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Chess Mastery, Step by Step

Amazon Customer "zogdoo"
The list author says: "The road to chess improvement lies in the study of quality books by great chess authors of the past and present.

The list present here is somewhat incremental in that the easier introduction books are at the start of the list while more advanced books are further down. Some are optional for those who are interested or need further study in the given the given aspect.

I purposely avoid recommending opening books, especially those that deal with specific variation X written by grandmaster Y, not because they are bad, many are quite good, but because my choice of openings may not be your choice. Also all opening books will be out of date before the ink dries on the presses. I do give some pointers on how develop ones opening repertoire and some general works to help in that regard. I can recommend the after you do your own research on what you like to play, the "Starting Out..." series might be a good fit to fill in more information on those openings. [Please don't complain that Starting Out: the Fried Liver Attack (eg.) is out the date; I have warned you already.]

The common thread in this list is the constant need for tactical drills at all levels. An understanding of strategy is worthwhile but without sound basis of tactical skills, your great strategic planning will be lost in the battle of the moment.

If you are jumping with some reasonable experience you may want to start with "Chess Exam And Training Guide: Rate Yourself And Learn How To Improve" by Igor Khmelnitsky and work on those weak areas that you uncover.

The list has been updated with recent reprints and substitute volumes that are more readily available, sadly some books are still in need of reprinting. (March, 2010)"
Let's Play Chess: A Step by Step Guide for New Players (The Pandolfini Chess Library)
Let's Play Chess: A Step by Step Guide for New Players (The Pandolfini Chess Library)
"This is a easy and painless first book for those who may not be familiar with the rules and simple tactics."
Understanding Chess Tactics
Understanding Chess Tactics
"This replaces, "Bobby Fischer" book. I found this to be an equal or better introduction into the tactics of chess.    This books gets you thinking in terms of the chess pieces are capable of doing in tactical terms.  A good knowledge of tactics is vital to survival."
Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur (Dover Chess)
Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur (Dover Chess)
"Easy upgrade.  Will teach you why better players play better chess.  It's in English Descriptive but don't worry it won't kill you and may even open up a world of classics."
The Art of Checkmate
The Art of Checkmate
"Learn those basic mating patterns.  Great little book on the history of chess; gives a little bio for each player referenced.  This is a reprint of the original english descriptive edition: ISBN#0486201066. In the reviews, one person complained because when he ordered it, he got the previous edition instead on the new algebraic edition."
Lasker's Manual of Chess
Lasker's Manual of Chess
"This book may take you all the way to master.  Read from cover to cover however don't take the opening section too seriously, opening theory has changed much since his time.  The book is from one of the greatest writer of all time in chess and philosophy; he has much to say. (New edition)"
The Mammoth Book of Chess
The Mammoth Book of Chess
"Pick a game.   Analyze and try to predict the next move before looking at the text.  Also survey the openings and see what appeals to you. (Latest edition: 2010)"
Chess Tactics ART 3.0
Chess Tactics ART 3.0
"Absolutely the best way to drill tactics, and it's fun too."
Understanding the Chess Openings
Understanding the Chess Openings
"This is a great survey book that will let you explore what openings may be of interest to you.  As a beginner you should not attempt to become an expert on any one opening but try various setups until you find one that you feel comfortable with before exploring it more deeply. See note below on Modern Chess Openings."
Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge
Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge
"Memorize each ending in this book.  There are not that many however each is essential :)"
Modern Chess Openings, 15th Edition
Modern Chess Openings, 15th Edition
"Don't read this book, but after each of your games check this volume to see what you and your opponent could have done better."
Alexander Alekhine's Best Games (Batsford Chess Library)
Alexander Alekhine's Best Games (Batsford Chess Library)
"Great games by a great grandmaster with many modern ideas.  By now you should know the routine:  pick a game, analyze, analyze, analyze...  This newer edition is out of print and hard to find.  However the older Dover editions are still available but are in the original descriptive notation, otherwise try the next volume listed."
Alexander Alekhine: Master of Attack (Masters (Everyman Chess))
Alexander Alekhine: Master of Attack (Masters (Everyman Chess))
"This is a substitute for Alekhine's own book, which is sadly out of print but in great demand = very high used prices. Not a bad volume on its own, since it comes with exercises as well as games."
Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces - new enlarged edition
Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces - new enlarged edition
"If you have trouble finding the Alekhine book above or you if you just want more study material, try this volume by Stohl who is among the best annotators around today."
Think Like A Grandmaster
Think Like A Grandmaster
"Time to graduate into high school of chess.  This is your entrance requirement.  You can think like a grandmaster without being one.  Kotov worked his way up from struggling B-player, all hard work."
Secrets of Pawn Endings
Secrets of Pawn Endings
"A knowledge of pawn endings is vital to understanding other endgames that exchange down to these.  It also serves as tactical practice in lengthening your view."
