, for example). He also happens to have a magnificent chess library that dwarfs mine. His book, The Battle of Chess Ideas (written in Reti’s tradition), is a classic (available in paper and in e-book format for iOS), and his coffee table book, The World of Chess, is something all chess fans should own. His novel, 1983, a Dialectical Novel, was given high marks by Harrison Salisbury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Moscow correspondent of the New York Times. 

His list:

  • RETI’S MODERN IDEAS IN CHESS by Richard Reti (“poetically written”)
  • MASTERS OF THE CHESSBOARD by Richard Reti
  • THE GAME OF CHESS by Siegbert Tarrasch (“Generations learned how to play from this book!”)
  • MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO by Alexander Alekhine
  • THE HYPERMODERN CHESS GAME by Savielly Tartakower (Unfortunately it’s only in German.)
  • MY 60 MEMORABLE GAMES by Robert Fischer
  • ZURICH INTERNATIONAL CHESS TOURNAMENT 1953 by David Bronstein
  • SOVIET CHESS 1917-1991 by Andy Soltis
  • THE HUMAN SIDE OF CHESS: THE GREAT MASTERS AND THEIR GAMES by Fred Reinfeld
  • THE DEFENSE by Vladimir Nabokov (“best chess novel”)
  • MY SYSTEM by Aron Nimzowitsch
  • MIKHAIL BOTVINNIK: THE LIFE AND GAMES OF A WORLD CHESS CHAMPION by Andrew Soltis 

 

DANIEL RENSCH

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image via East Valley Tribune

Rensch is an international master and supreme ruler of Chess.com. 

His list, “not necessarily in that order of course”:

  • ZURICH INTERNATIONAL CHESS TOURNAMENT 1953 by David Bronstein
  • DYNAMIC CHESS STRATEGY by Mihai Suba
  • TAL-BOTVINNIK, 1960 by Mikhail Tal
  • HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS by Jeremy Silman
  • UNDERSTANDING CHESS MOVE BY MOVE by John Nunn
  • ROAD TO CHESS IMPROVEMENT by Alex Yermolinsky

Here is Rensch’s chess book list for students:

  • RUSSIAN CHESS COURSE, VOLUMES 1 AND 2 by Lev Alburt 
  • MY SYSTEM by Aron Nimzowitsch
  • ZURICH INTERNATIONAL CHESS TOURNAMENT 1953 by David Bronstein
  • CAPABLANCA’S BEST CHESS ENDINGS by Irving Chernev
  • MY 60 MEMORABLE GAMES by Robert Fischer
  • PAWN STRUCTURE CHESS by Andy Soltis
  • PAWN POWER IN CHESS by Hans Kmoch
  • WINNING PAWN STRUCTURES by Alexander Baburin
  • THE INNER GAME OF CHESS by Andy Soltis
  • ESSENTIAL CHESS ENDINGS VOLUME 1 by Jeremy Silman
  • HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS by Jeremy Silman
  • DYNAMIC CHESS STRATEGY by Mihai Suba
  • UNDERSTANDING CHESS MOVE BY MOVE by John Nunn
  • DVORETSKY’S ENDGAME MANUAL by Mark Dvoretsky 
  • FUNDAMENTAL CHESS ENDINGS by Karsten Muller and Frank Lamprecht 
  • ENDGAME VIRTUOSO by Vassily Smyslov
  • CHESS PUZZLE BOOK by John Nunn
  • CHESS TRAINING POCKET BOOK by Lev Alburt 
  • BEST GAMES OF SELF-AUTHORED WORLD CHAMPION by any world champion. 
  • PRACTICAL CHESS ENDINGS by Paul Keres
  • SCHOOL OF CHESS EXCELLENCE SERIES by Mark Dvoretsky 
  • ROAD TO CHESS IMPROVEMENT by Alex Yermolinsky 

[Note added by IM Rensch: "I feel like an a** for not mentioning the Great Predecessor series by Kasparov. Of course, those books are simply phenomenal and monumental works of art, and in my opinion, might be Kasparov's  biggest contribution to the chess community (which is really saying something). Also, my top-six list was definitely given under the guidelines of 'my favorites for enjoyment' and not necessarily the best books for both a 1200 and 2400 to read."]

JACK PETERS

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IM Jack Peters ruled Southern California chess for over two decades and authored several chess books. He wrote the chess column for the Los Angeles Times newspaper from 1982 to 2011, and now teaches chess at the University of Southern California.

