My Chess Book Recommendations

By Ari Minkov

Openings | Middlegames | Endings | Biography | Game Collections | Entertainment
Puzzles | Treatise | General Improvement | Events | Notes


Mastering the Opening, by Byron Jacobs
As a player who doesn't care much for memorizing moves (even if that means I'll never be a great player, besides, former world champions Lasker and Capablanca didn't memorize the openings), but instead prefers pattern recognition, a book with a different approach to the opening is necessary for me. Opening books, in my experience, generally state what the main moves are and show a few abridged games to illustrate their points. This book, conversely, explains to the reader what strategies are correct for both sides, the nature of the opening (whether its tactical, strategic, etc.), and how good it is in theory and practice. This book is similar to "Concise Chess Openings" by Neil McDonald. However, this book is superior to "Concise Chess Openings" in that it comes with 136 complete games to illustrate each opening. However, these games are not heavily annotated. Nevertheless, this book does do a good job explaining each opening. I once, through hearsay, heard a master say that the best opening book is "Pawn Structure Chess" by Andy Soltis. While I don't completely disagree with this statement, I would say that this would be true only if there was a second volume of this book, since it isn't nearly as comprehensive as "Mastering the Opening." Other opening books worth looking at include "How to Open a Chess Game" by Larry Evens et al, "Chess Openings" by Mike Basman, and "The Openings in Modern Theory and Practice" by Raymond Keene. Moreover, if you enjoyed reading The "Chess Life" column "Opening Forum" by Edmar Mednis, I recommend that you read some of the books written by him, such as "How to Play Good Opening Moves" or "Practical Opening Tips." For those of us who want a book on a specific opening, I recommend books written in plain English (as opposed to mostly Informator style notes) with lots of illustrative games such as "The Killer Grob" (also by Basman) or "The Caro Kann in Black and White" by Anatoly Karpov and Alexander Beliavsky.


Modern Chess Strategy, by Ludek Pachman
As great as this book is in it of itself, this book is nevertheless an abridged version of the three volume book series "Complete Chess Strategy" by the same author. The reason "Complete Chess Strategy" is slightly superior to "Modern Chess Strategy" is because all the games are given in their entirety. However, a lot of people do not mind game fragments as much as I do and should therefore opt to read "Modern Chess Strategy" instead. Besides, all three volumes of "Complete Chess Strategy" are out of print and are, consequently, difficult to find whereas "Modern Chess Strategy" isn't". The author of this book writes in a style that is very articulate and instructive. The games that he uses to illustrate his points help to reinforce the concepts to the reader in a fashion that he or she can easily remember. The topics covered in this book are very diverse. They include, but are not limited to, matters such as knight versus bishop, minority attack, and dynamic elements. True, these books are in descriptive notation, but so what! I believe that of all the things that a strong chessplayer can chastise another player over (not knowing the Lucena Position, what the opposition is, etc.) knowing how to read descriptive notation is by far more important than any other chess related concept I can think of. This is because a player who wants to improve his play is missing out on a lot of great chess literature (that happens to be in descriptive notation) that can explain concepts such as opposition or Lucena Position very well. Getting back to middle game books, "Art of the Middlegame" by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov is an interesting read, but its presentation is somewhat more difficult to absorb than "Modern Chess Strategy." Another book series that is written in a similar format to "Complete Chess Strategy," but does not come in an abridged version and is still currently in print is "The Middle Game" by Max Euwe and H. Kramer, which has only two volumes, instead of three. However, based on my experience with Euwe's other writings, I believe that Pachman has a superior style of writing and that therefore Pachman's book is superior. Nevertheless, Euwe does have a decent writing style and, I believe, many players will find "The Middle Game" to be a satisfactory read.


