Best chess books written by World Champions

Introduction

Nowadays, publishing a chess book has become easier than ever before. Due to the accessibility of information chess knowledge has become available to almost anyone. Also, in the modern chess, the opening stage is more important than ever before. Memorizing openings basically comes down to processing huge amounts of data.

Therefore, it is no wonder that numerous books are published dedicated to a specific opening line. Nearly anyone with a decent chess strength who is willing to put some time and effort can write a book. Willingness to work has thus become more important than an actual understanding of the game.

And even though I think that this availability of information has done wonders for chess, I also think there are some negative side effects connected to the hyper-productivity. Since huge amounts of chess books are being published every day, there is simply no time to evaluate every single one of them properly.

In other words, the quality control and assurance are non-existent. However, there is a tested method of selecting chess books that have managed to endure the test of time and that guarantees at least a certain degree of quality.

You see, in the past, when the world was much slower and chess much less developed, the task of spreading chess knowledge fell on the very best players in the world. There was hardly a world champion that hasn’t written at least one book during his life.

Therefore, I have decided to write this post, focusing on the very best of the very best. I have assembled a list of my favorite chess books written by World Champions.

As every other list on this blog, this one is highly subjective. Since I have tried not to make it too long, I may have cut out some titles that could have been included.

But in any case, I firmly believe that you can hardly go wrong by selecting any of the books on this list. You will learn a lot about chess, about chess culture, about chess players, and about chess history in general.

Garry Kasparov on my Great Predecessors

What is it about?

Let’s kick off this post with very famous and celebrated series by the 13th World Champion and arguably the greatest player ever – Garry Kasparov.

In his series, On My Great Predecessors, Kasparov embarks on a monumental task of trying to make a complete overview of the chess history.

The series consists of five books overall. Kasparov has dedicated a greater/smaller number of pages to every World Champion, depending on the importance of the player and his corresponding heritage. Also, Kasparov acknowledges the greatness of Viktor Korchnoi and squeezes him between the World Champions.

Apart from World Champions and Korchnoi, the books also cover life and games of famous non-World Champion players, such as Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, Reuben Fine, Bent Larsen, among others.

The division of World Champions throughout the series is as follows:

  • Part One – Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine
  • Part Two – Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal
  • Part Three – Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky
  • Part Four – Robert James Fischer
  • Part Five – Viktor Korchnoi, Anatoly Karpov

In this series, Kasparov doesn’t write about his own life and games; the series that follows take care of fulfilling that gap.

Why is it a must read?

There are many reasons why I put this series on the top of this list.

First of all, Kasparov has embarked on a task no one else tried before him. Sure, there are a lot of historical chess books, but no one has ever tried scrutinizing the play of every single champion in such a detail and tried painting the complete picture of the overall chess history.

I think that Kasparov proved he was very much up to the task. He managed to provide enough interesting information, backed up by amusing stories and interesting details about World Champions, without getting too academic and dry in the process.

Secondly, I think that Kasparov’s English is really exquisite, especially considering that it isn’t his mother tongue. The books are a real pleasure to read, the material is extremely interesting and you will find yourself “flowing” from one chapter to another, from one anecdote to another, from one game to another.

Thirdly, I hardly need to remind you that Kasparov is one of the strongest players that ever lived. I think that simply reading his opinions and insights about historical positions, opening variations and long lines are worth every penny. The depth of analysis is also incredible and Kasparov often refers to the work of previous analyses and always questions the established opinions and conclusions.

It is true that this last point is debatable to an extent. Prominent chess historian Edward Winter has pointed out a number of mistakes, both in historical facts and in chess analysis.

However, I think that comments such as “A very great part of the analysis (certainly more than 95%) has been copied from earlier sources, mostly without proper acknowledgment”, don’t reduce the pure chess value of this book, even if they were true (which I am not competent to conclude definitely).

Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov

What is it about?

The second book series by Garry Kasparov fills the vacuum that My Great Predecessors created.

In On Garry Kasparov Series, Kasparov takes a look at the most important own games and career. In the contrary to his series on the Modern Chess (see below) he doesn’t restrict himself solely to his match against Karpov but gives a broader overview of his chess path instead.

The division of the trilogy is based on the different periods of Garry’s career.

