A Word About Chess Books

*NOTE:  This article was written for Monkey Reads a Book by Jason Denham, a former writer on said blog.

The observant reader may have noticed at the bottom of my “currently reading” image a book I mentioned by name in a previous post. I don’t intend to review Gambiteer 1 per se, or even completely finish it necessarily, but I have been spending a portion of my reading time on it lately, so I thought I might say a few words generally about chess books, and a very little about this one in particular.

In my mind there are basically 3 useful types of chess books- useful meaning the book will increase your understanding of general strategic or tactical concepts in chess, and hopefully help you to become a better player.

Type 1 is the “puzzle book”, as illustrated by Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess as well as Ward Farnsworth’s Predator at the Chessboard. These books give you some helpful text explaining a concept and then some illustrated problems to work through which will help you to absorb and understand what you have just read.

Type 2 I call the “textbook”, for lack of a better term. It is meant to be read and absorbed primarily as language, though there are almost always illustrative diagrams to help you out along the way. An example of this genre is Aron Nimzowitsch’s My System*.

Type 3 is the “analytical/reference database”. These books have a little textual commentary but are primarily made up of actual complete games in chess notation, drawn from competition (often between Grandmasters) that illustrate their chosen subject. Unless you have a brilliant mind for visualization, these books must be used to play out games on an actual (or computer) chessboard for one to learn anything from them. Otherwise they are like reading a cookbook without even the pictures, much less tasting a dish.

Gambiteer 1: A hard-hitting chess opening repertoire for White by Nigel Davies is a type 3 book on the subject of gambits, i.e. opening systems in which one side, in this case white, will sacrifice material, usually a pawn, in order to gain an advantage in spacing or development. As you might figure from the name, gambits are risky but often rewarding ventures- “sharp” in chess jargon. I have been playing through games in just a few of the sections so far, and I have been using a couple of the gambits to mixed success in my own (online) games- I particularly like a very sharp variation of the Danish gambit.

To me the ideal chess book is sort of a type 2.5, I need the concepts explained to me in English first but I also want to see them illustrated, perhaps not in entire games but at the very least is selected combinations of moves. Chess problems are fun but unless they are backed up with words expressing concepts, they do little to improve my game long term. And it wouldn’t hurt sales to have pictures of hot chess babes, either. I'm still waiting to find that one.

*Mein System is actually sort of a 2.3, since it does have a section of illustrative games from AN's brilliant career.