"...a Chessmaster should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk."

Books and Reviews

Here is a list of chess books I have spent some time with. My goal (as of 9/9/2015) is to actually finish some books. My idea is to try to proceed a bit more methodically, and read one book completely before moving on the next. Obviously there will be exceptions, but that's the plan.  Between amazon kindle books and physical books, I already have a significant amount of books.

*Currently Reading

The Amateur's Mind, Jeremy Silman (September 3rd, 2015-)
-So far am liking it a lot, and feeling like it is making me look at the board and positions very differently which I think is a good thing. Silman's style of writing is to me a very mixed bag. On the one hand I do find him very engaging which is a great thing. On the other, there are some things about his tone that really do rub me the wrong way. At the end of the day it's not a huge concern but I certainly understand both sides of the coin regarding reactions to his voice. So far I have been very good about reading actively, playing out the games and fragments on a board (digital but I am fine with that) and doing the few active things he asks you to do.

*Books I have started and would like to finish

Logical Chess, Irving Chernev
-I started reading this in 2012 which is when I started this blog and was getting more serious about chess, as I had seen it recommended as very good for beginners. I like it so far but kind of stalled out on reading it about half way through. I think there are a lot of very fair criticisms of the book. (For instance if you look up the first game  on chessgames.com you will see some revealing comments about the end of the game.)
 -However, I feel this following review does a very good job of considering the objections and explaining why it is still valuable for it's target audience.
 -Review of Logical Chess
- With all books, you are responsible for being an active reader. This means that you have to use your brain while you read and understand the context of what is being said and not interpret the text like a computer program for your brain. You also have to be willing to re-evaluate things you have read or thought in the past, even if at the time they were very helpful and got you past some kind of hurdle. These are simply basic responsibilities for all thinking people in any context.

Zurich 1953, Bronstein
Zurich 1953, Najdorf
-I have worked my way through several rounds of the tournament in these works where I read the game and play it out first in one (usually the Bronstein) and then go over it again playing it out on the board in the second work. I feel it is valuable. However, it does tend to be kind of time consuming and there are a lot of games to begin with, so doubling them makes it at times seem to monumental a task, but I do intend to finish this project. I enjoy it in various ways, but I also wonder if the investment at my current level is worth it. Hard to say.

Chess Tactics for Champions, Susan Polgar
-I got this in 2011 after checking it out from the library. I struggled with it a bit, but have this year worked through a substantial portion of it and intend to finish it soon.

Back to Basics: Tactics, Dan Heisman
-have read some of this and am familiar with much of his writings and videos. Want to go through it definitively at least once.

Elements of Positional Evaluation, Heisman
-I have read much of this in snippets on my phone.  Most of it is text although there are some game snippets too. I think he does a good job, but you have to be willing to deal with some terminology. I personally felt that his different terms and distinctions were meaningful, but I can definitely imagine that there would be people who found it off-putting. I think it would do for me to really sit and read it cover to cover with more attention.  He himself indicates that in some ways Watson's Chess Strategy book has kind of surpassed him. So probably not an essential read, but definitely interesting.

My System, Nimzowitsch,
-I have tried to read this one several times. (There's some old blog posts here where I was trying to work through it again. I've heard a lot of mixed stuff about this one as with every famous chess book. I would like to definitively get through it. Probably part of it is just waiting till I am at the right level.

How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, Chandler
-useful guide to some basic attacking and mating patterns, I've gotten about half way through.

Richard Reti
Modern Ideas in Chess and Masters of the Chessboard,  I very much like both his style of writing and his approach to the game, that is teaching chess concepts through the history of the development of the game. Whether or not it is a perfect book on any number of accounts I feel it is very much to my way of thinking, and I feel I have learned a good deal from these books.  Haven't read through them completely though, mostly jut focused on the early chapters.
The Stress of Chess, Browne
-I have read the biographical section. I enjoyed it but it is definitely not great writing. It does at times read much like a list. Usually this would bother me but for some reason here I didn't mind it too much and actually enjoyed it with the very short anecdotes he would also tell. Not for everyone for sure.
-As to the games, I have worked my way through some of them and feel the annotations are very full and very interesting.

Simple Chess, Stean
-Basic positional chess concepts pretty clearly explained. My Dover edition has a lot of typos which makes reading it a bit of a pain, but as I remember on amazon there are some reviews with errata listings which helps. I read significant portions of this in about 2012 or so but wasn't determined to read through the whole thing at the time. Would like to read it clean through.

Chess for Zebras, Rowson
-I have read this through but mostly just reading the text and kind of skipping the games etc. So in that sense I feel I haven't really read the book properly and intend to go through it again. I thought it made a lot of good points and was an interesting read.

Understanding Chess: Move by Move, Nunn
-Good. Heisman classifies this as much more advanced than Logical Chess. I think that is true, but the games are well explained, so I don't think you have to be that far along to get something from the commentaries. I have gone through several of the games and would like to finish the book.

Understanding Chess Endgames, Nunn
-On the one hand it's nice, on the other, it's quite abstract a lot of the times. I have full confidence that the ideas expressed are accurate but when reading it a lot of time it feels like it's kind of sliding off the surface of my mind because the explanations are general in a lot of ways. I will continue to try to work with it, but in some ways I feel I haven't had a lot of success with it.