Peters said: “I don’t believe in the idea of ‘best’ books. Almost any good-quality book can seem terrific if you encounter it at the moment you are ready to learn what the author is explaining. My list is composed of books that made a strong impression on me. In no particular order”:

  • CHESS PRAXIS by Aron Nimzowitsch
  • MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO by Alexander Alekhine
  • MY 60 MEMORABLE GAMES by Robert Fischer
  • 100 SELECTED GAMES OF CHESS by Mikhail Botvinnik
  • MARSHALL'S BEST GAMES OF CHESS by Frank Marshall
  • BASIC CHESS ENDINGS by Reuben Fine
  • CHESS ENDINGS: ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE by Yuri Averbakh
  • THE WORLD’S GREAT CHESS GAMES by Reuben Fine
  • THE SOVIET SCHOOL OF CHESS by Alexander Kotov and Mikhail Yudovich
  • CHESS INFORMANT #11

  

CYRUS LAKDAWALA

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image via Chess.com

Cyrus is an international master, a highly sought-after chess teacher, and one of the hottest chess writers in the world today.

His list:

  • HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS by Jeremy Silman
  • CHESS SECRETS I LEARNED FROM THE MASTERS by Edward Lasker
  • CAPABLANCA'S BEST CHESS ENDINGS by Irving Chernev
  • ENDGAME STRATEGY by Mikhail Shereshevsky
  • MASTERING THE ENDGAME, VOLUME 1 by Mikhail Shereshevsky
  • MASTERING THE ENDGAME, VOLUME 2 by Mikhail Shereshevsky
  • CHESS IS MY LIFE by Victor Korchnoi
  • MY 60 MEMORABLE GAMES by Robert Fischer
  • ZURICH INTERNATIONAL CHESS TOURNAMENT 1953 by David Bronstein
  • TAL-BOTVINNIK, 1960 by Mikhail Tal
  • DVORETSKY’S ANALYTICAL MANUAL by Mark Dvoretsky
  • THINK LIKE A GRANDMASTER by Alexander Kotov

 

DAVID PRUESS

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image via blogspot

David Pruess, a strong international master, helped to make Chess.com what it is today. He is also Chess.com’s most famous rapper.

David said: “My choices depend on what is meant by ‘best’, most enjoyable, or most educational? Good for a 1200 or good for a 2400? I’m not sure, so I’ll just share with you the books that have contributed most to my chess development, by being enjoyable, inspiring, and educational. This is in approximate chronological order, so #1 was one of the first books I’ve read, and #12 is something I’m still reading today! ”

David's list:

  • WINNING CHESS STRATEGY by Seirawan and Silman
  • CHESS PRAXIS by Aron Nimzowitsch
  • MODERN IDEAS IN CHESS by Richard Reti
  • NEW YORK 1924, game annotated by Alexander Alekhine
  • MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO by Alexander Alekhine
  • GRANDMASTER PREPARATION by Lev Polugaevsky
  • CHILD OF CHANGE by Garry Kasparov
  • ENDGAME STRATEGY by Mikhail Shereshevsky
  • TAL-BOTVINNIK, 1960 by Mikhail Tal
  • THE ART OF THE MIDDLEGAME by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov (mainly the Keres sections)
  • THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE by David Bronstein
  • MY GREAT PREDECESSORS VOLUMES 1-5 by Garry Kasparov (have only read parts of this series, but it’s reallllly good).

“My overall #1 is definitely Grandmaster Preparation by Polugaevsky, who along with Kasparov I consider my favorite chess writers,” said Pruess. 

 

JOHN WATSON

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An international master and one of the world’s best chess coaches, Watson has an almost legendary stature as an opening theoretician and chess thinker. He gives weekly opening repertoire lectures on the ICC, and monthly opening columns for ChessPublishing.com.

He’s written more than 30 books on chess, the most well known being his revolutionary series on the English Opening, his books on the French Defense, his four volume series titled, Mastering the Chess Openings, and his award-winning duo, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy: Advances since Nimzowitsch and Chess Strategy in Action. His latest book (with Eric Schiller) is a revised edition of Taming the Wild Chess Openings, due out in late spring from New in Chess.

