Favorite Chess Books

By Glen Hart

Chess is a game with a rich and almost inexhaustable body of literature that includes wonderful works that document its rich history, offer instruction and guidance in all phases of the game for novice, intermediate and grandmaster alike, or simply provide wonderful hours of entertainment. Choosing a short list of favorite books from among this trove is, at the end of the day, a futile task. Be that as it may, I will offer a list of some of the books that I have enjoyed most. I won't call it a desert island list - probably best to take a laptop, given the sheer volume that can be put on board, and provided there is electricity on that island - but these are volumes that I have found particularly enlightening or immensely enjoyable (or both!) I hope you agree.

out of print Seven Chess Prodigies by John W. Collins
When I first learned how to play chess during the excitement surrounding the 1972 Fischer - Spassky match I came across John W. Collins' "My Seven Chess Prodigies," the wonderful account of his work with Bobby Fischer, Robert and Donald Byrne, William Lombardy, et. al. A very inspirational book.
chernev The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played by Irving Chernev
Two of my favorite instructional game collections are Irving Chernev's "The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played" (recommended to me by our own Scott Massey!) and Michael Stean's "Simple Chess" (which presents examples illustrating how to exploit weak pawns, outposts, open files, etc.). How is it that volumes like these can make the game seem so simple and intuitive, yet it is still so difficult when facing opponents over the board? (Another note here, these volumes are both published by Dover Publications, New York, a publisher who, hands down, provides the best value in chess publishing.)
oxford The Oxford Companion to Chess by David Hooper and Ken Whyld
My favorite one-volume work on the game is "The Oxford Companion to Chess," Second Edition, by David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld. Alphabetical entries on vitually every aspect of the game - players and other historical figures, openings, famous events and dates, nomenclature and much more.
A Picture History of Chess by Fred Wilson
I think that among bibliophiles, one never really loses the fascination for the simple picture book, though maybe when we are adults we graduate to the coffee table volume. I offer two works that fit this genre. "La Part Du Jeu," compiled by the journalist Sabine Kaufmann (Editions Furor, Geneva), a collection of wonderful black and white photos of top grandmasters at work, taken at various tournaments throughout Europe over about a decade from the mid-1980's through the mid-1990's. Don't let the fact that the accompanying text is in French deter you enjoying this work. I have searched for English translations to many of the short texts in the book (insights into play and chess and human nature) - by such authors as the sociologist Johan Huizinga, Leon Tolstoy, Stefan Zweig and Roger Caillois. The second work is Fred Wilson's "A Picture History of Chess." A more general and historical look at chess in general and master chess since the 1800's. With text and captions in English!
donner The King: Chess Pieces by J. H. Donner
Perhaps the single most entertaining work that I have read on the game is the collection compiled by the publisher New In Chess of the best newspaper articles written by the Dutch chess journalist and grandmaster Jan Hein Donner entitled "The King: Chess Pieces" (reviewed at ChessCafe). Agree or disagree with Donner, his writings on the game are witty, funny, irreverant, opinionated. Take this volume along with "The Complete Chess Addict" by Mike Fox and Richard James (Faber and Faber) for hours of pure entertainment.

The 100 Best Chess Games of the 20th Century by Andy Soltis
I would be remiss if I didn't include at least one volume by the publisher McFarland & Co., a small publisher of high quality scholarly works in a variety of disciplines including chess. Andrew Soltis' "The 100 Best Chess Games" is an example of the great work done by this publishing house.

Anthology of Chess Combinations by Chess Informant
I really enjoy books of chess combinations and there are many good examples. My favorite is probably Chess Informant's (Belgrade) "Anthology of Chess Combinations" which is a collection of perhaps the best and most difficult examples. The only drawback is that they are classified by piece and as such - at least when you look at the text edition - the first move of the combination usually suggests itself pretty readily. The solution? Purchase the e-book edition, which can be perused in training mode. Quite a nice work to have on your computer. As a matter of fact, couple this anthology with the electronic editions of the Chess Informant volumes (1 - 92 to date) for a really terrific collection of works for your computer that you can play over anytime with the nice chess reader software interface that they provide.
Chess Olympiads by Sports Verlag
Back to the print world - and other foreign languages! Among tournament books the Sport Verlag (Berlin) works on the chess Olympiads, though in German, are perhaps the finest tournament books produced. Not for the games necessarily - although there are many good games - but for the sheer quality of the books themselves including many photos, diagrams, crosstables and features. Worth learning a little German to enjoy. Another great tournament book (this one in Dutch) is the New In Chess 60 year anniversary work on the strong, traditional Hoogovens tournament in the Netherlands entitled "60 jaar Hoogovens Schaaktoernooi: 1938 - 1998."
My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer
And finally, a memory of the time when I learned the game in my youth, and a memory of Bobby Fischer when he wrote about chess, his work "My Sixty Memorable Games," originally published by Simon and Schuster. I didn't necessarily understand the depth of the games, but I was enthralled.


Updated 05.05.2005 | Contact Michael Goeller