Chess Endgame Lessons, by Pal Benko
This two-volume title is essentially a compilation of Pal Benko's "Chess Life" Column, "Endgame Lab," with his "Benko's Baffler" Puzzles edited out. Obviously, this book is not useful for players who either have an extensive collection of "Chess Life" magazines or simply don't like that column. I personally believe that this book could have been improved if the "Benko's Baffler" puzzles were left in. That said, I find these books to be instructive, practical, and sometimes even enjoyable. (I have a confession to make: endgames, especially ones where very few pawns remain in the position, I find to be very dull. But I don't mind endgames with lots of pawns, especially when there are no rooks involved). Particularly interesting in this title is the instructive bishops of opposite color ending between Gregory Kaidanov and Alexander Shabalov (which can be found on page 78 of the second volume), the spectacular queenless mating attack in the game Kapu-Benko (page 157 of the second volume) and the prosaically pretty rook ending (this one is an exception) between Arthur Bisguier and Pal Benko (page 240 of the first volume), in which Pal Benko is able to win the game in spite of the material equality that existed in the initial phase of the rook ending. An interesting book on when to transition into the endgame is "From the Middlegame into the Endgame" By Edmar Mednis. This book is worthwhile reading as are most of Mednis's books, even though Mednis does disappoint me as a person. (I once asked him to autograph a book of mine that was not written by him. When I did that, He responded to me by saying "this isn't my book." In contrast, when I asked Karpov and Spassky to autograph my book they did so instantly, but I digress.) For the endgame purists (meaning the people who love finding wins or draws with very few pawns left), I recommend "Practical Chess Endings" by Irving Chernev and the follow up book, "200 Brilliant Endgames," by the same author. These two books contain many composed endgame positions in which there is, "supposedly," only one why to win. While these positions are more practical than some other types of positions (for example, the "Key Krackers" column in "Chess Life", or the Key Idiots column, as I like to call it), I do not believe this is an appropriate substitute to studying endgames that have occurred in actual games. After all, how often have your games been reduced to a position in which very few pawns remained on the board? I would venture to say a minority of the time! While it is true that that there are other books with similar material to the ones I'm recommending (such as "The Chess Endgame Study" by A.J. Roycroft, "360 Brilliant and Instructive End Games," by A.A. Troitzky, as well as the afore mentioned "Chess Endgame Lessons,") I believe that Chernev's witty and entertaining writing style puts more life into this subject in comparison to all the other writers I have come across. For a more elementary endgame book, I recommend "Pandolfini's Endgame Course" by Bruce Pandolfini, which is written in a very "Chernevesque" way, is more practical than all the other endgame books that I have previously mentioned (with the exception of "Chess Endgame Lessons") and should be sufficient for the purposes of impressing players who are very fond of the endgame.


Emanuel Lasker: The Life of a Chess Master, by Dr.J. Hannak
Reuben Fine claims that "of chessdom's immortals Emanuel Lasker is by far the most versatile" 1 and, I must admit, I agree! Not only does Lasker hold the record for being the world champion of chess for the longest amount of time (26 years, 337 days 2), he also "made significant contributions to mathematics and philosophy." 3 In fact, his contributions to mathematics were so significant that he has his own entry in an encyclopedia that mentions his contributions to mathematics.4 In chess, Lasker has contributed by writing a couple of books, composing some chess problems,5 and playing some brilliant games against fierce opposition. Among the spectacular and interesting games that are included in this book are: Lasker-Bauer (page 37, the original double bishop sacrifice game), the tremendously underrated queenless mating attack in Lasker- Steinitz (page 75), the methodical defeat of Rubinstein on page 177 (not to be confused with the Qc1 game), the immense complications of Alekhine-Lasker (page 219), and Lasker-Botvinnik on page 293 (in which Lasker is able to illustrate his ability to meaningfully compete against youthful opposition towards the end of his life). Moreover, this book is more than just a collection of Lasker's chess games, it also tells the story of his fascinating life. Players who are looking for a biography of a player who persistently attack their opponent's king might want to read the book "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal" by Mikhail Tal, or My Best Games of Chess by Alexander Alekhine. For Players who are interested in reading a biography on more positionally oriented players, I recommend "The Immortal Games of Capablanca" by Fred Reinfeld, and/or "Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces" by Hans Kmoch. However, I'm sure that Alekhine or Tal would have been proud to call attacking games such as Tchigorin-Lasker (page 89) and Pillsbury-Lasker (page 66) their own. Additionally, Hannak's book on Lasker also includes positional gems such as Lasker-Steinitz (page 76) and Lasker-Znosko-Borovsky (page 144) among others. Based on all of this and in my opinion, not only was Emmanuel Lasker the most versatile chess player ever, he was probably also the strongest chess player ever. He was nicknamed the "chess psychologist" because he would have a tendency to steer the game into positions that would be difficult for his opponents, and would be able to play well in a variety of different positions. He is also original in some of his move strategies. See his game against Tarrasch on page 133 6 of this book. Note that, with the exception of the Tal book, all of these books were, at one time or another, published by Dover Publications. Dover Publications publishes reprints of books that previously want out of print. Most of their chess books (and this is especially true of their chess player biographies) are cheap and worthwhile buying.7


