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.

This shortcoming of the chess players manifests itself in the chess literature domain.

In contrast to other, more advanced chess topics (such as tactics, middlegame or endgame), books for beginners are rather scarce, both in quantity and in quality.

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.

B. Pandolfini – Let’s Play Chess

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.

J. Coakley – Winning Chess Strategy for Kids

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.

R.J. Fischer, S. Margulies and D. Mosenfelder – Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

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.

G. Renaud, V. Kahn – The Art of The Checkmate

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.

I. Chernev – Logical Chess: Move by Move

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.

I. Chernev – The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played

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).

J. Silman – The Complete Book of Chess Strategy

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.

 

The Legal’s Trap

INTRODUCTION

On the road toward chess mastery, a chess player acquires knowledge about numerous attacking mechanism and mating patterns.

For instance, every strong player is familiar with the typical sacrifice of the bishop on h7, typical exchange sacrifice on h5 and other similar attacking manoeuvres.

However, one attacking pattern, in particular, has become especially famous throughout the centuries. It is rather well known because it was named after the player who originally played it in the 18th century.

Probably any Russian schoolboy could tell you the name of this manoeuvre even if you woke him up in the middle of the night.

Therefore, if you ever dreamt about travelling to Russia and waking up Russian schoolchildren in the middle of the night, it is probably time that you too get acquainted with Legal’s trap.

LEGAL’S MATE?

Legal’s trap is an attacking trap with which a player sacrifices his queen in order to deliver mate to the enemy king (or to gain a decisive advantage; more details in the subsequent section).

Legal’s trap was discovered in the 17th century by the strongest chess player of those times, the French virtuoso Francois Antoine de Legall de Kermeru (also known as Sire de Legal).

Sire de Legal

During this period, Paris was the chess capital of the world and the strongest players of the world gathered regularly at the famous Cafe de la Regence and played against each other.

In one of those games, against an unknown opponent,  Legal discovered a fantastic idea which would later become an integral part of the chess heritage.

Let us take a look at the moves and the key point of the game. Legal was playing with the White pieces.

1 e2-e4 e7-e5

2 Ng1-Nf3 d7-d6

3 Bf1-c4 Bc8-g4

4 Nb1-c3 g7-g6

Let us pause and take a look at the diagram position. Black has already violated two important opening principles; he moved his pawns instead of pieces on moves 2 and 4, and he developed his bishop prematurely.

Legal1

White is able to punish these mistakes with the help of a great move that Legal discovered:

5 Ng3xe5!!

An amazing discovery. White simply allows Black to take his queen in a move. Naturally, the offer is too attractive not to be accepted:

5… Bg4xd1

But in fact this allows White to deliver a checkmate in two moves:

6 Bc4xf7+ Ke8-Ke7

7 Nc3-Nd5 mate

Legal2

Very picturesque. White mates the Black king in the middle of the board and proves that in chess, mind often triumphs over matter.

LEGAL’S MATE OR LEGAL’S TRAP?

The above diagram represents the basic position of the Legal trap. However, stronger players might have noticed that Black is by no means forced to grab the White lady when the opportunity arises.

Let’s once again take Legal’s game as an example. His opponent could have refused the queen offer on move five, and captured the knight on e5 instead:

5… d6xe5

This would have allowed Legal to demonstrate another point behind his idea. The jump of the White knight, apart from threatening mate, also discovers the attack on the Black’s bishop. Therefore, White can now simply take the bishop with his queen:

6 Qf1xg4

Legal3

In the resulting position, White is a pawn up and has a large lead in development, as he already has three pieces in play in contrast to Black’s none.

Therefore, from the practical point of view, the diagram position should also be technically won. But even so, it is better for Black to enter such a position then to allow immediate checkmate.

Technically speaking, it is not fully correct to call the manoeuvre Legal’s mate, because Black can refuse to take the queen. Therefore, it is more precise to refer to the queen sacrifice as to the Legal’s sacrifice. Some authors also call it Legal’s Pseudo Sacrifice, because Black can’t really accept it, as demonstrated above.

Strictly speaking, whenever one mentions Legal’s name it should be clear what he refers to. All the terminology aside. For this reason, for the remainder of this article, we will stick to the Legal’s trap expression.

DIFFERENT VARIATIONS OF LEGAL’S TRAP

Ever since Legal ventured the queen sacrifice, many players have followed his footsteps and provided us with numerous examples of Legal’s trap in practical play.

Although the basic idea always remains the same, the features of every position are slightly different and the resulting consequences are not always identical.

Therefore, there are many different forms in which Legal’s trap can appear. We will examine four main variations of Legal’s trap on a number of model games.

Knight delivers the checkmate

The first variation of Legal’s trap was already demonstrated in it’s most primitive form in the Legal’s original game.

However, that game was a predecessor for many subsequent games in which knight delivered the checkmate after slightly more complicated opening phase.

As an example, let’s take a look at the game between two British amateurs, A. G. Essery and F.H. Warren, from the year 1912.

The game started with the Danish Gambit:

1 e2-e4 e7-e5

2 d2-d4 e5xd4

3 c2-c3 dxc3

4 Bf1-c4 d7-d6

Legal4

This gambit is not fully correct but is very dangerous. If Black takes on b2, White gets a large lead in development.

5 Nb1xc3 Ng8-f6

6 Ng1-f3 Bc8-g4

7 0-0 Nb8-c6

8 Bc1-g5 Nc6-e5?

Legal5

White’s last move has set a trap into which Black falls. The knight move allows Legal’s mate.

9 Nf3xe5! Bg4xd1

It has to be mentioned that Black’s best response is declining the Greek Gift with 9… d6xe5, but then White captures the bishop on g4 and remains a piece up.