Watson's list:

  • MY SYSTEM by Aron Nimzowitsch
  • SOVIET CHESS 1917-1991 by Andy Soltis
  • EMINENT VICTORIAN CHESS PLAYERS by Tim Harding
  • THE LIFE & GAMES OF MIKHAIL TAL by Mikhail Tal
  • SEVEN DEADLY CHESS SINS by Jonathan Rowson
  • VAN PERLO’S ENDGAME TACTICS by Van Perlo
  • FIRE ON BOARD: SHIROV’S BEST GAMES (Volumes 1 and 2) by Alexei Shirov
  • THE KING: CHESS PIECES by Jan Hein Donner
  • Genna Sosonko’s collections of essays, especially RUSSIAN SILHOUETTES, THE RELIABLE PAST, and SMART CHIP FROM ST PETERBURG
  • CHESS DUELS by Yasser Seirawan
  • HOW TO REASSESS YOUR CHESS 4th edition by Jeremy Silman

 

JEREMY SILMAN

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image via wikipedia

Okay, we finally come to my favorite books. Of course, there are a huge number of chess books that I really like, but I will only mention a few here.

 Best Game Collections

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  • TAL-BOTVINNIK, 1960 by Mikhail Tal
  • THE LIFE & GAMES OF MIKHAIL TAL by Mikhail Tal
  • 100 SELECTED GAMES OF CHESS by Mikhail Botvinnik

Everyone should get this book and play though all of Botvinnik’s games and notes.

  • SECOND PIATIGORSKY CUP by Gregor Piatigorsky and Isaac Kashdan
  • NO REGRETS: FISCHER-SPASSKY 1992 by Yasser Seirawan and George Stefanovic
  • MARSHALL'S BEST GAMES OF CHESS by Frank Marshall

So much fun!

  • CHESS PRAXIS by Aron Nimzowitsch

I was never high on My System, but I love Chess Praxis!

  • MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO by Alexander Alekhine

You’re not a chess player until you’ve read both these books.

  • GRANDMASTER OF CHESS: THE EARLY GAMES OF PAUL KERES by Paul Keres
  • GRANDMASTER OF CHESS: THE MIDDLE YEARS OF PAUL KERES by Paul Keres
  • GRANDMASTER OF CHESS: THE LATER YEARS OF PAUL KERES by Paul Keres
  • BENT LARSEN’S BEST GAMES by Bent Larsen

I considered the older edition to be one of the best chess books ever, but this new edition (from New in Chess) is even better.

  • THE LIFE AND GAMES OF AKIVA RUBINSTEIN, Volumes 1 & 2 by John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev

If you’re a Rubinstein fan, these two books are as good as it gets.

  • MY BEST GAMES OF CHESS 1935-1957 by Vasily Smyslov

The games are sublime, and the notes are crystal clear.

  • TIGRAN PETROSIAN HIS LIFE AND GAMES by Vik Vasiliev

I have several books on Petrosian, but this is my favorite.

  • KARPOV’S STRATEGIC WINS VOLUMES 1 & 2 by Tibor Karolyi

Mr. Karolyi cranks out one fine book after another. As a Karpov fan, I found these to be particularly enjoyable.

  • JUDIT POLGAR TEACHES CHESS, VOLUMES 1-3 by Judit Polgar

Well-written and very personal, these books are deeply autobiographical, and also filled with world-class notes. Lots of great photos make these three great books even better.

 

Middlegame Instruction

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  • THE ART OF THE MIDDLEGAME by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov

Simple, clear, instructive. I’m very fond of it!

  • THINK LIKE A GRANDMASTER by Alexander Kotov

A classic.

  • FISCHER: HIS APPROACH TO CHESS by Elie Agur

Another book that never got its due. The author breaks down Fischer’s games into common themes, showing you how Fischer handled various kinds of positions. So, instead of just another game collection, we have a middlegame textbook using only Fischer games.

 

Endgame

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  • CAPABLANCA'S BEST CHESS ENDINGS by Irving Chernev

A delight.

  • ENDGAME STRATEGY by Mikhail Shereshevsky

Very instructive.

 

Tactics

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  • CHESS GEMS: 1,000 COMBINATIONS YOU SHOULD KNOW by Igor Sukhin

This little-known book deserves much more attention than it got. Other than the incredible games, wonderful puzzles, and very nice notes, it’s also a lesson in chess history taking you step-by-step through the tactical timeline from the 12th century to Greco and onwards. The author put a lot of love into this book, and if you want to study tactics, then you can’t do better than this!

