Good Chess Books for Beginners and Beyond

Good Chess Books for Beginners and Beyond

| 5

Whether you are new to chess, or an experienced chess amateur looking for some books to help you improve, this list is for you. The emphasis here is on fundamentals and instructional value - for the improving amateur chess player. These are some of the better books (IMO), elucidating the essential elements which every chess player whose goal is to play better chess should aspire to learn, or become acquainted with.

While many of the books in the list are targeted primarily to the beginner-intermediate audience, there are also selections for more advanced players, up to and including Master level. So there should be something of interest here for every amateur chess player - especially those who haven't yet added "Master" to their chess title!

The list is comprised mainly of books focusing on the following topics: general chess coverage, tactics, attacking/checkmating technique, the opening, the middlegame - including positional-strategic concepts and techniques, the endgame, and instructive game collections. In a few instances I have recommended that books be read in a certain order.  This because the follow-on or later book(s) may assume a familiarity or knowledge of principles or ideas introduced in the previous book(s) which could be considered as containing prerequisite material. 

The books toward the top of the list tend to be introductory and accessible to the beginner-novice.  What I sometimes refer to as "advanced" books, those likely to be appropriate for more experienced players, mostly appear further down the list - for example books which feature or emphasize positional-strategic ideas. 

For those new to chess or who have not previously studied chess, I suggest the following as good FIRST BOOKS to read on their respective topics (each of these books is also commented on in the main article body):

For the absolute beginner who knows little-to-nothing about the game and simply wants the quickest and easiest possible initial exposure to chess and how the game is played at its most basic level - "Let's Play Chess: A Step by Step Guide for New PlayersBy Bruce Pandolfini.  Another excellent introduction to chess is "Learn Chess" by John Nunn.

For a first chess course - more comprehensive than the books above, providing basic coverage of all aspects of chess - "Pandolfini's Ultimate Guide to Chess" by Bruce Pandolfini, followed by "Learn To Play Chess Like A Boss" by Patrick Wolff.  For an introductory chess book/course which employs little-to-no chess notation, see "How to Win At Chess" by the popular online chess streamer, Levy Rozman, aka 'GothamChess'.

For your first books on chess tactics - Start with "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" by Stuart Margulies, Don Mosenfelder and Bobby Fischer.  For more checkmating practice follow with "Simple Checkmates" by A. J. Gillam. For additional practice in a variety of diverse tactics supplement with "Chess Tactics for Students" by John A. Bain and/or "Winning Chess" by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld.

For an introduction to chess opening concepts - "Discovering Chess Openings" by John Emms.  It focuses specifically on FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES of opening play.

For a first course on the endgame - "Pandolfini's Endgame Course" by Bruce Pandolfini.  Covers everything the improving chess amateur should know about the endgame in a convenient, easily digestible one lesson per page format.  Be sure to obtain the errata sheet.

After becoming comfortable with the topics above, for initial exposure to the basic elements and techniques of positional-strategic chess, I recommend to begin with "Play Winning Chess" by Yasser Seirawan, followed by Bruce Pandolfini's "Weapons of Chess".  Studying these will provide an essential foundation for understanding and playing chess at a higher level, and serve as preparation for more advanced chess books.  "Tactics flow from a superior position" - former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer.

For first annotated games collections, start with "A First Book of Morphy" by Frisco Del Rosario followed by "Logical Chess Move By Move" by Irving Chernev.  I highly recommend both of these very instructive books.

A Note on Chess Notation:  All chess books written since roughly the 1980's now employ the modern Algebraic Notation to indicate chess moves.  However, several of the older books in the list employ the superseded Descriptive Notation.  I have included these older books because of their enduring instructive value.  The best chess players in the world are conversant with both kinds of notation.  I recommend that you do so as well; you will occasionally encounter aspects of the Descriptive nomenclature continuing to be employed in discussions of chess moves and positions, including in current books.


Recommended Chess Books

Click on the book titles below for additional information, perspective, reader reviews, etc., on Amazon.  Google Books provides preview book excerpts for some titles.  Publishers' websites may also provide excerpts of their books.  For online chess book reading and/or downloading, see my blog article...

Let's Play Chess: A Step by Step Guide for New Players 

By Bruce Pandolfini.  For perhaps the easiest, quick-start introduction to chess for those new to the game.  Written in a succinct, easy to read format, it explains the rules, fundamental chess principles and lots of practical advice on how to think and plan correctly when playing the game. Also explains "algebraic" chess notation.   This book will get you started on the path to playing better chess.  For a deeper introduction, or supplement, see "Learn Chess" by John Nunn.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

By Stuart Margulies, Don Mosenfelder and Bobby Fischer.  It is said that the three most important of elements of chess to learn first are - Tactics, Tactics, Tactics!  If you aren't already good at seeing and using pins, forks, double attacks, checkmating attacks, etc., then you need this book!  For the beginner, this is simply the best and easiest first introduction to basic chess tactics primer.  If you are new to chess I recommend to begin your study of chess tactics here!  In fact, this would be a great very first chess book for those just starting out in chess.  For additional perspective on the book see my book review blog article. 

For more checkmating practice follow with "Simple Checkmates" by A.J. Gillam.  For additional practice in a variety of diverse tactics supplement these with  "Chess Tactics for Students" by John A. Bain.  Having been exposed to the elementary tactics instruction of these books you will be well prepared to advance your tactical skills with the following books....

