Favourite chess books – as chosen by various players


by Oliver Dunne


The search for the chess book that will lift the chessplayer’s game to a new level is perhaps the Holy Grail of chess-book buying and the reason many chessplayers’ libraries just keep expanding. Perhaps it is not such a forlorn hope: after all, Nigel Short credits reading Bobby Fischer’s My Sixty Memorable Games with energising his play during the Biel Interzonal.

And the top Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen regarded the writings of Nimzowitsch as his ‘teacher’.

My own favourite book — for its sheer readability, the pleasure of its annotations and the inside feel it gives of a top-flight chess match — is Tal-Botvinnik 1960 by Mikhail Tal. While my own rating stands at 1806, I cannot claim to fully understand the profound manoeuvres of these two titans as they engage in battle, but Tal’s writing makes me feel as if I can!

I approached members of Elm Mount Chess Club and some others for their opinions on this topic.

The rating of each contributor is given in brackets, as I felt this may help the reader assess the choices. (Contributors are listed alphabetically.)

Alexander Baburin GM (Kilkenny; FIDE 2539):

When I was a junior player, My System made a big impact on me. Later Bronstein’s book on Zurich Candidates Tournament of 1953 impressed me a lot – very original approach, great language and style of annotations. My favourite books are game collections – most of them are very good.


Gerry Barry (1715)

My favourite book was actually 2 books: Alexander Alekhine and The Road To Chess Mastery by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden.

Terry Creighton (1648):

My favourite chess books are, well, the ones I managed to finish:

Simple Chess, Michael Stean: A good guide to positional chess.
Piece Power, Peter Wells: A good guide to the power of the pieces.
Attack With Mikhail Tal: A journey into the mind of an attacking genius.
Think Like a Grandmaster, Alexander Kotov: An overall guide to becoming a better player.
Rethinking the Pieces, Andrew Soltis: Interesting discussion on the power of the pieces.
Improve Your Chess by Learning from the Champions, Lars Bo Hansen: A modern overview of the ideas of the chess world champions.
Fundamental Chess Opening, Paul Van der Sterren: A one-volume literal guide to the first moves of nearly all chess openings.

Pat Fitzsimons (1644):

My favourite chess book is How to Play the Middlegame in Chess by John E. Littlewood. I bought it in the late 1970s and found it very instructive when I was learning more about how to play chess.

It has been updated and reissued regularly since then. I liked it because it gave me ideas on how to approach the middle game and what to look out for in relation to tactics and plans for that stage of the game.

Hugh Forkin (857)

I use the old notation when playing matches. The new notation confuses me since it reminds me of Excel. I had a chess book in the old notation, 500 Master Games, but I donated it to Greg Coyle, our librarian, so I don’t know the author. It was very well presented; however, since I don’t devote much time to studying chess, except when doing post mortems after a match, I did not use the book very much

Zygimantas Jakubauskas (2093):

This is the difficult one. I’m not a big book reader nowadays, only have one book at home, which is Ultimate Chess Debut encyclopaedia, which I got in Hughes and Hughes. Most of my books I’ve read during my school years, and then I mostly enjoyed My System by Nimzowitsch, and Best Games of World Champions by I can’t remember who.

So, to my shame, I have to admit I’m not studying as much as I should do.


John Loughran (1704):

My favourite chess book is Irving Chernev’s Logical Chess: Move by Move — where he analyses about 20 games literally move by move, explaining the logic behind each move in great detail, including the opening moves, with more words and not too many variations. A real treasure and a very enjoyable read. My second favourite is his book on Chess Tactics, where he gives loads of examples of tactics and explains them with such catchphrases as “A pinned piece is a paralysed piece”, ”A knight on the rim is dim”, “Passed pawns must be pushed”. The problems are easy to intermediate, but the text really reinforces important ideas in a very conversational, pleasurable way. These two books are suitable for readers who like reading nd whose rating is anywhere from 1000 to 2300, and they are now available in algebraic notation. My rating now is 1704, but when I read these first it was between 1000 to 1500.

Seán Quigley (Leeds; 1970):

Two that jump out are Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster and Max Euwe’s, if I remember rightly, The Road to Chess Mastery. The Euwe was a fabulous introduction to the Queen’s Pawn openings. (He did a subsequent book with a similar title, more focussed on King’s Pawn openings.) He was very clear on distinguishing the quality of the master from the amateur.

Ciaran Quinn (2029)

I’m not sure if I could actually say what my favourite chess book is. I prefer books of tactical problems — I find opening books very hard to read. Middle-game books are not much better. I find it is much more interesting to watch a game being played over the internet than to play over a game in a book — I like trying to figure out what will happen next. Books that I did like were a book of tactical problems by John Nunn (I can’t remember the name) and Endgame Magic (I can’t remember the authors). This was a book of endgame studies. I have given them both away now.

Matthias Rahneberg (1807)

I was quite obsessed with chess books back in the eighties.. I think there are still about a hundred books in my parent’s house.

Two of these stick out:
A. Nimzowitsch’s Mein System. This is a timeless classic and probably the book that personally influenced me most, however it is not easy to read and in my opinion you need to be at least at a 1800 level to start to understand it properly.

The other book was from a Yugoslavian called Vukovic, the title would translate to something like ‘the Sacrifice book’. I believe there is a recent updated version edited by John Nunn under the title The Art of Attack in Chess.. and that sums it up, the book is about attacking your opponent.  Very entertaining, and the exact opposite of Nimzowitsch; also, suitable for less experienced players.

As I restarted chess recently, I spent some time trying to find books to help me get back to my old level; in that regard I found books by Lev Alburt most useful.  My current favourite would be Chess Strategy for the Tournament Player, this contains much from Nimzowitsch’s book presented in a much more digestible format and also adds some focus on piece play (in the beginning I actually found it too simple, but in the long term it works very well for somebody in the 1600-1900 range).

Just a last comment: my favourite author overall would probably be John Nunn, however there is no book I would single out.

Alec Tyrrell (Malahide; 1659)

I have three books I would like to recommend: My System by Nimzowitsch (a true classic) and Russian Chess by Pandolfini (a great little book for people under 2000 — in all the games every move is explained, and I mean every move!). One more: Think Like A Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov (deals with the ‘analysis tree’ — great book to teach a player how to organise his thought processes with analysis).

Karl Vernor (1741):

My favourite book would be Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan.

This book covers all types of combinations in a concise, easy to read and understand format. He explains the principles of tactics and how to look out for them. Also, there is a huge database of problems for you to solve at the end of each chapter and they get progressively more difficult. He also has a book called Winning Chess Strategy, which I used to own but, alas, lent it to somebody and that was the last I saw of it. Again, very instructive, and I would definitely recommend it to any club players that want to improve their game.

Michal Zacharek (Fide 2200):

I don’t have any special book to which I would come back again and again. There were a few which helped me at some stage and I felt that after I worked through them my chess improved a lot. Most of the books I read were in Russian; most were translated into English, but some not.

If I would have to pick any, then:
Position Evaluation by Lysenko — I haven’t found an English translation anywhere, I am not sure if it is available in English. I found this book very instructive. This book teaches you how to look at chess, how to evaluate the position, how strategy and tactics are related to the right position evaluation. The author goes through many nuances of positional play, illustrated by many examples.  Very helpful for improving positional play.

Endgame Strategy by  Shereshevsky – It goes through all the fundamentals and shows general rules applicable to all kinds of endings. This book gave me a very good understanding of the endgame.