Good Positional Chess, Planning & Strategy Books for Beginners and Beyond
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).
Knowledge of tactics alone are insufficient for playing 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 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. Only then can you form a plan of action - and decide upon the tactics to employ in the implementation of that plan.
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. This 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 "Weapons", you will have the requisite background to follow up with Michael Stean's classic, "Simple Chess" (don't let the title fool you!), which expands upon and puts the ideas and techniques introduced in Seirawan's and Pandolfini's books (above) into the context of practical play. An instructive companion to Stean's book would be "Modern Chess Strategy" by Ludek Pachman, also a classic, which is written using the older "descriptive" chess notation (I recommend the Dover Publishing edition). Both books are excellent primers on how to conceive and implement plans and strategies.
Absorbing the fundamental concepts presented in these introductory books first will provide the essential foundation for understanding and playing chess at a higher level, while also serving as preparation for more advanced chess books, i.e, books which are largely concerned with planning and strategy.
For instructive supplements to the books above, consider "Elements of Positional Evaluation" by Dan Heisman and "The Complete Book of Chess Strategy" by Jeremy Silman. Like the books above, these are targeted to the novice-intermediate player.
After completing the aforementioned books, I suggest to consider 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.
Having learned the lessons offered in the books above, for follow-on (and generally more advanced) lessons I recommend any of the following books, which continue to focus and instruct on the application of positional concepts, planning and strategy in practice. (The books do tend to get more advanced as you progress down the list.)
Winning Chess Strategies By Yasser Seirawan
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
How to Reassess Your Chess By Jeremy Silman
Pawn play is a fundamental aspect of positional chess. Pawn structure is essentially the road map which points to 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, which could be of help to the improving chess amateur, check out my list of good chess books for those who have not yet added "Master" to their chess title....
Good Chess Books for Beginners and Beyond...
and finally, a chess study plan...