The Best Chess Books for Beginners and Beyond

Are you looking to explore a chess book to hone your game?

Maybe you’re hoping to find the best book to learn chess? If you turn to the internet and chess communities in general, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the huge number of books out there. Of course, you’re also likely to be overwhelmed by wildly varying opinions about each book too.

As you develop as a player, your game will become unique – and as such, your taste in books on chess will probably also become unique. The beauty of chess is that there’s no real right or wrong answer; there are just different opinions – and they all add to the richness of the game and the world that surrounds it.

1. Navigating our list of the best books on chess

Here, we’ve dipped into the huge number of books about chess – picking out a variety for you to consider.

We’ve started with chess books for beginners – and as you work your way through our list, the books become more and more in-depth, working up to texts that intermediate and experienced players are more likely to benefit from.

So, let’s start where everyone’s chess career begins; with the basics:

2. Let’s Play Chess: A Step by Step Guide for New Players – Bruce Pandolfini

Like Pandolfini’s previous offering, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chess is Patrick Wolff’s beginner text – taking the reader from the history of the game, right through to some tips for competing in clubs and tournaments.

Again, the book is well thought out and put together in a neat, logical order that introduces new terms and concepts with each chapter – then building on those ideas as you read on.

The rules and basics are covered – as are plenty of famous (and sometimes infamous) plays and openings.

Patrick Wolff has also built in a number of exercises that explain otherwisecomplex ideas – which makes the book an outstanding way of developing your early conceptual thinking around the game and how strategies play out.

While many chess strategy books are firmly rooted in their author’s pre-internet lifetime, The Complete Idiots Guide offers tips and advice for readers who are hoping to use computer games and internet communitiesto better their game too – offering a fresh perspective that will appeal to younger chess novices.

As chess books for beginners go, this one’s particularly accessible – and while it won’t make you a grandmaster, there are plenty of people who consider this the best beginner chess book to get you moving in the right direction.

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3. Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess – Bobby Fischer, Stuart Margulies & Donn Mosenfelder

It’s fair to say that Bobby Fischer was a complicated character – but, despite an often-turbulent personal life, Fischer is considered to be one of the best chess players to have ever lived.

This fact alone makes Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess one of the essential chess books for beginners. Like previous books on this list, there’s a large section dedicated to the game’s fundamentals, but even if you’re already familiar with these aspects of the game, it soon ramps up into more complex concepts; like applying pressure to your opponent.

Interestingly, Fischer’s book presents puzzles and challenges to the reader. On one page, the author poses a question about a chess scenario –then, on the next page, there’s an answer – albeit an upside-down one; so you’re not tempted to peek ahead and cheat! Even beginners who take these challenges on often do very well – but don’t be mistaken; this isn’t due to the simplicity of the challenge – but instead, it’s testament to a well-written chess book that’s easily taken in and presents everything in an intuitive order.

Unlike some chess books, you don’t need to have a board set up beside you to get the most from Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess – and since it’s pocket-size, this makes it perfect for throwing in a bag and reading as you commute or eat your lunch.

4. Winning Chess – Irving Chernev & Fred Reinfeld

In terms of the intended audience playing level, Winning Chess by Chernev and Reinfeld is something of a step up from the previous books on the list - as it expects readers to be on familiar terms with the fundamentals of the game.

Don’t worry though; we’re not at an expert level yet – there’s just more emphasis here on why certain moves are made and the strategic thinking behind the game.

If you’d like to know more about attacking patterns, building an advantage, tactical positioning and support of pieces, then this book’s the one for you. Each chapter is based around a different tactic – so you can neatly revisit each principle or read and re-read a few times if you wish.

Again, like the Bobby Fischer book, you don’t need a board set up next to you to get the most out of Winning Chess. Instead, the book teaches, thenimplements the algebraic language that you’ll see referenced throughout the chess world. This alone is an incredibly useful skill for those taking their first steps into the chess world and chess literature.

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5. Discovering Chess Openings: Building Opening Skills from Basic Principles – John Emms

Over-intensity is something that top chess books are sometimes guilty of; there’s a lot of heavy reading out there – but with Discovering Chess Openings, John Emms proves that learning the more nuanced parts of the game can be entertaining and informative.

As your chess experience grows, so does the need to understand the different stages of play. For lots of people, there’s a temptation to simply remember successful openings seen elsewhere – but you’ll soon learn that
understanding ‘what to do’ is essentially useless without an underpinning knowledge of ‘why’.

Emms is a formidable opener, and it’s fair to say his knowledge on the subject knows no bounds. There are few better players you could choose to help you hone your opening play.