The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played, by Irving Chernev
Yet another winning book! Chernev's writing abilities rarely churn out a disappointing work, and this book is no exception. Indeed, this book does live up to its title. Besides the several photos of great players that can found in this book, the reader will also find many enjoyable and exciting games that are also instructive. Some examples of this include Game 62 (Evans-Opsahl), which will enable the reader to grasp the nuances of a minority attack, Game 10 (Smyslov-Reshevsky), which will illustrate to the reader how to exploit a rook and pawn endgame when a player is one pawn ahead, and, for the tactician at heart, Game 13 (Porges-Lasker, yet another Lasker classic that can also be found in the previously mentioned Hannak book), which will show the reader how to convert their initiative into a win. However, this book is probably not the best game collection book for a beginner. For that I recommend yet another Chernev book: "Logical Chess, Move by Move". While it is true that this book is more expensive and has fewer games, it does explain ever move. This is the type of detail that a beginner is going to need to know if he or she wants to improve their chess-playing skills. In fact, this book is so useful that Grandmaster Andy Soltis believes that this is one of the few books whose usefulness ranges from 800 to 1600 rated players. The best game collection book I've seen in terms of aesthetics and the evolution of chess is "The World's Great Chess Games" by Reuben Fine. This book is very broad with respect to the timeframe that it covers, and is very comprehensive with respect to the players that are included in it. The book starts out by describing how chess began and how people strategized the modern version of the game during its primitive years (circa 1500-1700), and finishes up by showing a few games that were played in the early to mid-nineteen-seventies and predicts what is in store for the future of chess. The book gives a short biography of roughly 75 players and describes a handful of prominent schools of thought and major events (such as the Hypermodern School or the London Tournament of 1851). Included in this book are memorable brilliances, such as Bryne-Fischer (page 372, dubbed "the game of the century"), The highly original attack in the game Spielmann-Stoltz (page 184), and the truly breathtaking queen sacrifice in the game Zukertort-Blackburne (page 39). For the purpose of value, I recommend "500 Master Games of Chess" by Savielly Tartakower and J. Du Mont. Actually, when one counts the miniature games contained within the annotations of the main game being presented and all of the games that are included in the appendix, the total number of games that are included in this book come out to about 600. The annotations in this book are lively and entertaining, as is typical for most Tartakower's writings. This book is very thick (it contains 665 pages) and only costs $19.95. Included in this book are fabulous mating attacks such as Maroczy-Tartakower (page 556), famous opening battles such as Capablanca-Marshall (page 110, in which the Marshall Gambit of the Ruy Lopez makes its debut), and positional masterpieces such as Alekhine-Yates (page 312). Those who already own or want to buy this book might want to consider buying the follow up book, "100 Master Games of Chess" by the same authors. However this book is currently out of print (but not too hard to find if you know where to look) and doesn't nearly deliver as much in terms of value value. This is primarily because the book only covers games ranging from the period 1938-52, is much shorter than "500 Master Games of Chess" (it only has 167 pages), and is, on a per page basis, more expensive than "500 Master Games of Chess" (good luck finding it for less than $10). By the way, If you want to get out of print books, I suggest you either order them from a catalog company such as Chessco 8 or, alternatively, buy them from a used chess book seller such as Fred Wilson.9


The Even More Complete Chess Addict,
by Mike Fox and Richard James

This revised and expanded follow up of the book "The Complete Chess Addict" is considered by Grandmaster Raymond Keene to be "a goldmine of weird and wonderful chess trivia," and he's probably right! It is essentially a comprehensive guide on the lighter side of chess. The first part of this book illustrates how well some famous people played chess. They range from entertainers like Humphrey Bogart and David Oistrakh (my favorite violinist, but not the best looking one, that honor is reserved for Sarah Chang!) to powerful political figures like Pope Leo XIII and former president Woodrow Wilson. There is also a section on the greatest players and games, the biggest blunders, and different versions of chess among other topics. Another good book on the lighter side of chess is "Chess to Enjoy" by Andy Soltis. While it is true that Soltis is very hit or miss (but not as much as Eric Schiller), this one is nevertheless a hit! Included in this book is a game of classical music composer Richard Strauss (page 185). That game proved to me that for a classical music composer, Strauss sure was a great chess player. There is also a fraudulent game of Uncle Joe (Joe Stalin, page 111) that is worth looking at. But perhaps the best part of this book is the chapter entitled "'I resign' and other famous words." Be sure to also check out Soltis's other entertainment book, "Karl Marx Plays Chess And Other Reports On The World's Oldest Game." Like the afore mentioned Benko book, this book is a compilation of Andy Soltis's "Chess Life" column "Chess to Enjoy." The writings in this book are mostly taken from the articles he wrote in the eighties. Besides seeing a fantastic chess game played by Karl Marx on page 237 (true, he screwed up Russia, but than again they were screwed up even before they had communism), the reader will also find some interesting made up games in the chapter "Chess to Create" as well as an interesting discussion on page 242 on how an opening gets named after someone. Chess is first and foremost for enjoyment. Reading at least one of these books is bound to get you to do just that!