Winning Chess

By Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld.  A classic.  A primer of basic chess tactics, targeted to the beginner-novice player. Chapters are thematically organized by type of tactic.  Supplement or follow with "Winning Chess Tactics" by Yasser Seirawan.  Either (or even better, both!) of these books would be excellent follow-on's to the books recommended under "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" (above).

Having been exposed to the lessons from the books above, you will be ready to continue with the following books...

Pandolfini's Ultimate Guide To Chess

By Bruce Pandolfini.  A comprehensive introduction to chess for the beginner, in a narrative, conversational format.  Explains the fundamental concepts of good chess play.  Treats all aspects of chess, including basic tactics, strategy/planning, positional concepts, as well as fundamentals of opening, middlegame, and a brief introduction to endgame play.  Also featured is a complete chess game, where the considerations involved in choosing every move are discussed in detail. Supplement or follow with "Learn To Play Chess Like A Boss" By Patrick Wolff (below).

Learn To Play Chess Like A Boss

By Patrick Wolff.  An instructive introduction to chess for players up through intermediate level.  The book builds on and extends the ideas and concepts introduced in "Pandolfini's Ultimate Guide to Chess" (above) with lots of practical examples.  Together, both books would comprise a very good introductory chess course.  Several other excellent introductory chess courses are:  "Comprehensive Chess Course" (2 Vols. - see also my article here), "Chess For The Gifted and Busy", and  "Secrets of the Russian Chess Masters" (2 vols.) - all by Lev Alburt, et. al.  Finally, the 1931 classic instructional manual  "The Game of Chess" by Siegbert Tarrasch (in descriptive notation) continues to stand the test of time.  Tarrasch's classic is also available in an algebraic edition edited by Lou Hays.

Winning Chess Strategy for Kids

By Jeff Coakley.  It must be said up front that, although it is marketed as such, this book is not just for kids.  In fact, it is an introductory course in chess tactics (primarily) and strategies appropriate for EVERY beginner-novice (and many intermediate players). The book is loaded with great chess instruction.  Supplement or follow-up with Coakley's excellent tactics workbook "Winning Chess Exercises for Kids" (again, not just for kids!).  I highly recommend both books in addition to the books above, to complete your introductory chess curriculum.

Having laid a solid foundation with the books above, you will be well prepared to continue building your chess skills with the following books...

Play Winning Chess

By Yasser Seirawan. Targeted to the beginner-novice player. Focuses on explaining what GM Seirawan posits to be the four primary elements of chess – Force, Time, Space, and Pawn Structure.  An understanding of the implications of these elements will provide a framework for formulating plans and strategies which will enable you to significantly improve the chances for a successful result in your games.  It provides an essential first step in creating a solid foundation for understanding and playing chess at a higher level, while serving as preparation for more advanced chess books.  The importance of the concepts introduced in this instructive book cannot be overstated.  For an exceptionally instructive supplement see "New Ideas In Chess" by Larry Evans (Dover Pub. edition, ISBN 0486283054, in Descriptive notation), which further elaborates on the four primary elements (in fact, Evans' book was the first to formally and comprehensively treat them). 

For an excellent introduction to the techniques of positional-strategic chess, I recommend to follow "Play Winning Chess" with "Weapons of Chess" by Bruce Pandolfini (see below).  In fact, I consider both of these books to be MUST-READS for those who aspire to play chess at a higher level.  

Tips for Young Players

By Matthew Sadler.  Despite its title, this book is targeted to all beginning through intermediate level players.  However in my judgement the book is not appropriate for very young children, say 10 years or less (unless they happen to be very precocious and/or mature for their age).  The book does an excellent job of presenting and clarifying fundamental principles, strategies and techniques essential to playing good chess.  (Pages 70-103 are devoted to an instructive tutorial on opening play using the London System opening).  Recommended also is "The ABC's of Chess" by Bruce Pandolfini.  Discover the plethora of practical chess tips contained in both of these very instructive books!

How Not To Play Chess

by Eugene A. Znosko-Borovsky.  For the beginner-novice, those who don't mind dealing with the older "Descriptive" chess notation.  This is an instructive exposition of chess principles, DO's and DON'T's, which could just as well have been titled "How To Play Chess - Correctly!".  The book is an 'oldie-but-goodie' treasure trove of pearls of essential chess wisdom and, like all of Z-N's books, a pleasure to read.  See also the equally instructive "Why You Lose At Chess" by Fred Reinfeld (in Algebraic notation).

Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas

by Lev Alburt.  A 2-volume series. The title says it all.  Here are highly instructive tactical scenarios and motifs, presented in puzzle format, which every chess player would benefit by working through.  Absorbing these mini-lessons WILL improve your game!  Follow up with the equally instructive and thematically similar "100 Chess Master Trade Secrets" by Andrew Soltis.  Along similar lines, but in a more advanced and lengthy presentation is  "300 Most Important Chess Positions" by Thomas Engqvist.

1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations

classic by Fred Reinfeld.  Chess tactics and combinations puzzles thematically arranged by chapter. See also another Reinfeld classic "1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate".

Back to Basics: Tactics 

By Dan Heisman.  Focuses on the process of analyzing and calculating chess tactics, and introduces the essential concept of 'counting' material during exchanges and combinations.  With its detailed explanations, many consider this to be one of the more instructive books on tactics for the novice player.  For chess tactics from the defender's perspective, see "Looking for Trouble..." (2nd Ed.) also by Dan Heisman.