  • Part I covers the early phase of Garry’s career – the period between 1973 and 1985.
  • Part II covers the most dramatic years of Garry’s career – the era of Kasparov – Karpov matches and battles – the period between 1985 and 1993.
  • Part III covers the remainder of Garry’s career – the height of his powers in during the 90s, the loss of his crown in a match against Kramnik and resurgence during the final years of his career – the period between 1993 – 2005.

Why is it a must read?

Well, everything said above about the style of the On My Great Predecessors series is pretty much valid here.

Not only that, considering that this time Kasparov is writing about himself, the insight he provides is much deeper and probably more accurate (see Winter’s objections about On My Great Predecessors series above).

Furthermore, Kasparov’s analysis is pretty objective, his goal is not to seduce the reader but rather to search for the ultimate chess truth. In the On My Great Predecessors series it didn’t deserve particular praise since he was analyzing the games of other players. However, in the On Garry Kasparov trilogy, he remained consistent in his approach; he often criticizes his own play if required.

As one chessgames.com user once said: The ultimate goal in chess is objectivity. Maximum objectivity.

Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess

What is it about?

Last, but not the least book series coming from the pen of the 13th World Champion is titled On Modern Chess and its content overlaps to an extent with the content of the On Garry Kasparov series. However, chronologically speaking, this series was written before the On Garry Kasparov series.

In this four book series, Garry Kasparov’s idea was to paint the picture about how chess changed and how chess thinking progressed from Fischer days. However, if we exclude the first book which really tries to tackle that problem, I have to be honest and say that I don’t see how the progression of the initial idea, as the remaining three books, are dedicated mainly to Kasparov’s endless battles against his arch-rival, Anatoly Karpov.

The books of the series are as follows:

  • Part I – The Revolution in the 70s – The most valuable book for a practical player. As mentioned above, Kasparov tries to explain how chess thinking changed after Fischer’s departure from chess. In the 70s, many chess players started playing opening systems that were deemed incorrect previously. By telling the story about different trending openings of the 70s, like Hedgehog, Alapin Sicilian, advance Caro-Kann, etc., Kasparov emphasizes how opening preparation started gaining importance precisely during those years.
  • Part II – Kasparov vs Karpov 1975-1985 – As the title suggests, this book covers the games played between the two K’s in the 1975-1985 period.
  • Part III – Kasparov vs Karpov, 1986 – 1987 – This volume focuses solely on the London/Leningrad 1986 match and Seville 1987 match (the one in which Kasparov retained his title by winning the final, 24th game)
  • Part IV – Kasparov vs Karpov, 1988 – 2009 – The final part of the series covers both the competitive games in the 1988-2004 period, but also the exhibition match played with both players in retirement in 2009

Why is it a must read?

There is a reason why I have violated the chronological order of Kasparov’s writing while assembling this list. Because, even though this series is the predecessor to the On Garry Kasparov series, if I had to choose only one, I would choose the latter.

The main reason for this is chess content. On Garry Kasparov series is simply broader in terms of the chess games covered. Many games from the Karpov – Kasparov matches are included in it. I haven’t done the detailed comparison between the two series, but I think that the notes to the most important games are more or less identical.

Why have I decided to put this book on the list then nevertheless? Well, I am an avid fan of Garry Kasparov, and I think that there can be no harm in devouring every word he has ever written.

Besides,  On Modern Chess series analyzes virtually every game of every match (with the exception of the first match, famous for the unlimited series of draws). And more importantly, Garry tells us a lot about events taking place behind the scenes, which are very much relevant the history of the modern chess. Among other things, Garry talks about:

  • The reasons why his first match against Karpov was canceled
  • The suspicions that someone from his team has leaked his opening preparation to Karpov during the 1986 match
  • His feelings before and after the decisive game of the 1987 Seville

On Garry Kasparov doesn’t give us such an insight into everything revolving around these endless battles and getting acquainted with all the intricacies about the greatest chess rivalry in the history is definitely a must for anyone wishing to learn more about our beautiful game.

Robert James Fischer: My 60 Memorable Games

What is it about?

