Influential Chess Books

Influential Chess Books

NM ih8sens
May 15, 2013, 9:02 PM |

We had a pretty cool discussion at chess club tonight about chess books.  A rapidly improving young player (very strong tactician, the rest of his game will catch up eventually if he's anything like I was...) was asking about which chess books are worth reading.

Anyway, I guess the older guys had more opinions than me, because that's how you used to learn chess.  Now you goof around online for a while and chess knowledge sorta seems to throw itself at you, as long as you're patient enough to learn it.

So anyway, I haven't read that many chess books.  So... here's a list of every single book about chess I've ever completed and a little bit of commentary about how I found the book.  The books are listed in no particular order.

My 60 Memorable Games - I found an original printing of this book in awesome condition on ebay one day for like 30 bucks or something... it's worth a couple hundred... so I snapped it up.  Basically, it's a collection of 60 games (not all wins) that Fischer himself selected as great games.  It seems he was a big fan of two things: opening theory and concrete plans.  His analysis is excellent, considering how old the book is... and although some of his theoretical ideas are now out of date, a lot of them are actually still legit (a lot of his analysis on the Ruy Lopez Exchange variation, for example, is still fairly accurate... and at the time it was almost all original analysis I believe).  

Worth reading? Probably the only games collection that is.

Zurich 1953 - An old mentor of mine suggested this book back when I was rated in the mid 1900's.  It's a collection of all the games of the Zurich 1953 tournament (duh) with some annotations.  Older games show the plans in certain positions more clearly (compared to modern games where both players know the basic ideas and the lines are blurred by more concrete play and prophylaxis), and so the games are quite good... but you literally can find every single one of those games in a chessbase database... and the annotations aren't that exciting.

Worth reading? Not really, just use a database I figure.

Winning Pawn Structures - This book by Alexander Barubin is a fairly long discussion of various themes, all based on the Isolated Queen's Pawn.  As a developing player who was surrounded by 15-1700 players who tended to focus soley on basic tactics and pawn structure... I was scared of playing with an IQP.  This book taught me all sorts of concrete plans that could be used when you have that little extra bit of space in a typical IQP position (rook lifts, for example), and taught me a lot of general concepts related to initiative.  I read the whole thing cover to cover in something like 3 days... it was fascinating.

Worth reading?  Definitely. I felt like I was learning all sorts of things I didn't know!

How To Reassess Your Chess - Everyone knows about this modern classic written by Silman.  It's geared towards class players who are trying to improve as players... it talks a lot about positional concepts, and leads players away from trying to look for 'tricks' in every position.  Even if his structured approach is simply one of many that could improve your chess... the way he presents it is definitely beneficial.

Worth reading?  If you're between 1400 and 2000 and having a hard time improving... absolutely.

The Berlin Wall - John Cox actually convinced me to play the Berlin defence in multiple tournament games.  The opening was a bit of a waste of time (playing for a draw while maintaining good losing chances), but his presentation showed great understanding of the opening... and I actually got pretty good at that darn thing.

Worth reading?  If for some reason you actually play the Berlin... I'm sure you've already read this book.

Declining The Queen's Gambit - Another Cox book.  This one is about the Queen's Gambit declined.  His work is fairly good, and his old school strategy of just allowing the exchange variation and playing Bf5 anyways seems to have actually caused a trend at the very top levels, where GM's have been playing Nf6 before Be7 again.  If you have no clue what I'm talking about, don't worry... it's not important at all.

Worth reading?  Cox is a really good author.  He talks about ideas and general principles and then bases his analysis on that.  I find his stuff is pretty easy to remember too for some reason. BUT... you're better to follow recent WC matches for insight into the QGD than to buy a book on it.

Silman's Complete Endgame Course - In revolutionary style (again), Silman breaks down fundemental technical endgame theory into bite sized pieces based on rating.  For example players rated 800-1000 are taught all the basic mates (except bishop+knight), 1400 players are taught the Lucena position and Philidor drawing method, and then 2000-2200 players start talking about schematic thinking (basically bringing all the previous concepts together).  A pretty cool idea... if you studied the whole book in depth you'd actually be able to hold your own against a GM in any technical endgame.

Worth reading? It'll help your chess, but Mueller's chessbase DVD's are way better if money isn't an issue.'s video's by Danny Rensch (rook endgames) are amazing too...

Grandmaster Repertoire - 1.d4 - I actually haven't read these massive books cover to cover.  Avruhk doesn't mess around when it comes to opening theory, and these two books together are bigger than the Bible... But I've read enough bits and pieces over the last couple years to say that I've probably covered almost everything.

Worth reading? These books literally changed 1. d4 opening theory even at the superGM level.  His analysis practically refuted the Benko and Benoni, and the system he suggests has more or less become mainline in the past few years.  If you play d4, you should have these books.

Grandmaster Repertoire - The Caro Kann - I plowed through Schandorff's book in a single 10ish hour sitting.  His analysis is pretty incredible... although he may have misevaluated the occasional position (hard to create a repertoire book for black where your job is to show equality or better in every single possible position).

Worth reading? I stopped reading Karpov's articles on the CK in favour of this book, so I'd say so.

Dismantling The Sicilian - This is another opening book, and it's from 2009, and it's about the open sicilian... so my guess is that at least some of it is out of date. Good book though. 

Worth reading? Maybe not.  You should do your own research and preparation if you want to play either side of the Sicilian properly.

My System - This famous Nimzovich book is neat in the sense that it presents chess in a logical, principled way.  A lot of his concepts and theories are now considered to be oversimplistic and outdated... and some people really hate this book I hear... but I was able to go through the whole thing cover to cover without too much difficulty.

Worth reading?  I'm not sure it'll actually help your chess at all... but it's a real classic.


That's all I can think of for now!  I've read a few journals and books that are designed to give a glimpse into current theory... they're basically research works more than anything... so I haven't included them here.

I'd say Silman has provided the biggest bang for my buck in terms of middlegame and endgame books.  I've learned and retained quite a bit from his stuff.  In fact, of all these books... I'd say Silman's two books are the only "must have's" on the list.

I'd love to hear from others if they have any recommendations!  Most of my work is done with databases (and Mueller's endgame dvd's, which are amazing) these days, but I'm open to reading more books!

Until next time