A to Z Chess Tactics: Every Chess Move Explained

by George Huczek.  The title says it all.  Twenty six tactical themes are explored in detail with every move explained.  The tactics are organized by theme, each with its own chapter listed alphabetically.  At the end of the book 400 tactical puzzles of increasing complexity (with no hints regarding themes) are provided, with solutions.  This instructive book is targeted primarily to experienced, intermediate players and beyond.

Chess Tactics for Champions

by Susan Polgar.  This is a popular tactics workbook targeted primarily to post-beginners and above.  For an even more advanced treatment, targeted primarily to experienced intermediate players, see Fundamental Chess Tactics by Antonio Gude.

Chess Tactics from Scratch: Understanding Chess Tactics

By Martin Weteschnik.  This is not your typical tactics book, but instead is a relatively advanced course in chess tactics and combinations, focusing on methodologies for analyzing tactics, for the intermediate player and above.  The uniqueness of the book is that the author attempts to systematize the process of examining any position in order to determine if certain conditions exist which would make the position amenable to a given type of tactic. The tactical themes are arranged by chapter. Study this after familiarity with the material in the introductory tactics books listed earlier.  For additional advanced tactics training follow up with "Learn Chess Tactics" by John Nunn, "How to Calculate Chess Tactics" by Valeri Beim, and "Forcing Chess Moves" by Charles Hertan.

The Art of Checkmate

By Renaud & Kahn.  Perhaps the best book ever written on fundamental checkmating patterns and technique.  I recommend the new algebraic notation editions, published by either Russell Enterprises, or by Batsford (my preference, due to its better binding), of the classic originally published by Dover (in "Descriptive" notation).  For additional checkmating practice, targeted to the beginner-novice audience, see "Simple Checkmates" by A. J. Gillam.  For even more challenging checkmating scenarios, thematically organized, follow up with the classic "1000 Checkmate Combinations" by Viktor Henkin and/or the equally excellent "Fundamental Checkmates" by Antonio Gude.

Attacking the King

By J.N. (John) Walker.  Targeted to the beginner-novice, this is an introductory primer on how to attack, and checkmate, your opponent's king.  You need to learn how to create and exploit these attacking opportunities - if for no other reason than not becoming a victim yourself!  Continue your attacking instruction with "The Winning Way" by Bruce Pandolfini followed by "Simple Attacking Plans" by Fred Wilson.  I highly recommend these three books for every beginner-novice player.  For instructive examples of checkmating attacks taken from master level games, see Mastering Checkmates by Neil McDonald.  Appropriate primarily for the advanced player is "Mating the Castled King" by Danny Gormally.

Winning Chess Combinations

By Yasser Seirawan.  Targeted to the novice thru intermediate player, this very instructive book illustrates and teaches the art of combinations - complex tactical scenarios typically involving a sacrifice - where the goal is to attack and checkmate the opponent's King.  

Art of Attack in Chess

By Ladimir Vukovic.  A classic.  A well-organized, thematic treatment of everything you wanted to know, the strategies and techniques, for how attack your opponent's king.  Considered by many to be the definitive work on the topic. Very highly recommended as well is Jacob Aagaard's award-winning "Attacking Manual" (Vols 1 & 2).  Notable on the topic of attack are:  “How to Play Dynamic Chess” by Valeri Beim; "Secrets of Attacking Chess" by Mihail Marin; "Attacking Chess for Club Players" by Herman Grooten.  From the defender's perspective, see "How to Defend in Chess" by Colin Crouch and  "New Art of Defence In Chess" by Andrew Soltis.  Each of these books is relatively advanced, and suitable primarily for the experienced, intermediate level and above player.

A Guide to Chess Improvement: The Best Of Novice Nook

By Dan Heisman.  For post-beginners.  The content of this book is extracted from Heisman's "Novice Nook" columns originally published on (the now apparently defunct)  In addition to chapters on opening play, tactics, endgame, positional chess and strategy, the book provides advice and guidelines on topics relevant to the more practical, non-theoretic aspects of playing rated, over-the-board play at chess clubs and tournaments, for example Time Management, Thought Process, Skills and Psychology.  It's like having a chess coach by your side.  For many instructive articles by Heisman treating all aspects of the game of chess, see his "Novice Nook" articles in the archives....

[Note:  For those whose primary concern is improving their middlegame tactical skills, this is an appropriate point at which to check out my note in the Comments section below on the book "The Six Power Moves of Chess".]

Discovering Chess Openings: Building Opening Skills from Basic Principles

By John Emms.  A MUST-READ for the beginner-novice.  Many chess teachers advise against spending excessive time on the study of openings variations for the beginner, but they do agree it is important to acquire a solid understanding of opening PRINCIPLES right from the start.  This book explains the basics of opening FUNDAMENTALS better than any other book!  If you are uncertain about what you should be thinking and doing during the opening, this book does an exceptional job of addressing these issues.  

Chess Openings  

by Mike (Michael) Basman.  A well-written, instructive book, targeted to the beginner-novice audience, focusing on the application of opening principles and techniques while doing a better than average job explaining not only HOW to play the opening, but WHY moves are made.  Features tutorial overview chapters on the following openings: Giuoco Piano, Sicilian Dragon, Queen's Gambit, Nimzo-Indian Defence, and Morra Gambit.  This would be a good supplement to John Emms' "Discovering Chess Openings" (above).  For instructive examples of mistakes and inaccuracies in the opening and how to avoid and/or exploit them, see "Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps" (2 volumes) by Bruce Pandolfini and "Chess Opening Blunders" by Bill Wall. 

