Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Chess Books Should I Study (for Beginners)

Chess books have been and probably always be one of the primary ways to study chess for improvement. In this article, I will discuss what are the first chess books you should study as you move from beginning chess to the intermediate level of chess. This guide will be useful for players who have just learned the game up to around USCF rating 1400. In a future post, I will discuss how to best learn from these books.

Book Selection

The selection of the right books to study is important. I remember when I was rated around 1300 and I went to a chess bookstore and the owner convinced me to buy Kasparov Versus Anand: The Inside Story of the 1995 Chess Championship Match. Not knowing any better I purchased it and eagerly started to play through the games. It only took me a couple games to realize that although the annotations were very detailed, this book was way over my head and written for a more advanced audience. Your personal chess improvement program will not only include studying books, but also playing (and analyzing your own games), and other activities like solving chess problems and maybe watching chess videos, so our goal is starting with a good foundation, and then after that is built, you can tailor the future books you study to what you need.


There are a few guiding principles that should help you find good material to study as well as a few recommendations:
  • Focus on books that have more text explanations rather than copious move variations. 
  • For now, books that are more general in nature are more useful than ones that are very focused. For example, a general book about openings is better than a book about a specific opening variation.
  • You only need one decent book in each major category of chess study (and I'll make a list below). As you progress through the books and get better at chess, your specific needs will dictate what further study materials you require to progress.

Foundational Books

With the preceding principles in mind, here is a list of books I have found helpful as I was moving from the beginner to intermediate level:
  • Game Collection/General Instruction: Logical Chess: Move By Move: Every Move Explained New Algebraic Edition by Chernev. This is a classic that explains the reasons behind every move. The games are older and illustrate a large number of fundamental principles, strategies, and tactics that are the basis of modern chess. After learning the moves of the game, this would be my recommendation on the next book to get!
  • General Opening Guide:  Winning Chess Openings (Winning Chess - Everyman Chess) by Yasser Seirawan. This book is not only comprehensive, covering many major openings, but also very enjoyable and logical to read for beginning level chess players. My general philosophy is that much of your opening study at this point should be general, and that you need to experience a lot of different types of positions and opening structures before focusing on a specific repertoire. This book will help you get that foundation.
  • Strategy: Winning Chess Strategies, revised (Winning Chess - Everyman Chess) by Yasser Seirawan. I admit I'm biased and many chess instructors recommend Jeremy Silman's The Amateur's Mind: Turning Chess Misconceptions into Chess Mastery. However, I enjoy Seirawan's writing style and easy to understand explanations of the concepts. Both books are very good and I would recommend getting one of them to start and you could always pick up the other one at a later point.
  • Tactics: Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan. This is a very easy to understand and comprehensive look at tactics. The thing I like about Seirawan's books on strategy and tactics is that at the end of the book he has some very nice annotated games illustrating the principles that he discussed with the book featuring chess history's greatest strategists (such as Capablanca and Karpov) and tacticians (such as Tal and Kasparov). After studying this book and doing the exercises, you can go onto one of the online chess servers, such as Chess Tempo and practice your tactics.
  • Endgame: Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner To Master by Jeremy Silman. This is arguably the only endgame book you'll need for a long time. Study just the part indicated for your rating class and then put it away and study the other stuff until your rating and strength improve then you can study more. I actually had a different book that I used as I was moving up, but after reading this book, I feel that you should just get this one for your endgame study and after you reach 1700-1800 get the more encyclopedic Fundamental Chess Endings as a reference guide.


If you study each of the books on this list (or use it to fill the gaps of the books you already have), I believe you will have a solid foundation for your chess future. As you progress in chess, your study will go from this general foundation to more specific study, including developing your own opening repertoire and looking up specific strategies and endgames that you find interesting or challenging. This future study will be based on discoveries you make within your own games. I hope your journey is as insightful and enjoyable as mine was.

I hope you have found this guide helpful. As always, I wish you good luck and Better Chess!


    1. -Thank you very much. This post is very useful!

    2. I'm glad you found it useful. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.

      1. I started with Logical chess. I can´t beleive how chess ignorant I am. I realized thint that I have "certain ideas" about chess. I were wrong, no dubt!!. Thank you.


      2. It's a great book. Of course, modern chess is more complex but the fundamentals are as true today as they were in the days of Capablanca and Alekhine.

    3. I totally agree with all your recommendations, but would add that Chernev's book is a bit old, and the ideas about chess expressed there are somewhat antiquated. Although it is a good choice for beginning players, you should quickly move on to more modern game collections. I recommend Michael Stean's Simple Chess, which is excellent. After Stean, the next general game collection to read is John Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move.

      And, of course, you should check out my chess blog:

      1. Sputnick,
        Thank you for commenting. I've never read Stean's Simple Chess. It is true that Chernev is a little dated, but I think it's a great book for beginners. I love Nunn's Understanding Chess Move by Move and right before that I would recommend McDonald's Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking as a follow-up before Nunn.

        I'll definitely check out your blog.

        Best regards!