How Good Is Your Chess? by Leonard Barden
Since I consider solitaire chess style books to be puzzle books, I am including them in this category. Indeed, solitaire chess books are, in my opinion, the most useful and best type of chess puzzle book ever conceived of. This book has 35 little known games (most of the games in this book were played in the fifties) in which your task is to persistently predict the moves that the winner of the game played (or, if the winner made an incorrect move, what the best move is). The themes covered in this book range from superior development, to constriction technique, to the ending. Moreover, when I averaged out my score to the ratings chart that was given in the book, I found that my results were consistent with my rating. The other books that I know of that are similar to this one are "Solitaire Chess" by Israel Horowitz (which contains games that were mostly played during the first half of the 20th century), and "How Good is Your Chess" by Daniel King (which mostly contains games that were played in the latter half of the 20th century). All three of these books compliment each other very well. Also check out the book "Rate Your Endgame" by Edmar Mednis and Colin Crouch (a solitaire chess book devoted entirely to the endgame). To get a feel for these types of books, see Bruce Pandolfini's monthly column in "Chess Life," "Solitaire Chess." A good puzzle book on checkmates is "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" by none other than Bobby Fischer (co-written by Stuart Margulies and Donn Mosenfelder). One of the great things about this book is that you don't even need to know any chess notation to read it. Instead, you either put a check mark next to the yes or no question, or you draw an arrow on the diagram. Of course, many people don't like to write in their books and would therefore find it very useful to learn chess notation. This book not only quizzes you on finding the checkmate, but also has sections where the mating pattern is explained so that you know what to look for when doing the puzzle. A good puzzle book for avoiding errors is "The 10 Most Common Chess Mistakes… and How to Avoid Them!" by Grandmaster Larry Evans. In this book, the reader is given the choice of two different moves for each problem. Each problem is taken from a position that arose in an actual game. One of the choices is the correct one and the other choice is the move that was actually played. The author comments on both choices. Particularly interesting in this book are problems 109 (page 127), 203 (page 226), and 204 (page 227) in which three different grandmasters screw up a "simple endgame." Another good book by Grandmaster Larry Evens is "Chess Endgame Quiz." This book can be thought of as a mixture of the previously mentioned "Practical Chess Endings" and "The 10 Most Common Chess Mistakes… and How to Avoid Them." The reader is presented with two choices for each position, but the positions are taken from composed endgame problems that could arise in a practical game. For the purpose of value, I recommend Fred Reinfeld's "1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations" and "1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate." Each book costs $10, is fun to use, and, as the title suggests, contains over 1000 problems with the solutions. They're also great to take along while you're going on a long car ride or waiting on a line at the DMV.


The Art of Sacrifice in Chess, by Rudolf Spielmann
In chess, sacrifices can sometimes be tricky business, as Spielmann brilliantly shows. This book will certainly change your perspective on sacrificing in chess (assuming that you will have read it). Spielmann uses 37 well annotated games that he played to illustrate his many points. The author of the book also divides his book into 4 different main sections: the sham sacrifice, the real sacrifice, the exchange sacrifice, and the queen sacrifice. The main highlights of this book include Spielmann-Schlecter (page 14), Spielmann-Walter (page 64 10), Spielmann Mieses (page 74), Spielmann-Flamberg, and Spielmann-Tarrasch (page 176). The author of this book, Rudolf Spielmann, was a pioneer of the chess sacrifice in the post-romantic era (classical era) of chess. This book will show the reader why. A good and modern treatise on tactics is "How to Become a Deadly Chess Tactician" by David Lemoir. This book is easy to read and has many illustrative game fragments. For a treatise on how to attack the king in chess, I recommend "Art of Attack in Chess" by Vladimir Vukovic. In fact, this book is so good that I have not come across a single chessplayer who doesn't like this book, and I do know a good number of chessplayers. This book covers many different aspects of attack including: how to attack an uncastled king, focal-points, and the classic bishop sacrifice (also known as the Bxh7 sacrifice). The book uses numerous illustrative games to show each point. Among some of the highlights of this book are the games Steinitz-von Bardeleban (page 19, a spectacular game in which the last dozen or so moves must be a check, as otherwise the winner of this game would have himself been mated), Pillsbury-Wolf (page 311, a beautiful example of a kingside attack), and the very neat game, Capablanca-Ragozin (in which Ragozin moves his castled king from the kingside to the queenside in order to avoid getting attacked there, but gets slaughtered on the queenside nevertheless). A great treatise on defense is Andy Soltis's book, "The Art of Defense in Chess." After reading this book, your whole perspective on the game of chess may very well change. This should be particularly true after you have analyzed games in this book such as Khlyavin-Zhdanov (page vii, an extraordinarily deceptive game), Zaitsev-Shamkovich (page xvii, this game may lead you to believe that defense can be exciting), and Tal-Bhend (page 204, an interesting game in which Tal goes in for an unsound attack and loses!). For good treatises on positional play, the previously mentioned books on the opening, middlegame, and endgame should suffice to give the reader a decent amount of understanding on this subject. Alternatively, the books that are mentioned in the general improvement category also discuss positional play in great detail and could be used as a substitute for, or in addition to the first three categories I had mentioned.