Back to Basics: Openings

By Carsten Hansen.  Provides an introductory overview of not only basic opening principles and theory, but a broad survey of essentially every chess opening.  While the treatment of each opening is brief, it is helpful in gauging what the opening is about, providing perspective and sufficient exposure to be helpful in deciding which openings you might be interested in pursuing in more depth.  See also "Winning Chess Openings" by Yasser Seirawan.

FCO: Fundamental Chess Openings

By Paul van der Sterren.  If you want to delve more deeply into specific chess openings, and at some point you will, this is one of, if not the best, single-volume, comprehensive openings references available.  Covers all the major openings.  

Mastering the Chess Openings

By John Watson.  A 4-volume openings reference covering most of the major openings.  This is simply the best (IMO) and most comprehensive exposition of openings themes, plans and theory available.  Watson's ability to clarify concepts of the various openings is outstanding. See also "Chess Opening Essentials..." (4 Vols.) by Djuric, Komarov & Pantaleoni.

Pawn Structure Chess

By Andrew Soltis.  A classic.  While not strictly an openings book per se, Soltis describes and analyzes the major pawn structures arising from the opening and their implications for how to plan.  I highly recommend also the excellent "Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide" by Mauricio Flores Rios.  Also instructive is  "Chess Success: Planning After the Opening" by Neil McDonald.

First Steps: 1 e4 e5

By John Emms.  Provides an instructive introduction and overview of the ideas, plans, tactics and strategies of all the major double king pawn openings (i.e., "the open games"), including the Italian Game, Evans Gambit, Two Knights Defence, Ruy Lopez, Four Knights Game, Scotch Game and others.  This is another fine effort by one of the better chess authors - I highly recommend it, particularly for the  beginner-novice.   For a follow-on, in-depth introduction to these openings, see "Starting Out: Open Games" by Glenn Flear.

Chess Openings for Black, Explained: A Complete Repertoire

By Lev Alburt et al.  This, together with its companion volume, "Chess Openings for White Explained", comprise a complete opening repertoire targeted to the beginner-intermediate player.

For Lev Alburt's Black repertoire (Book 1), the main line against 1.e4 is the Sicilian Defense - Accelerated Dragon, and against 1.d4, Black will play the Nimzo-Indian Defense, if given the opportunity.

Also from Black's perspective in the "Open" game (1.e4 e5) , see  "Play the Open Games As Black" by John Emms; "Beating the Open Games, 2nd Ed." by Mihail Marin; "Opening Repertoire: The Open Games with Black" by Martin Lokander; "How to Beat the Open Games" by Sverre Johnsen;  "Play 1 e4 e5: A Complete Repertoire for Black in the Open Games" by Nigel Davies.

For Lev Alburt's White repertoire (Book 2), the main line in the open game (1.e4 e5) features either of the Scotch Gambit, Italian Game/Giuoco Piano, or Two Knights Defense, depending on how Black responds; Against the Sicilian Defense, White plays the Grand Prix Attack (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 - with f2-f4 soon to follow); against the Caro-Kann Defense, White plays the Exchange Variation (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5); against the French Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5) White responds with 3.Nc3.

Also from the White perspective, see "Beating 1 e4 e5: A Repertoire for White in the Open Games" and "Attacking With 1 e4", both by John Emms; "Winning With the Slow (but Venomous!) Italian" by Muller & Souleidis; "Beating Unusual Defenses 1 e4" by Andrew Greet.

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for White

By Vincent Moret.  Here is a dynamic opening repertoire for White based on 1.e4, targeted to the beginner-intermediate player.  The approach is somewhat different from most repertoire books. The author's stated intention is to present an aggressive, yet sound set of openings which can be learned with "minimal" study.  That is, he has purposefully restricted the amount of material to that which is sufficient to understand the main themes of the recommended variations.  The presentation is focused on select variations that have a higher probability of actually being able to be played, while eschewing the myriad lines which have less likelihood.  This cuts down significantly on the amount of material to be studied.  If you require more information related to the openings he presents, you should consult resources which treat them more comprehensively.  But the author's intent is to get you started playing the recommended lines as quickly as possible by learning themes and plans, as opposed to memorizing lots of variations (i.e., "theory").

The author also does a better than average job of explaining not only WHAT you should be trying to do in each line (the themes and plans), but also takes time to clarify WHY you are making the recommended moves, and in many cases lays out the procedure for HOW you should go about playing the lines.  Many authors don't go to the same lengths to explain things as thoroughly.  In fact, you will learn a lot about how to just play good chess from this book.

Which lines are covered in the book?

  • White's main line in the open game will be the Italian Game - Giuoco Piano - 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5.  Also presented is a response to The Two Knights Defense (3...Nf6), when White will respond with 4.Ng5.  The Italian Game is an opening you can grow with and play for the rest of your chess career, including at the highest levels*.
  • Against the Sicilian Defense, White will play the Grand Prix Attack - 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 - following up with a quick f2-f4.  Moret's instruction for how to play the Grand Prix Attack as White is outstanding, the best I have seen.
  • Against the French Defense - 1.e4 e6 - White responds with the King's Indian Attack.
  • Against the Caro Kann Defense, White will play the Advance Variation  - 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 (looking to follow with e6 and the so-called Night Attack).
  • Against The Pirc/Modern Defenses - 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 - White will head for the St.George Attack/Yugoslav Attack.
  • He briefly covers other responses by Black as well, for example The Scandinavian Defense, Philidor's Defense and Petroff Defense.