Understanding Chess Middlegames, Nunn
-I think this might be more like a reference book. Some of the same issues as above. I've found a couple of interesting things, but hard to say how valuable it is to me.

Basically, this is a list of books that aren't meant to be read through in the normal way but that I have worked with a significant amount.

Fundamental Chess Openings, Paul van der Sterren
-This is a real 5/5 book for me. It's absolutely wonderful for low level players looking to learn about chess openings. It's a great mix between variations and ideas. Obviously it isn't a total solution to all your opening needs but for low level players it is an amazing reference work. I have actually read much of it at various times by just looking up random openings I was curious about and reading what he wrote. At the time I was debating with a 4 volume set or this. I chose this in some ways because of price. I can't say this is better because I never read the other work, but I ended up very happy with what I got.

Chess, Laszlo Polgar
-I have worked through a lot of the problems in this book over time. I feel it is very valuable. Most of the problems are mate problems and I do agree with Dan Heisman for instance that tactics work should be more about gaining material. On the other hand some times I feel I have taken that advice too much to heart and have neglected mating techniques. This is a big physical book. If that is likely to be a pain to you, then avoid or try to get a digital copy. I have spent a little time with the other sections (the miniatures and some other stuff) but plan to do more.

1001 Deadly Checkmates, Nunn
-I like this book and found it fun working in it but have put it down for a long time now.

How to Build Your Chess Opening Repertoire, Steve Giddins
-I like this book. It helped me think through some of the basic issues a bit. I guess my main complaint is that for the most part it seems to be very common sense throughout.  So you read the book and in some ways you don't feel that it has changed your ideas much.  Still, I do find myself going back to it at times, I think mostly because it is very easy reading. I am also a person who up to this point hasn't really put much effort into an opening repertoire. Your mileage may vary but I really don't think it's important to get this book.

*Fiction or other Miscellaneous
Hard to do this well. I myself have written a chess mystery story. It will never see the light of day.

Lisa, Jesse Krai
-readable and decent. It's not a great book but it has it's moments.

The Defense, Nabokov
-ok, some people swear by it, but it left me a bit cold.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Chabon
-some people call this a chess book because there is a significant amount of chess talk in the book. There are some nice scenes, but on the whole the chess stuff seemed a bit underwhelming and the way he had to work to solve the chess puzzle and what the result was supposed to be like were weak.  As a mystery story I liked it pretty well for the first half. I found the ending pretty weird in a way that wasn't much fun.

The Exploits and Triumphs in Europe, of Paul Morphy, the Chess Champion, Frederick Milnes Edge
-free e-book since it's old. I loved this and had a lot of fun reading it. I don't remember any real game scores, but there is plenty of chess talk. Primarily for someone more interested in a narrative account of Morphy's time in Europe than any kind of study book.

Chess and Chess Players, George Walker (1860)
-I'm pretty sure this is the one. In 2008 I read an old book from google books that had different sections about different historical chess periods. The book itself was quite old. I think this is it because it has a section about the La Bourdonnais-Macdonnel match that may be what led me to read it. It also has a section on the Cafe de la Regence, a super chess hangout in 1800's Paris. I don't think I read the whole thing. Also, I think batgirl, the chess history blogger on chess.com seems to indicate that Walker is not reliable as far as history goes. Still, it is a fun book to read and free.

The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin
-To honest I was quite skeptical about this book and I have never seen "Searching for Bobby Fischer". I ended up liking it quite a bit, but 1) I also think that is because it has several different personal connections to me, and 2) some of my skepticism was a bit accurate.
It is a fun book to read, very easy going style and can be read in a day or two depending on how much time you have. There is definitely a certain amount of selling himself, not exactly as a guru but as a teacher of a kind. I still found many of the things he says to be interesting, but I also take it all with a some salt. The chess connection was obvious. The second connection for me was the Tai Chi. I took a 1 semester course in college where we practiced Tai Chi. Our teacher was a student of the master that Waitzkin learned with. (William C.C. Chen) and we used Chen's book in the class. I also visited the Tai Chi club at my U a couple of times and got to do a little bit of "push-hands" which is the competitive side of tai chi that Waitzkin is talking about. Personally at the time I wasn't much into it and, although I wanted to take the second semester (class was mostly just learning the form, though we did do a bit of 1 on 1 type stuff) I had a schedule conflict and couldn't so Tai Chi dropped out of my life. Still it was a positive experience and reading about it again was fun. Lastly, the place he goes to compete in Tai Chi at the top level was Taiwan. Unfortunately, his picture of the Taiwanese is fairly negative. He claims they cheated A LOT at the tournament. In some ways, this echoes some of the troubles I have heard of with westerns trying to participate in the chess scene here too. I had been a bit reluctant to take the complaints too seriously for a variety of reasons but this reinforces certain ideas.  Anyways, don't want to get too much into stereotyping people and whatnot but again, it was just another interesting personal connection.

So, going into this, you will have to ask yourself whether the general types of book would be appealing to you, (a little bit self-helpy mixing of various traditions etc) and secondly if you would have any sympathy for the particular mixture of stuff Waitzkin is bringing. I found things I think that help me change how I think a bit, but again, I think it would be very personal whether this book connects with you or not.

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