How to Reassess Your Chess, by Jeremy Silman
Noted author and former "Chess Life" columnist Jeremy Silman has generally had a great reputation and this book will show the reader why. In this book, the reader will learn the fundamentals of how to formulate a plan, calculate, how to utilize their pieces and pawns, how to undermine their opponents pawn structure, and what the initiative is to name just a few of the topics. When reading this book, be sure to check out the game Capablanca-Treybal (page 133, a very instructive game with respect to the issue of space), Smyslov-Denker (page 193, a great example of how to exploit a backward pawn), and Fischer-Taimanov (page 325, a marvelous illustration of how to win a practical game with a minimal advantage). This particular book is best for an intermediate amateur (those rated between 1200-1700). For advanced amateurs (1700-2200), I recommend the 5 volume book series, "Dvoretsky & Yusupov's Chess School," by Mark Dvoretsky & Arthur Yusupov. This 5 volume series consists of the following books: "Positional Play", "Opening Preperation", "Technique for the Tournament Player", "Training for the Tournament Player, and "Attack and Defense." The book "Technique for the Tournament Player" in particular may very well change your approach to playing the endgame. This is especially true of the chapter "Theory and Practice of Rook Endgames" (page 45 of this book). For beginner to novice amateurs, I recommend, in general, books that are targeted for that demographic but discuss principles of the opening, middlegame, and endgame and should also include some illustrative games. "The Complete Chessplayer" by Fred Reinfeld does just that! However, the reader should also read the previously mentioned Pandolfini endgame book before moving on. Once the reader is able to comprehend most of that material, the reader should move on to the previously mentioned book by Silman. If the reader can comprehend the Silman book than, I believe, that the reader will be a decent chessplayer.


Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 by David Bronstein
This fascinating tournament book critiques all of the games that were played in the very exciting world championship candidates tournament in 1953. The author, Grandmaster Bronstein does a very good job commenting on the games. Among some of the most exciting games in this book are Geller-Euwe (page 16, in which Euwe is able to generate remarkable counterplay against his opponent and win), Averbakh-Kotov (page 161, this game received the brilliancy prize), and Keres-Smyslov (page 283, a very famous example of a declined piece sacrifice). Other great tournament books worth looking at (if you can find them) are Hastings 1895, St. Petersburg 1914, New York 1924, Nottingham 1936, Avro 1938, Groningen 1946, and the second Piatagorsky Cup (1966). For tournament books of more recent times, I'd suggest any one of the major grandmaster tournaments held annually, such as Wijk Ann Zee, Tillburg, or Linares. For a great match book I'd suggest "The USSR vs. The Rest of the World 1970. All of the great players during that time participated in this match (including Fischer). The match was very exciting since the USSR won it by only one point. World championship matches, I have found, tend to not produce any interesting games. An exception to this are the Lasker versus Steinitz matches. Unfortunately I have never come across a formal book on it. Good luck finding it.



1 "The World's Great Chess Games", Page 49.

2 The Guinness Book of World Records 1998 hardcover edition, page 34 (this record still stands).

3 "The World's Great Chess Games", Page 50.

4 The Cambridge Encyclopedia, fourth edition, page 630 (even though this entry also mentions his chess achievements, the world champions of similar stature, notably Capablanca and Alekhine, do not have their own entry).

5 For an example of this, see the book "Power Chess: Great Grandmaster Battles From Russia" by Paul Keres, page 262.

6 See also Jeremy Silman's notes on this game in the July 1997 issue of "Chess Life", page 14

7 For more information on great chess book publishers, see John Donaldson's excellent article in the December 25, 1995 issue of Inside Chess, page 36. Also check out Dover's website:



10 Also see Kmoch's annotations to this game in the book "Pawn Power in Chess," page 187


Updated 05.17.2005 | Contact Michael Goeller