Overall this is a fun, yet effective White opening repertoire, instructively presented, which the beginner-intermediate player can quickly put to use, with "minimal" study required.  Here is an excerpt-preview of the book.  For online, interactive learning be sure to check out the Chessable course based on the book.

For an "advanced" treatment of the Italian Game I recommend the excellent "Winning With The Slow But Venomous Italian" by Karsten Muller & Georgios Souleidis.  This repertoire is focused on the 4.c3 /5.d3 variation of the Italian Game, which is a "slower" version of the "faster" 4.c3 / 5.d4 Italian Game presented in Moret's Italian Game repertoire for White.

Last, but not least, is another good introductory repertoire book on the Italian Game by John Emms - "Beating 1 e4 e5".  Similar to the approach of the book by Muller & Souleidis, Emms' repertoire focuses on the "slow" 4.c3 / 5.d3 variation.  Emms also includes a chapter treating the Bishop's Opening move order (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4) for entering the Italian Game, which avoids the Petroff Defense by Black.  According to Emms - "The only way White can guarantee obtaining a system of development with Bc4, d3, and Nf3 is by using the Bishop's Opening move order."

Collectively, the three books above should teach an amateur player (and beyond) essentially everything they need to know to play the Italian Game at a high level.

From Black's perspective, see Vincent Moret's "My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black".  Against 1.e4, Black's repertoire features the Scandinavian Defense, Portuguese Variation; against 1.d4, the Albin Countergambit and the Stonewall Dutch Defense are featured, depending on how White responds.  Moret, in the book's introduction, explains his choice of repertoire as follows: "I have deliberately chosen aggressive variations.  Playing aggressive openings allows the development of one's tactical vision in open positions, which can only benefit progression."  I believe this repertoire for Black could be especially useful for speed chess (bullet, blitz, rapid), not only for the aggressive character of Black's responses, but also because White will typically not be expecting, nor well prepared for how to optimally deal with these particular defenses.  Here is an excerpt-preview of the book.  And the Chessable course based on the book.

The intent of both of Moret's opening repertoires, for White and for Black, is to promote interesting, dynamic and aggressive play where the focus is on understanding themes and plans, as opposed to memorization of myriad variations (i.e., "theory").

Keep It Simple 1.e4 & Keep It Simple 1.d4

by Cristof Sielecki.  Two volumes. The titles say it all.  About as simple as it can get for complete and comprehensive White opening repertoires for 1.e4 and 1.d4 players.  For details on the specific openings employed in these repertoires I suggest checking the pdf excerpts available on the publisher's website (New In Chess) and the books' previews on Google Books.  Here also the Chessable courses on these books.

Keep It Simple For Black

by Christof Sielecki.  A complete repertoire for Black against 1.e4 / 1.d4 / 1.c4 / 1.Nf3 and other first moves by White.  For details of the repertoire, check out the pdf excerpt available on the publisher's website (New In Chess), and also the Chessable course on the book.  Notable is that the book was Chessable's  Winner of the Best Opening Course & Course of the Year 2021.

Better Chess Openings

By J.E.F. Kaan. Provides a complete opening repertoire for both White and Black, accessible to the beginner-intermediate player and beyond.  For White, repertoires based on 1.e4 (featuring the Ruy Lopez) and also on 1.d4 are offered (you have a choice!) where the focus is on classical lines.  For Black, against 1.e4 the repertoire recommends 1...e5  for beginner-novice and 1...e6 (French Defense) for intermediate players.  Against 1.d4, 1...Nf6 (Queen's Gambit - QGD/QGA and Indian Defenses - Nimzo/Bogo) are featured.  Overall this is a solid and comprehensive opening repertoire, one which will stand the test of time, and can be played for the rest of your chess career.  The Amazon Kindle eBook edition has the title "Learning The Chess Openings" by the same author.

Alterman Gambit Guide

By Boris Alterman.  Playing gambits is fun, but most importantly in so doing you will hone your tactical and attacking skills, while learning the importance of seizing and maintaining the initiative.  In this instructive 3-volume series the author offers a select gambit repertoire for both White and Black.  The first volume covers White gambits (G.) as follows: Danish G., Urusov G., Cochran G., Evans G., Morra G., and the Milner-Barry G..  Several other openings are covered including the Morphy Attack vs the Two Knights Defense, the Max Lange Attack and the Panov-Botvinnik Attack.  The second volume features Black Gambits against 1.d4 and 1.c4 - the Benko G., Blumenfeld G. Vaganian G. and The English Defense G.  The third volume continues with Black Gambits against 1.e4 and 1.f4 - The Marshall Attack, Hector G., Traxler Counterattack, Frankenstein-Dracula G., Falkbeer Counter G., and From's G.  A site devoted to gambits -

How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire

By Steve Giddins.  The title says it all.  A book to guide you in the considerations involved in choosing your openings.  For some opening repertoire suggestions see also...