In the contest for the title of the Greatest player ever,  the 11th World Champion, Bobby Fischer, is quite often considered as a serious contender. It is not easy to choose him over Kasparov or vice versa. Every schoolboy knows that both players were the dominant force at the chessboard in their best years, mercilessly crushing everyone who opposed them, winning one tournament after another and creating more than one masterpiece along the way.

However, it is sometimes easy to forget that even in the writing domain, the two of them were equal. We have described Kasparov’s contribution to the chess literature above. Fischer’s opus is not that extensive perhaps, but no less significant nevertheless.

The only book he has ever written, My 60 Memorable Games has become an instant classic and is probably one of the most celebrated chess books ever.

In this autobiographical portrait, Fischer annotates 60 games of his career in the ten-year period between 1957 and 1967. If you are even remotely familiar with Fischer’s life, the fact that there is nothing else apart chess content in the book shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to you.

There are no stories, no anecdotes, very little introspection and testimonies about his personal life. If there ever was a definition of the “chess game collection”, this book is the one.

Why is it a must read?

Because it is written by Fischer. One of the most gifted chess players ever, whose obsession with chess is perhaps unparalleled to this day (who doesn’t remember his immortal quote, “All I ever want to do, is play chess.”).

This love from chess is apparent from the quality of his annotations. Some of the variations given in the book are amazingly deep. The fact that chess engines didn’t exist at a time is just another plus; not only is it easier to read the book without the board in front of you, but we also get the idea about the thought process, candidates move examination and positional evaluation of one of the greatest players in the history.

Although he was quite a controversial person, he was by no means mad. On the contrary, Fischer’s comments are amazingly “sober” and display a great dose of objectivity.

Similarly like Kasparov in his series, Fischer doesn’t sustain criticism when he thinks the criticism is required. Moreover, My 60 Memorable Games include a couple of losses, breaking apart from the well-established tradition established by chess authors in the past.

In any case, My 60 Memorable Games raised more than one generation of good players, and I am pretty convinced it will continue to do so in the future.

Especially considering that it is now available in the modern, algebraic notation (the original was written in the older, descriptive notation).

Alexander Alekhine: My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937

What is it about?

Another World Champion, another autobiographical book, another game collection, another masterpiece.

This is how the book by the fourth World Champion, Alexander Alekhine, titled My Best Games of Chess, 1908 – 1937 can be summarized.

As apparent from the title of the book, over the course of the 27 chapters, Alexander Alekhine gives an overview of his magnificent chess career and annotates most important and most interesting games from the aforementioned 1908-1937 period.

Why is it a must read?

One subjective criterion I was guided by while creating this list is how attractive player’s style is to me personally. The second is how objective that player was, both in life and on the board.

That is the reason why I chose Alekhine’s books over Capablanca’s, Kasparov’s over Karpov’s and Tal’s over Botvinnik’s (see below).

Alexander Alekhine was often cited by Kasparov, but also by Fischer as a player who has had the greatest influence on their own playing style. And indeed, Alekhine is known for his “difficult”, dynamic chess, which made his games incredibly interesting and attractive.

Similarly as with Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games, the big plus for My Best Games of Chess is the absence of computer-generated analysis. The reading of the book “flows” and the number of diagrams makes it easy to follow the “human variations” given by Alekhine.

Also, the 21st-century release added more diagrams and changed the notation from descriptive to algebraic and made the book even more user-friendly.

In any case, reading the book is a great pleasure. For me, Alekhine’s games are full of brilliant ideas and attractive variations and one can simultaneously enjoy this book and learn a lot from it.

Mikhail Tal: Life and Games of Mikhail Tal

What is it about?

If there is a chess player who doesn’t know about the attacking genius of Mikhail Tal, he doesn’t deserve to be called a chess player.

The creativity, brilliance and sacrificial style of the eight World Champion is well-known. His autobiographical book, The Life and Games of Mikhail, tells the story of the “Riga Magician” and how his combinative hurricane which swiftly conquered the chess world and hearts of the chess connoisseurs worldwide.

The book is divided into nine chapters, each dedicated to a certain period of Tal’s career. From his early steps to his battles with Botvinnik, to his resurgence on the chess scene after his kidney operation, Tal tells us stories, anecdotes and annotates the key games of each period.

Why is it a must read?

