Best chess beginner books
Everybody knows how confusing and difficult it is to learn something from the scratch.
Chess, being the rich and complicated game it is, is by no means an exception. More experienced players often tend to forget that they were once complete newbies as well. Things that they understand easily (such as en passant or castling rules) can be terra incognita for someone who is only making the first baby steps in the world of chess.
This shortcoming of the chess players manifests itself in the chess literature domain.
However, that doesn’t mean that they are non-existent at all. That’s why I decided to do some research, combined that with my own personal experience and memories and assembled this list of best chess books most suitable for beginners.
I have tried to ensure that the recommended books get progressively harder as you go down the list.
Hope you will enjoy it.
Let’s Play Chess written by USCF National Master and renowned chess author Bruce Pandolfini is basically a very advanced “for dummies” chess book.
Over the 140 pages, he covers the basic chess rules, basic mating mechanisms, secrets of chess notation and everything else you need to know to be able to play in a chess tournament without causing any major controversies.
The author also starts introducing you to chess strategy and chess tactics.
Therefore, if you don’t have the slightest idea about what chess actually is, this book is probably for you.
Another book whose target audience are beginners is the Winning Chess Strategy for Kids, by Jeff Coakley.
However, the title of this books is slightly misleading. Compared to the previous book, Winning Chess Strategy for Kids is definitely more advanced.
Apart from covering the most basic aspects such as piece movement, notation and basic strategy, the author also introduces more complex strategical and tactical ideas, such as rook lift or x-ray.
Most reviews claim that most of the material is definitely too complicated for an average kid (unless your surname is Pragnanandhaa – cf. this article about chess titles).
However constant juvenile jokes and illustrations make this book a very good handbook for someone younger and newer to chess as well.
The most intriguing, controversial and interesting book on this list is definitely the book Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.
The two main authors, S. Margulies and D. Mosenfelder are not primarily chess player, but psychologists. In this book, they decided to apply the concept of “programmed learning”.
Programmed learning is basically the question-answer principle. The authors ask you questions throughout the whole book. If your answer is wrong, they ask you to go back, revise the material and try answering the question again when you are ready.
The book is similar to the Winning Chess Strategy for Kids to an extent. Basic chess rules are briefly covered, and already from the chapter number two, the authors start introducing most common tactical patterns, such as back rank mate.
The controversy part is once again inevitably connected with the name of the Robert James Fischer. It is not completely clear whether he participated in writing the book himself, or if the authors merely “used” his name for advertising purposes mainly.
Alas, we will never know. He did write the introduction though, and with or without him, this book is one of the classics in the books-for-beginners domain.
The Art of Checkmate is a book that definitely deserves a place on this list. Because I can’t think of another book that explains the basic mating patterns better than this one.
Over the course of 32 chapters, the French Champions Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn explain more than 20 mating patterns.
After reading this book, it will be much more clear what you are trying to do when you are starting an attack on the enemy king.
I have actually written a lengthy review of this one, so I don’t have anything particularly smart to add here.
Except for a little remark: If it weren’t for this book, I probably wouldn’t be a player I am today.
After learning the chess rules and acquiring basic ideas about chess strategy and tactics, it is time to take another “small step for a chess player” and start expanding on that knowledge.
I have already mentioned the name and the opus of Irving Chernev in my earlier post about chess middlegame books. There I have written that Chernev is one of the best authors for beginners, and I still haven’t changed my opinion.
In his book Logical Chess: Move by Move, Chernev covers 33 classical games, while commenting on every single move.
It is important to mention that comments mainly explain the point of a certain move; Irving refuses to bore the reader with an endless stream of lengthy variations.
Although some stronger players have criticised Chernev’s approach (most notably another famous chess person, Dr John Nunn – see this link for more details), I have learnt a lot from his books and would recommend them without hesitation.
The second classic by Irving Chernev, The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Player, also deserves a mention on this list.
The style of writing is similar to the Logical Chess: Move by Move. It is true that here comments don’t necessarily follow after EVERY move, but the style of the annotations is pretty much the same. Ideas instead of variations.
(In order not to repeat myself, I refer the readers to this post, where I have already written about this book).
Finally, the last book I am going to mention here is The Complete Book of Chess Strategy, by renowned chess author, International Master Jeremy Silman.
This book could have well been titled My First Chess Dictionary. The author explains frequently encountered chess terms in dictionary style.
The terms are listed alphabetically, but in contrast to traditional dictionaries, the explanations are not neccessarily brief; the author doesn’t hesitate to extend his explanation where he feels it would be handy.
For a beginner it may be confusing to remember the names of various tactical patterns, opening lines or endgame manoeuvres. This is where this book might come handy.
However, it has to be emphasised that it should be used primarily as a reminder, not as a learning book.
In order to get the feeling about how the book looks like, you can also check the free sample pages on the Amazon site.