See also these blog articles - Good Chess Openings Books For Beginners and Beyond and Chess Openings Resources for Beginners and Beyond.

Pandolfini's Endgame Course

By Bruce Pandolfini.  A popular and instructive introductory endgame book for the beginner-novice, covering endgame basics, in an easy to use format - one lesson per page.  For book errata see... 

For a detailed introduction to fundamental endgame concepts and principles see "Endgame Workshop", also by Bruce Pandolfini.  In fact, it would be a good idea to study both of these endgame books together, as they more complement/supplement, than duplicate, each other.  See also the free online endgame course on Chessable.

Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner To Master

By Jeremy Silman.  A popular, comprehensive, introductory endgame manual, covering most of the basic endgame concepts and scenarios you should become familiar with on your way to chess mastery!  For players rated below 2000, if you were to own only one introductory endgame book this would be an excellent choice.  For an instructive supplement, see "Winning Chess Endings" by Yasser Seirawan.   For additional introductory coverage of the three primary categories of the endgame see "Starting Out: Pawn Endgames" by Glenn Flear; "Starting Out: Rook Endgames" by Chris Ward; "Starting Out: Minor Piece Endgames" by John Emms.   

100 Endgames You Must Know

By Jesus de la Villa.  The title says it all.  Presenting very detailed analyses of specific, but commonly encountered endgame scenarios, this book is relatively advanced and thus more appropriate for experienced players who have completed a good basic endgame course such as, for example, "Pandolfini's Endgame Course" or "Silman's Complete Endgame Course" (both above).   Also at an advanced level are "Fundamental Chess Endings" by Muller & Lamprecht; "Secrets of Pawn Endings" by Muller & Lamprecht; "The Survival Guide to Rook Endings" by John Emms; "Understanding Rook Endgames" by Muller & Konoval; "Secrets of Chess Endgame Strategy" by Lars Bo Hansen (the go-to book for endgame strategies!).

I would be remiss if I did not mention the following two classic endgame manuals...

Basic Chess Endings

By Reuben Fine.  The classic endgame manual, McKay Chess Library edition, published in 2003, edited and updated by Pal Benko, in algebraic notation (currently out of print).  When the original, 1st edition was published in 1941 the book was hailed by the experts as the "Bible" of endgame books.  Suitable primarily for the experienced player and beyond.

Practical Chess Endings

By Paul Keres.  A classic.  I recommend the Batsford edition, in Algebraic notation.  Suitable primarily for the experienced player and beyond. 

[Note:  For those whose primary concern is improving their middlegame tactical skills, I suggest to check out my note in the Comments section below on the book "The Six Power Moves of Chess".]

Weapons of Chess: An Omnibus of Chess Strategies 

By Bruce Pandolfini.  A MUST-READ for the chess novice.  After acquiring proficiency in chess tactics, and having gained exposure to the four primary principles of chess (Force, Time, Space and Pawn Stucture) as introduced in Yasser Seirawan's "Play Winning Chess" (above), this is the book to begin your study of positional-strategic chess - the essential foundation for playing chess at higher levels.  Introduces the fundamental concepts and techniques - the building blocks - essential to evaluating and exploiting chess positions for the purpose of conceiving and implementing plans and strategies. 

Following "Weapons of Chess" I highly recommend the three very instructive books immediately below, i.e., Elements of Positional Evaluation by Dan Heisman, Winning Chess Strategies by Yasser Seirawan and Simple Chess by Michael Stean.  (I suggest to read them in the order presented.)  Collectively, I consider all four books to form a core curriculum for a solid foundation in basic positional-strategic concepts and techniques... 

"Tactics flow from a superior position" - former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer

Elements of Positional Evaluation: How the Pieces Get Their Power

By Dan Heisman.  Targeted to post-beginner through intermediate players, Heisman provides detailed instruction in fundamental positional chess principles and technique.  This would be an excellent supplement or follow-on to Pandolfini's "Weapons of Chess" (above).

Winning Chess Strategies

By Yasser Seirawan.  Targeted to post-beginner through Intermediate players, this provides further in-depth exposition and practical examples reinforcing and building upon the positional-strategic concepts and techniques introduced in Pandolfini's "Weapons of Chess" and Heisman's "Elements of Positional Evaluation"(above).  Also very instructive is "Back To Basics: Strategy" by Valeri Beim.

Simple Chess

By Michael Stean.  A classic, MUST-READ, for post-novice players and beyond.  (Don't let the title fool you!)  This is an introduction to positional-strategic play in practice, within the context of instructive grandmaster games, and a highly recommended follow-on to Pandolfini's "Weapons of Chess" (see above).  Similar in concept to Stean's book, and which I recommend as supplements, are  "Simple Chess" and "More Simple Chess", both by John Emms (also available in a single volume).

Having absorbed the fundamentals concepts from the core positional-strategic chess curriculum recommended immediately above, you will be well prepared to increase your skills in this area by continued exposure to the practical implementation of these ideas as presented in the more advanced books that follow. 

The Amateur's Mind

By Jeremy Silman.  Targeted to the post-beginner through intermediate chess player, I highly recommend this as a follow-on to the books introducing fundamental positional-strategic concepts and techniques immediately above.  Here Silman analyzes chess games, positions and concepts as though he is discussing them with an amateur player for the purpose of clarifying proper chess thinking, pointing out typical amateur mistakes and making suggestions for correct play. Positional concepts are discussed throughout.  See also the very instructive classic, "Chess Master vs Chess Amateur" by former World Chess Champion Max Euwe & Walter Meiden (in descriptive notation).