The text move allows the mate:

10 Bc4xf7+ Ke8-e7

11 Nc3-d5 mate

Legal6

Thus, Legal’s mating picture occurs. It is noticeable that the diagram position is different from the position that occurred in the original Legal’s game; the key role is played by the bishop on g5 which pins the Black knight on f6 and hinders it from capturing back the knight on d5.

Bishop delivers the checkmate

Instead of merely pinning the knight on f6, on some occasion the bishop can have a much more glorious career on the square g5 and actually deliver the checkmate to the Black’s king.

Such a scenario usually happens when the Black knight from f6 gets exchanged for the White knight on c3.

For instance, the game by Jean Taubenhaus, a Polish master from the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century, played in simultaneous exhibition in 1887, features this theme:

1 e2-e4 e7-e5

2 f2-f4

The King’s gambit was definitely the most popular opening in the 19th century. Nowadays, many antidotes have been discovered, but it is still used sometimes as a surprise weapon on the highest level.

2… d7-d6

3 Ng1-Nf3 Bc8-Bg4

4 Bf1-Bc4 Ng8-Nf6

5 f4xe5 Nf6xe4

6 Nb1-Nc3 Ne4xc3

7 d2xc3

Legal7

The exchange of the knights takes place. White loses an important attacker and is unable to deliver mate on d5, but on the other hand, Black loses an even more important defender.

7 … Nb8-Nc6

8 0-0 Nxe5?

Legal8

Fatal mistake. Now all the prerequisites for Legal’s mate are met:

9 Nxe5! Bxd1

Once again, declining the sacrifice loses a piece for Black, but it was his best option.

10 Bxf7+ Ke7

11 Bg5 mate

Legal9

The hitherto bishop, which has been sleeping on c1 until now, wakes up and delivers the fatal blow.

Legal’s mate leads to decisive material gains

Finally, we will examine the third variation of Legal’s trap.

In this variation, the idea of the Legal’s manoeuvre is the gain of material. When Black’s king is hemmed in by his own pawns, pieces and queen, a check by the bishop might force him to give up his queen in order to prevent the checkmate.

If this sounds too complicated, perhaps it is best to examine a trendy opening line of the Queen’s Gambit Declined in which this form of Legal’s trap can appear. (Note: In this game, it is Black who takes the advantage of the queen sacrifice).

1 d2-d4 d7-d5

2 c2-c4 e7-e6

3 Nb1-Nc3 Ng8-Nf6

4 c4xd5 e6xd5

5 Bc1-Bg5 Nb8-Nd7

Legal10

This variation is known as the Orthodox variation of the Blackburne’s variation of the Queen’s gambit declined (quite a long name for mere 5 moves, don’t you think).

It has been played a million times, but it is not immediately clear what happens if White simply takes the knight on d5.

Let’s take a look:

6 Nc3xd5? Nf6xd5

7 Bg5xd8 Bf8-Bb4+

Legal11

The point of Black’s play. White is unable to do anything about the check and has to interfere with his queen.

9 Qd2 Bb4xd2+

10 Ke1xd2 Ke8xd8

Legal12

At the end, Black has won the piece and with he should also win the game.

DON’T GET CARRIED AWAY WITH LEGAL’S TRAP

We will conclude this article with a word of caution.

Legal’s trap is the attacking pattern that every chess player should know because it teaches us the dangers of prematurely pinning the knight toward the queen in the opening and of disobeying basic opening principles.

Sometimes, you will get the opportunity to deliver it in the real game, but most often more experienced opponent will not allow it because he will play healthy, logical chess, against which winning with the help of the quick tricks won’t be possible

Not only that; blindly and intentionally going for Legal’s mate can bring you serious trouble.

For instance, consider the following diagram for the moment.

Legal13

In this position, if White tries the move Nf3xe5, Black doesn’t capture the queen, but replies Nc6xe5, defending the bishop on g4 and winning the piece for Black.

Therefore, I hope you will remember the name of Sire de Legal, appreciate the greatness of his brilliant queen sacrifice and use the opportunity to employ it if you ever get one.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Fast checkmates

Introduction

We human tend to get obsessed with the superlatives in any field of human activity.

We are constantly trying to determine who is the biggest, the strongest, the most intelligent, the greatest ever, etc..

As if there is something to “determine” when the questions about GOAT arise (image taken from google photos)

Heck, our obsession went so far that a separate body was created that publishes an annual book which documents all the unnecessary achievements of the humanity.

Continue reading “Fast checkmates”

Chess endgames – Pawn endgames principles

“ENDGAMES TEACH YOU CHESS”

Last year I have had the pleasure of playing in the 2016 edition of the Zalakaros Chess tournament. 

In the first round I have had the opportunity to play the Israeli International Master, Ben Artzi Ido.

In the game, he wasn’t very familiar with the opening. Also, he probably underestimated me a bit and for the most of the opening and the middle game I have had the upper hand.

Unfortunately, I haven’t capitalized on those chances. And managed only to reach an equal endgame.

An equal endgame, in which I got completely trashed.

Continue reading “Chess endgames – Pawn endgames principles”

Chess middle game principles

WHY IS THE MIDDLE GAME SO HARD?

The course of a typical chess game can be divided into three phases: the opening, the middle game and the endgame. In order to become a strong chess player, one should obtain a certain level in all three phases of the game.

However, one of the most common dilemmas every chess player encounters is working on and improving his middle game.

What is it that makes studying middle games so confusing, compared to the other phases of the game? In my opinion, there are  various reasons:

Continue reading “Chess middle game principles”