Compared to the previously examined Fischer and Alekhine’s books, this book is much more than a “simple” game collection. Tal’s jovial outlook on the world is evident in every single line he writes. The book is breathing with humor on every corner (just take the title of one of the chapters as an example – My ‘Death’ and my New Life).

Behind every game, behind every tournament, there is a story and Tal does his best to unravel it. In my personal opinion, apart from being an extremely creative chess player, Tal is also an extremely gifted writer.

Just as he had no trouble captivating the imagination of a chess spectator, Tal somehow keeps the reader immersed in the book without any problem whatsoever. You can sense that he loved chess with his whole heart and that he had much fun while playing it.

Therefore, reading this book cannot be recommended highly enough.

Honorable mention: David Bronstein: Zürich International Chess Tournament 1953

What is it about?

As hopefully most of you guessed by now, David Bronstein’s book Zürich International Chess Tournament 1953 is an unofficial tournament book of the 1953 Candidates tournament held in – Zürich.

Bronstein embarked on a gigantic task of annotating every single game from the tournament – and duly carried it out. Over the course of 340 pages, a total of 210 games were analyzed. Sure, there was a number of relatively quiet and quick draws that made the task easier, but still, Bronstein’s work deserves to be acknowledged.

Why is it a must read?

David Bronstein has never become a World Champion (even though he did come damn close), but I have decided to make an exception and include this book in this list nevertheless.

The main reason why Zürich tournament book has become a classic of chess literature can be nicely summed up in one sentence:

“A book whose primary intention wasn’t to be instructive has somehow managed to be instructive as hell.”

The fact that there are so many games covered in the relatively modest amount of pages can be double-edged. On one hand, the book doesn’t delve that deeply into every single game like Kasparov’s books for instance, but on the other hand, sometimes less is indeed more.

With the limited number of annotations, Bronstein focuses on the key moments of every game, usually in the middlegame and the endgame, and doesn’t bore us with opening considerations (which is especially relevant since opening theory has made a giant leap forward since 1953).

Furthermore, the book has an immense historical value.  It allows us to follow the race between Vassily Smyslov and Paul Keres from one round to another. We find out about the importance of a certain game in the context of the tournament; sometimes even the quietest draw has great significance.

In that regard, a new light is shed on the key encounter between Paul Keres and Vassily Smyslov. The reader can almost feel the tension behind the innocuous piece movement.

Therefore, the work of the ‘Cunning Devik’ is definitely worth going through.

Best chess beginner books

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.

Continue reading “Best chess beginner books”

Best chess middle game books

Introduction

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…

Continue reading “Best chess middle game books”

Dealing with d4 deviations – Book review

INTRODUCTION

Every chess tournament I have participated in has had THAT moment.

THAT moment when after refreshing the pairings in the solitude of your apartment and lamenting about how you got the Black pieces again, you rush to open your Chessbase to quick scan your opponent’s repertoire, only to realize that once again you have to deal with someone who is very stubbornly refusing to cross the 4th rank of the board with his „d4-c3-e3“ offbeat openings rubbish.

And typically, after an unpleasant realisation that your opponent plays chess the way Mourinho’s teams play football, you immediatelly close the Chessbase as quickly as possible („ What the hell, i can equalise as i please “)  and as a mental preparation you go rewatch the 2009 Barcelona – Chelsea Championship League match, to remind yourself that there is indeed some higher justice (thank you mr. Tom Henning Øvrebø).

Continue reading “Dealing with d4 deviations – Book review”

The Art of the Checkmate – Book review

INTRODUCTION

Whenever I start remembering my first chess steps, I can’t resist paraphrasing the title of the famous Garry Kasparov autobiographic book – How chess imitates life. And for everybody thinking „Oh great, Vjeko, too much blitz on chesscom is again causing damage to your brain“ , please, let me elaborate.

chess-baby
First chess steps

Because as much as a person has very few recollections of his earlier days on the planet, a chess player can very vaguely remember his earliest creations. Especially ones played under faster time controls.

Probably the most reasonable explanation of this phenomenon lies in the fact that there is positive corelation between playing strength and ability to visualise the moves and the pieces without looking at the board.

Ability that is especially apparent when trying to remember your own chess games „from head“ immediately after they have been played. Or when trying to play blindfold chess.

Continue reading “The Art of the Checkmate – Book review”