Best Lessons of a Chess Coach Extended Edition

by Sunil Weeramantry and Edward Eusebi.  Targeted to the novice-intermediate player, this is an exceptionally instructive collection of master games analyzed to comprise mini lessons.  Weeramantry is GM Hikaru Nakamura's step-father and chess coach.  For additional, deep analyses of amateur games see The World's Most Instructive Amateur Game Book by Dan Heisman.  For instructively annotated grandmaster games see Russian Chess by Bruce Pandolfini..  Study these games collections for instructive examples of how the concepts in the books above are applied in practice.

Pawn Power in Chess

By Hans Kmoch.  The classic text on the fundamental elements of pawn play.  Although the usage of the outdated "Descriptive" chess notation and the somewhat quirky, but apt, terminology used to describe structures and concepts may require getting acclimated to, study of this book (in particular the first 6-7 chapters, which embody its essence) will continue to pay dividends throughout your chess career.  For additional perspective on the book see my blog article.  See also "The Power of Pawns" by Jorg Hickl.

Chess Training for Post-Beginners: A Basic Course In Positional Understanding

by Yaroslav Srokovski.  Very instructive lessons, excerpted from games of the masters, in the fundamental themes and techniques of positional chess. The chapters are organized and presented thematically.  Work through this after familiarization with concepts in Pandolfini's "Weapons of Chess", Seirawan's "Winning Chess Strategies" and Stean's "Simple Chess" (above).  Follow with the similar, slightly more advanced, and equally instructive "Techniques of Positional Play" by Valeri Bronznik & Anatoli Terekhin.

How to Reassess Your Chess: Chess Mastery Through Chess Imbalances

By Jeremy Silman.  According to the author (or his publisher), this book "was designed for players in the 1400 to 2100 range...[to]...imbue the serious student with a rock solid positional chess an understanding of how to make logical plans based on the needs of the position."  In my view this book is quite challenging for the average 1400-rated player.  Therefore I recommend it for experienced players who have achieved a playing level of at least 1500-1600 ELO.  Similarly, see also "Chess Strategy for Club Players" by Herman Grooten and the classic "Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman (in descriptive notation).  As all of these books are relatively advanced, they are recommended after first becoming familiar with positional-strategic chess fundamentals as covered in Pandolfini's "Weapons of Chess", Stean's "Simple Chess" and Silman's "The Amateur's Mind", (above).

Chess Secrets: The Giants of Strategy

by Neil McDonald.  Exceptionally instructive examples of positional-strategic play taken from the games of Kramnik, Karpov, Petrosian, Capablanca and Nimzowitsch.  For relevant supplements or follow-on's see two more instructive works by GM McDonald:  "The Art of Planning In Chess: Move By Move" and "Chess Success: Planning After The Opening".

The Soviet Chess Primer

By Ilya Maizelis.  This was the classic chess training manual-course in the former Soviet Union. The book is endorsed by three former World Chess Champions - Lasker, Karpov and Kasparov. Though it begins by treating elementary concepts, this is a relatively advanced book which quickly becomes challenging for the beginner-novice; it is therefore more suitable for the experienced, intermediate player and above.  The book is structured to take the student, with diligent study, to expert level and perhaps beyond. If you are looking for an "advanced" chess course, this would be a good choice. Consider following this with "Soviet Middlegame Technique" by Peter Romanovsky (below).

Soviet Middlegame Technique

By Peter Romanovsky.  The classic text of the middlegame course used in the former Soviet Union.  This is an advanced book, targeted to the more experienced player, who possesses a good understanding of positional concepts. This edition is the most recent english translation (thanks to the publisher, Quality Chess) of the 1960 edition of Romanovsky's work.  The chess course focuses on the practical application of positional concepts, techniques, strategy and tactics through the use of games and game fragments of the world's greatest players from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries.  While the games may not be recent, the instructional content is enduring.  See the also the following advanced treatments: the classic, The Middlegame (Books 1 & 2) by M. (Max) Euwe & H. Kramer; "Understanding Chess Middlegames" by John Nunn; the classic "The Art of the Middle Game" by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov (in Descriptive notation).

Multiple Choice Chess

By Graeme Buckley. Multiple Choice Chess I & II (two volumes). Analysis of complete grandmaster games where you participate by being asked to guess the next move (choose from a list of candidate moves). You are awarded points based on your answers, allowing you to rate your level of play. A fun way to learn and compare yourself to the masters.

A First Book of Morphy

By Frisco Del Rosario. Here is an annotated collection of selected games of Paul Morphy, one of the great chess players of all time, and a master of the open game (i.e., games beginning 1.e4 e5).  I highly recommend this as the first games collection book for study by the beginner-novice.  One would be hard pressed to find a more instructive introductory games collection illustrating the fundamental principles of good chess.  According to the author "Morphy was the first known genius at chess whose games were the first to show the relationship between the attack and the positional features of center control, development and king safety". Former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer wrote (in 1964) that "Morphy was perhaps the most accurate player who ever lived", proclaiming that "Morphy's natural talents would be more than sufficient for him to vanquish the best twentieth century players".  While Fischer's comments may be considered hyperbolic (and must be considered within the context of the time it was made), there are many legends* of chess who would agree that Morphy deserves a place in the pantheon of great chess players in history...

