Good Positional Chess, Planning & Strategy Books for Beginners and Beyond

Good Positional Chess, Planning & Strategy Books for Beginners and Beyond

Apr 29, 2017, 4:01 PM |

If you are stuck at the lower levels of the rating scale, it may be time for you to begin your study of positional chess and all that follows from from it - planning and strategy.

The missing piece which allows one to see the "big picture" and to play chess with a plan, is provided by an understanding of the concepts of positional chess.  Positional chess is a way of looking at a chess position for the purposes of understanding what it is telling you about what you should be doing (or not doing).  

Study and knowledge of tactics alone does not allow one to play with a plan.  Plans are a precondition which give rise to tactics - not the other way round.   But first you must be able to formulate a (correct) plan, in order to create the conditions which allow for the eventual and successful execution of a tactic. To do this, you need to be able to perceive the opportunities that the positions (i.e. relationships) of the pieces are offering you - i.e., assessing the pros and cons of a position. 

Positional chess provides the conceptual framework and methodology for playing with a plan.  The techniques of positional chess provide the means by which a successful plan of action can be conceived and executed.  Study of tactics in isolation, without an understanding of the positional chess concepts that give rise to them, is insufficient.  How often have you spent time studying random tactics puzzles only to forget, within minutes, or certainly hours, what you have just studied?  Your understanding of the positional chess concepts you have learned will always stay with you.   

As a first step, I recommend every beginner-novice first become familiar with the concepts presented in Yasser Seirawan's excellent introductory text "Play Winning Chess".  The book focuses on explaining what GM Seirawan posits to be the four primary principles which must be considered when objectively evaluating a chess position – Force, Time, Space and Pawn Structure.  Understanding how to properly evaluate and use these principles is fundamental to the process of formulating plans and strategies which will enable you to significantly improve the chances for a successful result in your games. The importance of the concepts presented in this instructive book cannot be overstated.  

Having been exposed to the four major concepts, you will be ready to proceed to "Weapons of Chess" by Bruce Pandolfini.  I consider this book to be a must-read for all improving amateurs.  It provides an excellent introduction to the basic elements and techniques of positional chess, including extensive instruction on pawn play.  It will provide you with tools, if you will, to use when conceiving and executing a plan.  

Once you absorb the concepts and techniques presented in Pandlofini's "Weapons", I strongly recommend to begin working with "The Amateur's Mind..." by Jeremy Silman.  In the book, 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, making suggestions for correct play, and explaining how to formulate plans and strategies.  Positional chess concepts are incorporated and stressed throughout.

After completing the aforementioned books, you will have the requisite background to follow up with Michael Stean's classic, "Simple Chess" (don't let the title fool you!), which consolidates the ideas and techniques of positional chess introduced in the previous books into the context of practical play using grandmaster games.

For instructive supplements to the books above, consider "Elements of Positional Evaluation" by Dan Heisman, "Back to Basics: Strategy" by Valeri Beim,  "Winning Chess Strategies" By Yasser Seirawan, and  "Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman (a classic, which is written using the older "descriptive" chess notation - I recommend the Dover Publishing edition).  These are all excellent primers on how to conceive and implement plans and strategies within the framework of positional chess, and like the other books above are targeted to the improving amateur player.

Absorbing the fundamental concepts presented in the books above will provide the essential foundation for understanding and playing chess at a higher level, while also serving as preparation for more advanced chess books. 

For follow-on lessons I recommend any of the following (advanced) books, which continue to focus and instruct on the application of positional concepts, planning and strategy in practice.  These books can be read in any order, as the interest strikes you.  It isn't necessary to read them linearly - i.e., finishing one before starting another.  In fact, IMO, you can profitably read portions of them simultaneously as you are motivated...

How to Reassess Your Chess By Jeremy Silman

The Art of Planning In Chess: Move By Move by Neil McDonald

Chess Secrets: The Giants of Strategy by Neil McDonald

Techniques of Positional Play By Bronznik & Terekhin

Chess Training for Post-Beginners by Yaroslav Srokovski

Chess Strategy for Club Players By Herman Grooten

The following are very advanced treatments, suitable for players rated Class-A and above...

The Complete Manual of Positional Chess - Opening and Middlegame by Sakaev & Landa

The Complete Manual of Positional Chess - Middlegame Structures and Dynamics by Skaev & Landa

Positional Play by Jacob Aagaard

Accurate pawn play is a fundamental aspect of positional chess.  Pawn structure provides the road map which indicates the optimum route to take for formulating plans and strategies - for both attack and defense.  For instructive books on this important facet of the game see.... 

Chess Books on Pawn Play and Structure - for Beginners and Beyond...

For additional, instructive books on a broader range of topics, and which are targeted to the improving chess amateur who has not yet added "Master" to their chess title, check out the following...

Good Chess Books for Beginners and Beyond...

and finally, a chess study plan...