Peter Zhdanov
8 June 2022

Seven Tips to Help You Choose a Good Chess Book

There are way too many fantastic and even more horrible books out there to attempt to name them all. Instead, I would like to offer you a few recommendations on how to efficiently choose what chess books to purchase.

Tip #1: critically assess the title. Epithets such as “lazy”, “quick”, “for dummies”, “easy” etc., usually imply that the reader will be treated with second-rate material, especially if we are talking about openings. One of the ideas behind such adjectives is to capitalize on the naïve get-rich-quick crowd who believe that one can become a GM in a month or so. Also, the words “winning”/”crushing”/”steamrolling” are typically a sign that the author is not fully sincere with you, especially if the featured opening is a relatively obscure one or presented from Black’s perspective.

To prove the validity of the claim on the cover, the author will likely rig the analysis and try to portray the main variations favorably, as if the opening was actually “winning”. This can only be done by omitting the strongest replies of the opponent.

Tip #2: see if the author’s personality strikes a chord with you. Impressive credentials are a bonus, although having a Ph.D. or a GM title doesn’t prevent some authors from releasing mediocre books. Ask yourself whether the author’s personality is interesting enough to you. Is the writer special in any way compared to others?

Also, there is a limit on how many decent books an individual is capable of writing over his lifetime. To produce a work of art, you must be passionate about it and put your soul into your creation. And don’t forget polishing that takes a lot of time!

If the so-called “prolific writer” has over 100 titles to his pen, there is a high chance that you are dealing with a graphomaniac & easy buck pursuer. They tend to avoid editing their texts, offer faulty analysis, recycle their writings, plagiarize, and hire ghostwriters.

Tip #3: check out the date of publication. When it comes to opening theory for reasonably advanced players, it makes sense to prioritize books that were published over the last two years. Chess theory evolves extremely fast nowadays. If the book is five years old or more, you should expect quite a few plans there to be outdated, the novelties – played out already if they were of any good, and some of the lines that used to be main ones get replaced by others. Of course, there are some great old books that dwell on general principles of the opening, but those are more of an exception. Moreover, well-written modern books will still be more relevant since they will be based on state-of-the-art theory instead of demonstrating lines that have faded into obscurity.

Even when it comes to books about middlegames/endgames/tactics, it is still preferable to focus on recent material. The main reason for this is that chess engines have made a giant leap forward over the last few years. When I check out the analysis of, let’s say, the 2010s or even 2015, Stockfish laughs at quite a few suggestions that used to be the top choice of the engines back in the day.

Naturally, some chess books, such as memoirs, are timeless classics. In such cases, it may be advantageous that they were written a while ago by people who personally knew the legendary players featured in the narrative.

Tip #4: see how reputable the publisher is. It is useful to be aware of the reputation of the publishing houses in the industry. For example, in the case of New in Chess, Chess Evolution, Quality Chess, Chess Stars, and a few others, one can generally expect top-notch works. Meanwhile, there are also publishers that are…OK, let’s skip this part to avoid offending people and starting a holy war.

Tip #5: don’t get dazzled or discouraged by the cover. It is well-known that the cover is one of the critical factors that influence the customer’s choice. Please keep in mind that the authors usually have no control over what the cover is going to look like. Don’t get carried away if you see a fantastic cover, and please don’t dismiss a book just because its exterior is terrible.

Tip #6: take reviews and prizes with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, there is too much subjectivity here. Some reviewers start hating on decent books for no particular reason. Others publish cheesy panegyrics for their friends’ or influential colleagues’ works. Even online rankings at sites such as Amazon can easily get manipulated: some authors ask their friends to rate their books “five stars” and leave positive reviews there. Similarly, some haters downvote the books of the competitors. I can see that it’s a pretty tempting path of least resistance to sort the titles by rating and choose something that is on top of the list. But going with the crowd is not necessarily the best way of discovering a jewel.

The same warning goes for the “book of the year” chess awards: all I can say about them is that they guarantee that the book is not utter rubbish, but it is by no means an indicator that such a title is indeed the best one that has been released over the past year. Some, if not all, of these awards are run by small teams of people who specialize in giving out trophies to each other or their close friends.

Tip #7: a quick overview. Briefly scan the contents page and read a few passages across the book. Do you like the author’s style? Do you find his musings original and worthy of attention? Is the analysis detailed enough to the extent that you need, too shallow, or too complicated? I have seen many people disappointed with books just because they were either too simple or way over their heads in terms of chess content.

Best of luck in discovering the chess books of your dream! 📚❤️

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