In Discovering Chess Openings, John Emms gives us the ‘why’ behind several vital themes. When you work your way through the book, you’ll understand why swift development, central control, and king safety are key parts of opening theory.

This is a text you’ll spend a lot of time with if you want to fully appreciate and understand openings – and as a result, you’ll discover your own abilityto choose the most suitable lines to play in your games.

6. Pandolfini’s Endgame Course – Bruce Pandolfini

If the idea of getting to grips with openings has felt a little intimidating, then the endgame is likely to feel like an inaccessible fort that only the most skilled players can hope to penetrate.

That is until you read Pandolfini’s Endgame Course. The books offer the reader encyclopaedic knowledge of 239 endgame positions – from the simplest through to exquisite subtle minor piece and pawn strategies.

Each example explains a certain principle – which is clearly stated and expanded upon thereafter with a single lesson to a page. For many players, this level of knowledge will actually help to develop an early game strategy – making this guide vital reading as you grow your game. You’re likely to find that the illustrated rook and pawn and king and pawn plays come up very often.

This is definitely a book for the chess player with some experience and other good chess books on their shelf – and Pandolfini works with algebraic notation throughout – so you’ll need to be familiar with this before you sit down to read.

Be warned though, there are a handful of typos in various the editions – and while these don’t detract from the valuable nature of the book, they can confuse slightly. Track down Glenn Wilson’s “Pandolfini’s Endgame Course Errata” to avoid any head-scratching moments of confusion.

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7. Taking the next steps

With those books read, re-read, and very possibly re-read again, you’ll findthat your game has progressed incredibly – likely being unrecognisable from the point at which you picked up your first of these top chess books.

So, what’s next? With the basics understood and a developing knowledge of distinct parts of the game, now’s a great time to start more advanced texts.

Let’s take a look at the best chess books for intermediate players:

8. Play Winning Chess – Yasser Seirawan

A step-up again from the previous books on this list, Play Winning Chessgives you a fresh perspective on the game – and it’s one that will give youan understanding of how to build and develop your own strategies as your play.

The book’s author, Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, is a force to be reckoned with. As a four-time US champion and previous World Junior Chess Champion, he was the editor of Inside Chess magazine – articles from which are still popular online today. In fact, you’ll hear GM Seirawan commentating if you tune into the Chess World Cup too – and as such, his writing is entertaining, informative, and extremely well-composed.

In Play Winning Chess, Seirawan puts forward and explores what he considers to be the four primary principles of chess – Force, Time, Space, and Pawn Structure. From these ideas, the intermediate player unlocks a world of possibility in their own games. Seirawan’s writing is a superb blend of humor, annotations, tactics, and ideas – but the author demands rigor from the reader, so this is not a book to take on if you’re not willing to fully apply yourself to the learning.

There are lots of people who cite Play Winning Chess as the book that developed them from a keen competitive player into the kind of player who understands chess as a subtle, creative art – lifting their enjoyment ofthe game to an entirely new level.

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9. Weapons of Chess – Bruce Pandolfini

This is Bruce Pandolfini’s third book on this list – and it’s not without good reason. Some chess authors struggle to translate their messages and teachings into text that inspires and engages all audiences – but Pandolfini does not.

Part of the reason for this accessibility is a move away from the algebraic or symbolic descriptions of moves – even in this intermediate book, Pandolfini shuns charts and sequences – instead describing every move in words. It’s also well worth noting that there’s no unnecessary pomp in the book – a tactic that’s seen plenty of chess authors dress their work up as more significant than the principles that they’re built upon.

In Weapons of Chess, Bruce Pandolfini genuinely and meaningfully fills a gaping hole in chess literature – the gap that’s found between the advanced fundamentals and the sprawling texts of the great Russian strategists. For most players, these advanced texts require years of preparation and experience to fully appreciate – and for a long time, there was no on-ramp.

For many readers, Pandolfini’s explanations of pawn behaviour are truly superb – as are sections on Weakness and Exchanging. In truth, there’s not a bad section in the book – and while it’s not going to transform you into a grandmaster overnight, it’ll give you the essential building blocks that’ll get you taking meaningful steps forward with every single game you play.

10. The Amateur’s Mind – Jeremy Silman

The Amateur’s Mind follows Weapons of Chess beautifully; so much so that it’s worth reading them back-to-back.

In the book, Jeremy Silman presents information in a unique fashion – exploring games, positions, and concepts as if he were discussing them with an amateur player. As he does, he helps the reader go beyond canned tactics and into another layer of chess – one in which the player develops their own strategy, formulating a true plan.

