Review: The Amateur's Mind

Review: The Amateur's Mind

May 22, 2016, 9:41 PM |

IM Jeremy Silman is a well-known chess author (border line famous, but not quite, as my mother hasn't yet heard of him), best know for his strategy book, How to Reassess Your Chess (now in its fourth edition). The Amateur's Mind (by IM Jeremy Silman, 1999) might be an even more useful book for players under 1800. 

Why might The Amateur's Mind be more useful? Well, first of all, How to Reassess Your Chess is, frankly, both big and difficult. It is 530 pages and the problems can be very challenging for a class player. This isn't bad but it can be demotivational to struggle with a big book that is over your head.

Heck, it took me well over a year to finish my first pass through How to Reassess Your Chess and I only completed the first 3-5 problems at the end of each chapter, leave 10-15 in each chapter unsolved. (My logic was that I would get to those remaining problems on my next pass through the book--sometime in the future. At least that was the working theory.) 

The Amateur's Mind is a bit shorter at 443 pages and, importantly, it is written as a bit of an introductory manual on both chess strategy and psychology. The material and problems are completely approachable for even 1200 level players but are interesting and instructional for at least Class B level players like myself.

Silman introduces his "Imbalances" methodology for breaking down a position by different characteristics in order to understand the right plan. The imbalances are minor pieces, pawn structure, space, material, files and squares, development, and initiative.

Besides learning how to break down a position and come up with a reasonable plan, Silman introduces psychological concepts, including a chapter on developing mental toughness.

Though the chapters don't end with problem sets, the end of the book devotes over 100 pages to tests.

The most interesting concept used throughout the book is the presentation of amateur games where Silman plays against one of his students while having a dialog about what they are thinking about the position. This very starkly illustrates the incorrect thought processes that amateurs use during a chess game and include things like letting emotions override logic, focusing on the least important elements of a position, being fearful, etc.   

If you are under 1800 and haven't yet read How to Reassess Your Chess, you may want to consider starting here with The Amateur's Mind.