BEST CHESS BOOKS FOR IMPROVING MY GAME?
Book reviews for “How to reassess Your Chess”, “My System” & “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess”
By Carsten Hansen
“How to Reassess Your Chess” by Jeremy Silman
My first acquaintance with this book was made in 1987, shortly after the first edition was released, and to be frank, after a cursory glance, I didn’t think much of it and put it aside. Two years later, though, I browsed through it again and realized how much exciting material the book contained, and back then, it was a sub-200-page book. Notably, the aspect of imbalances radically opened my mind to new opportunities in my own games.
A lot has changed since then; for instance, one of the chapters, “The Amateur’s Mind,” has become a book of its own. Further, the volume of this latest edition is massive; just from the 3rd to the 4th edition, an additional 200 pages of material have been added. The material has been fine-tuned to reflect the author’s evolving ideas to include more recent games and many more examples.
This book is not a book for beginners. Still, once you have stepped beyond the 1400-level, there is a ton of material to work with to expand your understanding of the value of the individual pieces, how they work best, how they work together, how to assess their positioning on the board, what to look out for.
The number and breadth of topics covered is astounding, and this is one of those books that can carry you forward in your development as a chess player. As you revisit the book, you will understand new nuances that you didn’t catch on to in the previous read of the book. Without a doubt, this book is a modern classic that I think all chess players from 1400 up to around 2200 will greatly benefit from reading.
“My System” by Aron Nimzowitsch
“My System” was the first chess book that I ever bought with my own money. I was rated around 1300 and found it in a discount bin at the local bookstore. The edition was the Danish hardcover edition and was printed sometime in the 1970s. Proud of my investment in my chess, I immediately dived into it. I felt I learned a lot, and I recall how it impacted my chess. I started playing certain positions with more confidence and added some aspects to my game that were not present before.
That being said, it is also a somewhat frustrating book because it was clunky, and there was no immediate thread to hang on like in other books. For that reason, it is frequently criticized by several grandmasters of the more generations. That brings us to the edition for the present edition of the book, the Quality Chess.
In the short foreword, Artur Yusupov writes that if he were to choose the best chess book of the 20th century, “My System” would certainly be his favorite and that it would be a common choice, also quoting Mikhail Tal who once sai that this book is “full of the elixir of chess youth.” It is interesting that two such giants vary so much in their opinion of the book than some of today’s top grandmasters. Yusupov also draws parallels between the games of Petrosian, Karpov and even Kasparov(!) to the ideas outlined in this book.
In this edition of the book, the publisher decided to update the material by first using the 2005 Rattman German edition as basis for the translation. Furthermore, they decided to computer check, “within reason”, some of the material to add to some of the corrections already made in the Rattman edition. Furthermore, they added some additional material at the end of the book, the first is a discussion about the current relevance of “My System” and in the second essay, they have selected about a dozen positions where they are looking at them with a fresh opinion. These two essays are “My System in the computer age” and “Nimzowitsch for the 21st Century”, both penned by world-renowned chess coach Jacob Aagaard. Finally, they have also added an article by Yuri Garrett, an excellent author in his own right, where he researched Nimzowitsch’s tournament and match results, called “The Chess Career of Aron Nimzowitsch.”
Bottom line, this is still an excellent book that players of many levels will enjoy from which increased understanding can be derived. Therefore, don’t let your opinion and learning experience be ruined by some top grandmasters experienced from their encounter with the book in German, Russian, or a different English-language edition, this book remains a masterpiece.
“Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” by Bobby Fischer
My chess education did not include reading or a study of this book. In fact, I never heard about the book until I moved to the USA when I was 25 years old and rated above 2300. Therefore, when I picked up the book and first checked it out, I felt underwhelmed. It seemed bland and irrelevant to me. Nevertheless, a couple of years later, when I came across it again, I found a hardcover edition from 1966 at a reasonable price; I brought it home and put it on the shelf, again without genuinely appreciating the content, but appreciating its significance as a chess primer in my new home country. However, on an evening where I felt I had nothing better to do, I started thumbing through the book and realized the book was so much more than what I first have given it credit for. The first exercises are simple, but necessarily so, because when you first start out, your understanding is minimal, and your board vision is almost non-existent. In other words, you are easily confused and cannot be expected to understand things that we later take for granted.
The book then gradually builds on to the knowledge you have acquired and as you you’re your way through the book, the exercises become more nuanced and complex and help the complete beginner gain a solid grasp of essential ideas. These are ideas mainly pertain to checkmate patterns, tactics, and king safety, but for lower-ranked players, these are what makes the difference between victory and defeat.
While the paperback edition (which I also have a copy of) looks like a quick read, it is an excellent and challenging read that requires many hours of dedicated study for recently started players. If you fall into this category or feel that your basic skills need a good polishing up, this book is an excellent place to start.
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