Secrets of Grandmaster Chess (New American Batsford Chess Library)
Secrets of Grandmaster Chess (New American Batsford Chess Library)
"And this is your entrance exam (see previous book).  Work real hard on this one, the notes are thick but rich."
Strategic Chess: Mastering the Closed Game (Dover Chess)
Strategic Chess: Mastering the Closed Game (Dover Chess)
"A little break from tactics and mild introduction to strategy and closed games.  Note that this is not an opening book, it deals with typical middlegames resulting from the closed game."
Improve Your Chess Now
Improve Your Chess Now
"Great intermediate book on chess tactics and calculation.  Brings new study ideas to break through the ratings block that will affect most on the way up."
Chess Exam And Training Guide: Rate Yourself And Learn How To Improve (Chess Exams)
Chess Exam And Training Guide: Rate Yourself And Learn How To Improve (Chess Exams)
"It's used to assess where you are and where you need further help.  Take the test and follow up on aspects where you are weak."
The Survival Guide to Rook Endings
The Survival Guide to Rook Endings
"Let's not leave our endgame studies out.  Chess mastery can not be achieved without a thorough understanding of the rook endings. (New edition)"
My System (Chess Classics)
My System (Chess Classics)
"The classic in strategy.  You may have to read this book several times during your ascent in chess.  Each time you will learn something new that you were not previously ready to understand; zen-like."
Chess Praxis (Chess Classics)
Chess Praxis (Chess Classics)
"This is a follow up to "My System".  He annotates his games and are portrayed in order of stratagems listed in his previous work. You may want to get both at the same time and read the second along with the first for more examples of topic discussed in "My System""
Excelling at Chess Calculation: Capitalizing On Tactical Chances
Excelling at Chess Calculation: Capitalizing On Tactical Chances
"Back to tactics and calculation, Aagaard's other books in this series is excellent and are worth reading."
Art of Attack in Chess
Art of Attack in Chess
"Classic on how to plan and execute attacks against the kings position."
Chess Strategy for Club Players
Chess Strategy for Club Players
"This relatively new book captures the essential knowledge of the middle game, similar to the Middlegame by Euwe, which was previously recommeded but is now hard to find."
Tactical Chess Endings: Improve Your Chess by Unlocking the Secrets of the Endgame
Tactical Chess Endings: Improve Your Chess by Unlocking the Secrets of the Endgame
"More tactics. This one will have your head spinning.  Not your boring endgame book.  This one is becoming harder to find."
Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 (Dover Chess)
Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 (Dover Chess)
"At this point it is worthwhile to start building a classic tournament collection.  Let's start with best tourney book ever.  You know what to do with the games by now."
My 60 Memorable Games
My 60 Memorable Games
"This timeless classic of the best player of all time is now available (due to his early demise).  Forget his recent insane rantings and remember his chess. (New edition)"
Chess Middlegame Planning
Chess Middlegame Planning
"Excellent book on planning and how to execute that plan.  This is Kotov's (author of Think Like a Grandmaster) favorite book."
Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy
Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy
"After you have absorbed 'My System' read how his theory may or may not have stood the test of time (for advanced readers only). Check Aagaard's Excelling... on further discussion."
Endgame Strategy (Cadogan Chess Books)
Endgame Strategy (Cadogan Chess Books)
"This classic deals with strategy in the endgame.  You know the basic positions from earlier volume; this one deals with complex and endings and how to get to those basic ones you know."
Chess from Morphy to Botwinnik (Hardinge Simpole Chess Classics)
Chess from Morphy to Botwinnik (Hardinge Simpole Chess Classics)
"This is the correct way to study openings as explained by Suetin, in chronological order, learn through the test of time as new ideas are discovered and tested.  Dover: Please reprint this one soon in algebraic!"
Endgame Challenge
Endgame Challenge
"More endgame studies, they enhance both your endgame play as well as your tactical eye."
Power Chess With Pieces: The Ultimate Guide to the Bishop Pair & Strong Knights
Power Chess With Pieces: The Ultimate Guide to the Bishop Pair & Strong Knights
"Timman is one of the best analyst in the game.  In this volume he shows the minor pieces at their best.  The two bishops do hold sway in most cases but you have to check out Psakhis-Speelman, where two knights kick proverbial butt out of a pair of hapless bishops."
Excelling at Chess (Everyman Chess)
Excelling at Chess (Everyman Chess)
"Jacob Aagaard is one of the best writer of the modern day.  In this volume he uses his own work on improvement and how the reader might follow.  He also gets into a "philosophical" dog fight with John Watson over his book "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy", which spilled out onto various chess websites.  Interesting reading non the less."
Fundamental Chess Endings
Fundamental Chess Endings
"A complete treatise on the endgame."
Chess Tactics For Advanced Players 2008
Chess Tactics For Advanced Players 2008
"This book is not that advanced however it presents fresh thinking into tactics and the concept of "threats".  Some of the positions are truly amazing.  This edition is a reprint, and some have complained about the typography, however the material is still just as good. (New Edition)"
Learn from the Legends: Chess Champions At Their Best
Learn from the Legends: Chess Champions At Their Best
"An advanced work dealing with what separates the chess grandmaster from the world championship caliber.  It is a selection of games that are decided in the endgame in grand fashion.  Use it to improve your endgame and analysis skills; its not an easy book (the analysis is dense) but well worth the effort."