The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes an excuse to shop! Besides stocking up on Chess^Summit merchandise, you could take the opportunity to pile up on chess books!
I’ve based my personal recommendation on material that I myself found useful, interesting, or just plain fun. I did try my best to assign a USCF rating range to each of them. Do not hesitate to post your own suggestions in the comment section.
The amount of opening books in the market is astounding, especially considering that these are the days when information about openings is available practically everywhere. My personal opinion about opening books is that a book that has a title along the lines of “Winning with Opening ABC” or “How to Beat Opening XYZ” written by a low-key author should be taken with a grain of salt.
For beginners, knowing ideas behind openings is more important than remembering the moves. If you want a not-so-basic but not-so-overwhelming opening book, then I’d recommend Fundamental Chess Openings by Paul van der Sterren. It’s ideal if you are at the level when you should know the rudiments of openings but shouldn’t have to know an encyclopedia of variations – I’d say 1600/1700 and below.
At the higher levels of chess, knowing opening theory is a must, and I’d recommend anything from the Grandmaster Repertoire by Quality Chess! Those books are high-quality and can be very helpful in both in-depth “research projects” and 10-minute pre-game preparation.
These days, the best resources for tactics are online tactics trainers (ChessTempo, chess.com, etc.). Membership to those could make a perfect holiday gift.
One non-beginner tactics book I’d recommend is Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan. I read it when I was around 2300 USCF. The exercises are far from straightforward, some are easier than others, and the minimum rating I’d give it is around 1800 USCF. If you want to hone your tactical skills on very realistic positions, I’d highly recommend it!
Another book I’d recommend is Invisible Chess Moves by Emmanuel Neiman and Yochanan Afek and which concentrates around “invisible moves” that are difficult for humans to spot. It’s a thought-provoking book that anybody could read.
Middlegame specialties (i.e. positional play, dynamic play, etc.)
For amateurs, I’ll strongly advocate anything written by Jeremy Silman. I believe everyone should read his book The Amateur’s Mind at one point or another. How to Reassess Your Chess is another excellent book, and so is The Reassess Your Chess Workbook. An off-the-beaten path book I’d recommend is Positional Chess Handbook which I read when I was around 1600-1800 USCF. It’s a great introduction (or semi-introduction) to positional play.
I’ll wholeheartedly recommend anything written by Jacob Aagaard with a warning: IT’S NOT EASY! I’d probably give his Grandmaster Preparation series a minimum rating of 2000 USCF. The late Mark Dvoretsky has also written countless books about middlegames. They are similar to Aagaard’s books both in style and in quality.
There are also two new books, Positional Decision Making in Chess and Dynamic Decision Making in Chess by Boris Gelfand that are AMAZING and are definitely suitable for a wide audience.
I should talk about the dreaded E word. OK just kidding…
For amateurs, I’d recommend Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. It’s divided into chapters based on rating (Class D, Class C, etc.) which I think is really useful. Another book I read and recommend is 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de Villa which is the easy way out of theoretical (rook) endgames.
Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is a masterpiece, but a word of caution. I’ll split the book into two parts: rook endgames and all other endgames. The chapter on rook endgames is over 80 (!!!) pages long and is hardcore but brilliant – my memories of reading it when I was about 1800 USCF are not pleasant – while the rest of the book is easier. Even now I would find the rook endgame chapter difficult… If you get Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual give yourself a favor and don’t start with the rook endgames chapter!
As for non-theoretical endgames. There is Aagaard’s book Endgame Play that I had a lot of fun with over the summer. It’s part of the Grandmaster Preparation series and though it isn’t easy by any means, some of the easier exercises are doable. And then there is a favorite of mine, Van Perlo’s Endgame Tactics. It’s a miniature encyclopedia of endgame tricks and tactics. It’s very entertaining, and I had lots of fun reading it while flying to Europe for World Youth in 2015. I should also recommend an “ancient” book, Endgame Strategy by Mikhail Shereshevsky, that I read when I was around 1800.
Chess in General
When it comes to chess improvement, chess psychology, or just chess itself, I’m a big fan of Jonathan Rowson’s books. Another fun book to read it Move First Think Later by Willy Hendriks. It has an eye-catching title and is a very entertaining book to read with some fascinating insight. Stories about massive improvement are also great reads. Two examples are Pump Up Your Rating by Axel Smith and Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins.
I hope you enjoy some of the books while drinking cup of tea or coffee from our Chess^Summit cup.
I wish you all happy holidays. May they be full of great chess moves (and books)!