Books from My Past, Part 1

Aug 9, 2013, 9:11 PM |

When I started playing tournament chess back in 1994, I had three chess books sitting on my shelf. Out of pure luck, I happened to have picked three very good books for a novice player to lean on during his first tentative steps toward serious chess study.

How to Play the Opening in Chess

by Raymond Keene and David Levy (1993)


As the title suggests, this book is an introductory survey of the major openings for both white and black, with plenty of prose that gently introduced me to opening principles, such as controlling the center and developing pieces. The book is in no way a comprehensive reference. But it covers enough of the important openings to get a beginner started without overwhelming. With this book in hand, in my first few tournaments I played a rough Ruy Lopez or Reti as white and some miscellaneous, half-baked moves as black. But, because of this book, I had some inkling of opening knowledge that allowed me to get my pieces out and put up a fight. (I believe the book uses algebraic notation, though I couldn't check because I loaned it out many years ago to a co-worker and never saw it again.) 

Winning Chess: How to See Three Moves Ahead

by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld (1971)


This classic book on chess tactics was first published in the 1940's by two prolific chess authors. Fred Reinfeld might be considered the Bruce Pandolfini of that earlier time and Irving Chernev, the Jeremy Silman. The Amazon reviews for this book say it all. It currently has 42 customer reviews and every one of them is five stars, with titles like, "Best Chess Book I Ever Read" and "Simply Excellent." This is one of those older books that made me happy that I learned descriptive notation early in my studies. The book was my first exposure to tactics and was a solid primer for me on combinational play, starting out with concepts such as Pins, Removing the Guard, and Double Attacks and then using those (and other) simple tactics as building blocks to help me understand how to find more complex combinations. A book like this is critical to have early in one's chess growth and must be followed up by rigorous study of one of the many "1001 tactical problems" type puzzle books.

Chess Fundamentals

by Jose Capablanca (1979)


This book is another classic written in descriptive notation (at least my version). Whereas the other two books were about specific aspects of chess (the opening and tactics), importantly, this book is a general overview and potpourri of topics on the game. Capablanca, one of the top 10 players of all time, covers opening principles, middlegame strategy, and, at some depth and breadth for an introductory book, endgame technique and strategy. This book pulled together for me nicely all the different aspects of chess so that I had a more holistic view of the game. I could finally start to glimpse the magnitude and allure of the chess journey in front of me. 

There are many more books to choose from today than when I started playing back in 1994 but I believe finding three books similar to these (or these specifically) will give one a great foundation on which to build. In fact, these three books, studied diligently and repeatedly, could easily get a player past the 1300 level. 

There is one topic that none of these books covered. My poor thought process tripped me up during my first 15 years of play. The idea that I needed to have a structured and consistent thought process never entered my mind. Fortunately, I finally picked up a copy of Everyone's Second Chess Book by Dan Heisman and it changed my game forever. The simple mantra to always check all of your, and your opponent's, checks, captures, and threats, was groundbreaking for me--even after 15 years of play.

I invite you to read the next part of this blog series: Books from My Past, Part 2.