In the previous post we have already identified chess middle game as the phase of the chess game that tends to be hardest to improve.
The points mentioned in that post very much apply to chess literature as well:
- When searching for a good book about the openings, a player only needs a book relevant for the opening he most often plays. Therefore, eliminating superfluous books is not an insurmountable task.
- The famous Tolstoy’s first sentence of Ana Karenina about the similarities of families can be applied to the books about the endgame as well. Since endgame study HAS to be systematic, the authors often follow the well-throden paths while explaining key endgame concepts.
On the other hand, in order to master the middle game, a player needs to learn everything about pawn structures, weaknesses, attacking, defending, strategy, calculating, tactics, etc…
It is impossible to completely ignore anything mentioned above. Which is a big problem for the middle game book authors, since a book covering all these aspects would be probably much thicker than the afore mentioned Ana Karenina.
And also, probably even more boring.
Consequently, finding a good middle game book can be very confusing, as the guidelines defining what’s “good” are much less clear.
Therefore, we have decided to make a list of chess middle game books that are widely recognized as the best choice.
Best chess middle game books
I hope no one will blame me if I start this list with a little bit of patriotism.
The first book I would like to mention is the brilliant Art of attack in chess written by deceased Yugoslav International Master, Vladimir Vuković.
During the most part of the 20th century, Vuković was the editor of the Yugoslav magazine Šahovski glasnik. This official periodical of the Yugoslavian chess federaton was very popular in the pre computer era.
The Art of attack in chess, written back in 1963., covers all the aspects of attacking in chess (quite surprisingly).
The value of the Art of attack in chess lies in the fact that it extensively covers the building of the attack right out of the opening, instead of focusing solely on it’s tactical execution.
Vuković covers both the basic and more complex attacking mechanicsms. The chapters include variety of middle game situations, such as:
- Attacking the uncastled king
- Classic bishop sacrifice
- Attacking the castled position
- Attacking the focal points (f7, g7 and h7)
Almost every chapter contains classic games from the players like Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, Lasker, etc.
The book contains something for everyone. It is one of those chess books that is quite easy to read and very difficult to master.
It is amazing how good this book still is, 54 years after it’s first edition appeared.
Reuben Fine was quite an extraordinary man.
Apart from being one of the strongest chess players on the planet during the late 30s and early 40s, he was also a doctor of psychology and insanely productive chess author.
I would like to focus on the latter part of his personality of course. He wrote numerous chess books about different phases of the game.
It is quite appropriate to compare him with the mythical king Midas. Because almost anything he wrote was pure gold. Even nowadays, most of his books are considered as classics.
The middle game in chess is no exception. Although I have mentioned that covering all the aspects of the middle game in a single book is virtually impossible, Fine’s book comes close to refuting that claim.
The middle game in chess covers a variety of themes. Some of the chapters include:
- Mating attacks
- Combinations and tactical play
- Pawn structure
- Accumulating small pluses
- Transitioning into favourable endgame
What makes this book so special is the fact that there is nothing special about it.
Fine’s style is very clear, very concise and very logical. Unlike the author of these lines, Fine doesn’t tend to get carried away. The book is highly practical and to wrap it all up, it’s simplicity makes it quite an enjoyable read.
After examining the book by a strong chess grandmaster, it is time to check the work of the ultimate chess enthusiast.
The name of Irving Chernev should really be known by any self respectable chess player.
Because although he was a player of a “mere” national master strength, his obsession with chess turned him into one of the most productive chess authors of the 20th century.
And also a quite successfuly one, since the sales of his book An invitation to chess reached six figures.
The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played represents a benchmark of his work.
Irving takes a look at the 62 beautiful and instructive chess games played mostly in the first half of the 20th century.
Irving’s style is mostly suitable for beginners. He doesn’t dwelve into lenghty analysis of the variations but focuses on the IDEAS instead.
A player can learn alot about middle games themes such as weak squares, pawn structures, undermining pawn chains, etc.
The book is a joy to read. His enthusiasm is contagious, as evident from the artistic titles he assignes to the games:
- March of the little pawns for the Pillsbury – Gunsberg game
- A bolt from the blue for the Andric – Daja game
- A symphony of heavenly length for the Evans – Opsahl game
I quite like how Chernev managed to find relatively lesser known games that are still as instructive more famous games of the world champions.
In order to demonstrate my respect and love for Irving Chernev’s work, I can’t resist mentioning his even more popular bestseller.
Every comment about The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played applies to the “Logical Chess: Move by Move: Every Move Explained.”
In this book, Chernev goes through 33 classic games, telling the reader the reason behind every single move.
Once again, the emhpasis is not on concrete variations, but on the ideas instead. Chernev tries to explain the thinking process of great players and pretty much succeeds in it.
The move by move concept has enjoyed significant burst of popularity ever since Chernev first introduced it.
English Grandmaster Neil Mcdonald has certainly followed Chernev’s footsteps, as his impressive chess bibliography includes quite a number of move by move books.
And although these books often focus on the specific opening, The Art of Planning in Chess has always been my favourite.
The Art of Planning in Chess is essentialy an improved version of the Logical Chess:Move by Move: Every Move Explained.
Mcdonald has selected a number of games played by the modern Grandmasters, and tried to explain the logic behind every move.
Apart from analyzing the games, Mcdonalds has grouped them on the basis of the six different strategic themes:
- Ferocious files
- Dangerous diagonals
- Wearing down a weakness
- Surging throught the centre
- Pawns and goat pegs
- Horrible holes
There are both pros and cons to this book.
Such a simplistic approach to the modern chess clashes makes it much easier to understand what the hell is going on on the board.
On the other hand, since modern chess games are much complicated than the ones played in the past, using text instead of variations is sometimes inadequate.
For me, the pros outweigh the cons and I have enjoyed and learnt much from reading this book.
The list above consists of the books I have read during my chess career.
However, there is a certain flaw in my choice. Because the books mentioned can be considered as “basics” and there is not much advanced stuff in them.
Therefore, I have decided to do some research.
And I have managed to find some books that I haven’t read completely, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to someone stronger than me.
In his book Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy International Master John Watson tries to pick up the baton from Aaron Nimzowitsch’s My system.
Watson analyzes various strategic themes from the modern viewpoint. Strategic themes such as :
- Centre and development
- Pawn minorities and majorities
- Exchange sacrifice
- And much more
I haven’t read the whole book yet, but so far I very much like the fact that Watson often mentions positions resulting from the modern opening variations, such as Modern defence or Posioned Pawn variation in the Najdorf.
There is no doubt that John Watson’s work is more advanced than any of the books mentioned previously.
No chess book list is complete untill it mentions the English Grandmaster John Nunn.
This post will be no exception. Because Understanding Chess Middlegames is another marvellous piece of Nunn’s chess bibliography.
To an extent, Understanding Chess Middlegames is comparable to Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy. Because both books focus on the middle game from the modern viewpoint.
Understanding Chess Middlegames focuses on 100 middle game principles. Each principle is covered on only two pages and is depicted with a couple of practical examples.
Some of the principles featured in the book are:
- Material imbalances
- Pawn structure
- Attacking play
- Typical mistakes
Judging by the quality of other Nunn’s books, one can hardly fail by investing time and money into reading this one as well.
This post gave the overview of best chess middle game books out there. Hopefully you will be able to improve your middle game and unleash your chess potential with the help of magnificent chess authors mentioned here.