The tone of the book is quite informal – and it’s more than possible to sit down for just 15-20 minutes to work through one of the scenarios discussed. For a more advanced intermediate book, this is a refreshing change and suits the player who might not be able to study quite as studiously or rigorously.

If you’re finding that your chess has somewhat plateaued after reading the best chess strategy books for beginners, approaching The Amateur’s Mind honestly about your game will almost certainly help you breakthrough.

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11. Winning Chess Strategies – Yasser Seirawan

If you enjoyed Weapons of Chess, Winning Chess Strategies is a great titleto pick up next.

Like Silman’s teachings in An Amateur’s Mind, Yasser Seirawan explains how to apply flexible strategic principles to the game through simple but devastatingly effective planning and analysis techniques. If you feel like your game would benefit from a boost of confidence and some renewed energy, this is likely to be the best intermediate chess strategy book for you.

The author digs deep on subjects like material advantage, stopping enemy counterplay, target creation, and the dynamics of a successful kingattack – and while these aren’t revolutionary ideas, they offer the intermediate player a wealth of new concepts to play with and understand.

Again, similar to An Amateur’s Mind, Seirawan explores faulty strategies – such as the beginner strategist’s tendency to attack too soon, become complacent with tested tactics, or rely too much on an under-developed intuition. If you’ve found yourself cursing yourself because of these traits, this book could be the antidote you’ve been looking for – and will certainlyhelp you drive your game forward.

12. Taking your game to new heights

When you’ve worked through texts intended for more intermediate players, you’ll find yourself able to open and understand some of the morecomplex books on chess.

Now, this is where the topic becomes extremely subjective; what one person might consider to be the best chess book in the world could be irrelevant to another player – and you could easily lose yourself for hours reading the endless debate between excellent players about the merits of virtually any book.

As such, the books picked out as being the best for more advanced players are two of those that feature most commonly on the recommended reading lists of the most-noted Grandmasters:

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13. How to Reassess Your Chess: Chess Mastery Through Chess Imbalances (4th Ed) – Jeremy Silman

Reassess Your Chess isn’t just considered to be Jeremy Silman’s best work (already impressive as an author of 35 chess books) – it’s also considered to be a modern classic on the subject.

In this book, Silman advocates a new technique for thinking about your game. Beyond fundamental tactical threats, the author encourages the player to think about possible positive and negative imbalances for both sides. When the possibility of creating a favourable imbalance exists, Silman offers the reader a psychological process of dreaming up then achieving fantasy positions, thus leveraging the imbalance in your favour.

This is by no means a beginners book; in fact, some say that the recommended playing level of 1400 ELO is a touch premature for tackling such a complex text – with prominent reviewers suggesting a level of between 1600-1800 as a more suitable access point.

When you’re ready to read it, Reassess Your Chess is well worth your time – and even readers of the previous editions will get something new out of the revised 4th ed – thanks to a whole new range of examples and that illustrate the examples Silman offers.

14. My System – Aron Nimzowitsch

My System is considered to be one of the most important chess books ever written – and while it will be beyond the skill of most beginners, you can wager that there isn’t a Grandmaster on the planet who hasn’t read it and taken something from it.

In My System, Aron Nimzositsch breaks chess strategy down into “elements” – dedicating chapters of the book to each. Each chapter outlines the element, lays out diagrams to illustrate the topic, then provides examples from real tournament play talking the reader through the often-complex theory behind each part of the game.

Although the elements part of the text is the author’s own innovative approach, it’s in the second half of the book that Nimzositsch deals with “positional play” – and this concept represents a huge challenge to anyone tacking the book. As well as bringing the previous nine elements into play, Nimzositsch also reveals the ideas that put him ahead of his time; maneuvering, prophylaxis and restraint. Fully comprehending this material will take time and perseverance, not least because of the flowerylanguage of the time – but in exchange, you receive some of the most incredible chess wisdom the world has ever seen.

While My System presents a challenge to virtually anyone who reads it, this doesn’t detract from the beauty of the book. There’s no dense analysis to fight through that need to be read and re-read just to absorb the words – instead, Nimzositsch focuses on developing the reader’s senseof the underlying ideas of his game – explaining them eloquently in writing.

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15. Developing your game

For many players, there’s as much pleasure to be found reading about chess as there is sitting down to play a game.

Regardless of the level you play at; there’s an undeniable beauty about the literature that surrounds chess. Whether you’re a fan of the author or otherwise, the games, positions, and words on the paper are likely to ignite the desire in you to play or better your own game.

If you’re keen to learn more about chess, start a free trial with Athena today; then explore our Grandmaster Chess library and elevate your gameto the next level.

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