*The Masters on Morphy...

Logical Chess - Move By Move

by Irving Chernev.  A classicOne of the most popular chess books of all time.  Targeted to the beginner-intermediate player, this is an instructive collection of grandmaster games, with the reasoning behind virtually every move analyzed and explained.  Identical in format but featuring more recent games, is "Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking From the First Move to the Lastby Neil McDonald (get both!).  See also another Chernev classic "The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played".

Masters of the Chessboard

By Richard Reti.  A classic.  Instructive analyses and commentary of the style of play of most of the great chess masters from the mid 19th to the early-to-mid 20th century, including Morphy, Anderssen, Rubinstein, Steinitz, Tarrasch, Tartakower, Spielmann, Capablanca, Lasker, Alekhine, etc.  See also (the chronologically earlier, and also a classic) "Modern Ideas In Chess" by Richard Reti.

Winning Chess Brilliancies

By Yasser Seirawan.  Twelve deeply annotated grandmaster games by legends of chess such as Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Smyslov among others, appropriate for the experienced player who is familiar with positional concepts.  This is a superb, highly instructive book, which provides an object lesson in how chess games would ideally be annotated.  For additional instructively annotated grandmaster games which are also targeted primarily to experienced players see 50 Essential Chess Lessons by Steve Giddins and Understanding Chess Move By Move by John Nunn.

My 60 Memorable Games

By Bobby Fischer.  A classic.  Games of one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and former World Champion, selected and annotated by the phenomenon himself.  For the best annotated collection of all of Fischer's games see  "Bobby Fischer - The Career and Complete Games of the American World Chess Champion" by Karsten Mueller.  A similar, complete collection in which the games are unannotated is "Bobby Fischer: Complete Games of the American World Chess Champion" by Lou Hays. 

Other classic games collections:  "Capablanca's Best Chess Endings: 60 Complete Games" by Irving Chernev - an essential collection of games of former World Chess Champion Jose Raul Capablanca, a true chess genius, and endgame virtuoso.  "My Best Games of Chess 1908-1937", 21st Century Edition, by Alexander Alekhine - the legendary games collection annotated by the legendary former World Champion.  "New York 1924" by Alexander Alekhine, is the games collection of the famous tournament of the book's title.  All of the games are superbly annotated by by Alekhine himself.  The tournament was won by former World Champion Emanuel Lasker.  Andrew Soltis, who wrote the book's forward, informs us: "New York 1924 was different.  It had a narrative that is still striking today: Three world champions - undisputed world champions, mind you - fulfilling their destiny.  Richard Reti unleashing his devastating "Opening of the Furure", 1.Nf3!  The invincible Jose Capablanca suffering his first loss in eight years.  The remarkable comeback of 46-year-old Frank Marshall and even more stunning performance of 55-year-old Emanuel Lasker.  [...]  New York 1924 was indeed a super-tournament.  And this is a book that should never have gone out of print".   "Tal-Botvinnik 1960" the superbly annotated games collection by Mikhail Tal, one of the game's greatest attacking players, detailing not only the match games, but also revealing his personal thoughts and insights during his 1960 World Chess Championship triumph against the three-time and reigning world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik.  Generally acknowledged to be the most famous annotated tournament games collection is Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 by David Bronstein; the tournament was won by Smyslov.  And as the title plausibly informs, the ever popular "The Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games" (2021 edition) by So, Adams, Burgess, Nunn, Emms (view & download the pgn's of the games of the 2010 edition here).  Each of these outstanding games collections is targeted primarily to the experienced, intermediate chess player and above.

Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors

By Garry Kasparov.  A tour de force, 5-volume series by the brilliant former World Chess Champion.  A detailed, critical analysis of the lives, times and play of the greatest chess legends of history.  This is an important contribution to historical chess literature.

How I Beat Fischer's Record

By Judit Polgar.  The first volume of an award winning trilogy by one whom many consider to be the greatest female chess player ever.  Exceptionally well written chess instruction based on her games.  This is chess thinking at the highest level clearly explained.  The other two books comprising Judit's  trilogy are "From GM to Top Ten" and "A Game of Queens".  See also "Judit Polgar: The Princess of Chess" by Tibor Karolyi; "Breaking Through: How the Polgar Sisters Changed the Game of Chess" by Susan Polgar.   A nice article about Judit Polgar's chess career...

My System

By Aron Nimzowitsch. "'My System' is of course one of the great masterpieces of chess literature..." - IM John Watson.  Since its initial publication in 1925, arguably no other single chess book has had as profound an influence on how to play good chess.  The book is generally credited with being the first to expound fundamental positional chess principles in an organized presentation within a single text.  While there are several editions available, the 21st Century Edition edited by Lou Hays may be the easiest English translation to read.  For additional perspective on the book see my blog article.  As a supplement see Nimzowitsch's instructive companion annotated games collection  "Chess Praxis".


For a wide selection of chess books in e-book format I recommend to check out Everyman Chess, Gambit Publications and Forward Chess.

I also recommend to check out Chessable for their excellent online interactive chess courses, many of which are derived from popular chess books.  Some of the courses are free.

Finally, you might browse the archived collection of chess book reviews published from 1999-2014 by the now essentially defunct (note: the web page may be slow to load).


Discover other helpful and instructive chess resources, including more book recommendations, in my blog.