  • THE ART OF THE CHESS COMBINATION by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

When I was 14 my tactics were pathetic. I read this book from start to finish and went from 1300-strength tactics to 2100.

 

 

History

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  • PACHMAN’S DECISIVE GAMES by Ludek Pachman

I lost count on how many times I’ve read this. No, it’s not about Pachman’s games. It’s about key moments in famous tournaments. He first builds up a critical situation, then presents the all-important game with great notes. A tournament table is given afterwards. You learn a lot from the games, and you learn a lot about chess history too.

  • SOVIET CHESS 1917-1991 by Andy Soltis

When Andy is “on,” he’s capable of great things. This is one of his masterpieces.

  • MIKHAIL BOTVINNIK: THE LIFE AND GAMES OF A WORLD CHESS CHAMPION by Andy Soltis

Yet another Soltis tour-de-force.

  • FRANK MARSHALL, UNITED STATES CHESS CHAMPION by Andy Soltis

Three strikes and you’re out if you don’t buy all three of these Soltis books.

  • THE HUMAN SIDE OF CHESS: THE GREAT MASTERS AND THEIR GAMES by Fred Reinfeld

A wonderful read. The fact is, Reinfeld, Chernev, and Edward Lasker wrote many, many really excellent books.

  • BLINDFOLD CHESS by Eliot Hearst and John Knott

If you have any interest in blindfold chess or chess history then this book is for you. It’s fantastic!

  • THE KING: CHESS PIECES by Jan Hein Donner

Mixing a sharp tongue with humor and fascinating insights, this book is something that deserves a rereading every couple of years.

  • A. ALEKHINE: AGONY OF A CHESS GENIUS by Pablo Moran

Beautifully researched, emotionally moving.

  • ARON NIMZOWITSCH: ON THE ROAD TO CHESS MASTERY, 1886-1924 by Per Skjoldager and Jorn Erik Nielsen

An epic piece of work. Games, crosstables, and a complete biography of the man, and it shows you Nimzowitsch as you’ve never seen him before.

  • THE TURK, CHESS AUTOMATON by Gerald M. Levitt

The definitive work on this subject. Absolutely fascinating.

  • MY GREAT PREDECESSORS VOLUMES 1-5 by Garry Kasparov

Many reviewers criticized these books, but they are as wrong as wrong can be. This five-volume set not only has tons of well-analyzed games, but it’s a complete, easy-to-digest course on chess history from the first world champion onwards. 

To finish up, I have to admit that Seirawan was right. You should look for dependable chess authors that never let you down:

  • Genna Sosonko’s intimate stories about various chess greats (The World Champions I Knew, Russian Silhouettes, Smart Chip From St. Petersburg, etc.).
  • Edward Winter’s historical discoveries which are candy for lovers of chess history (Chess Explorations, Capablanca, Chess Facts and Fables, etc.).
  • Tibor Karolyi’s tidal wave of superb publications (Mikhail Tal’s Best Games, Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov, etc.).
  • All of Nunn’s books are excellent.
  • Lakdawala specializes in game collections and opening books, but all of his work is always extremely instructive and fun.
  • John Watson is a monster theoretician and also a thinker, so if you like serious opening information and/or deeply considered strategic chess musings, he’s your man.

And on and on it goes, since nowadays there are dozens of really good chess writers (Boris Avrukh, Jacob Aagaard, David Vigorito, Mihail Marin, etc.).

To wend his way through the mass of books, a chess player needs to know exactly what he’s looking for. If you’re looking for an opening book, you should seek out well-known opening theoreticians. If it’s instruction, you look for an author that addresses players at your level (buying something that’s too advanced won’t help you at all). This means that a classic book that is revered by many people might not be useful for you.

That’s why, when I inherited the original five My System pamphlets (they eventually were made into the one book you see today), which were actually signed by Nimzowitsch (perhaps the only signed copies in existence?), I gave them to a chess historian since my library is utilitarian, and treasures like those need to be owned by someone who can take proper care of them. Thus, buying an expensive, critically acclaimed book is heaven for one player but might well be a waste of money for you.

When all is said and done, the chess book experience is a very personal one. It can be extremely frustrating (you read a few pages, realize you’re bored to tears, and place it on the shelf, never to touch it again), or it can be transformative (the book happens to address all your weaknesses and misunderstandings).

So choose carefully, and your chess library will give you a lifetime of pleasure.


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