The 20 Chess Books That Helped Me To Become a Grandmaster
I learned to play chess in 1986 and was immediately struck by a chess fever. I started playing at home and at school but soon I started to study with books.
At that time this was my only way of learning. There was no internet nor tournaments in my city. So the books were an essential part of my progress.
This is the list of the most important books I studied until I achieved the GM title. They are not the best books ever written but those who helped me most on this journey. I think this list can be useful to chess enthusiasts for two main reasons:
1- To understand the way forward and what types of books are most important in the formation of a chess player;
2- To find similar, up to date, works or read the same books – some are classics and timeless in value.
The books will be shown in chronological order. That is, the earliest books were studied at the beginning of my development and the last ones when I was already close to the grandmaster title.
1- Xadrez Básico (Translation: Chess Basics)
Author: Orfeu D’Agostini
A true Brazilian classic. This was my first book and countless Brazilian chess players began their studies with it. A pity that this work has not yet been updated.
2- Test Your Chess IQ
Author: A. Livshitz
At the beginning the priority is to train tactics: to know all the tactical themes and to solve many exercises. One of my favorite books for this work was “Test Your Chess IQ” which has been updated and has versions for different levels. Remember that this will be just one of many materials (books, videos, websites) needed to train your calculation.
3- Modern Chess Strategy
Author: Ludek Pachman
Another classic that influenced my generation. Chess has changed a lot since the time this book was written, but it still remains an important work to improve your positional play. Several other (updated) strategy books can be used for a similar study.
4- Chess Informants
In an age without computers and gigantic databases, the Informants were the books that provided the most important games analyzed by several grandmasters. Each of the volumes guaranteed many hours of fun.
5- My 60 Memorable Games
Author: Bobby Fischer
One of the best chess books ever written. Honest analysis from the best chess player ever.
6- Alekhine’s Best Games
Author: Alexander Alekhine
Another book filled with spectacular games that influenced my way of seeing chess. Alekhine was a great scientist of the game, recognizing the importance of having a good preparation and playing with energy. No wonder he is the chess player who most influenced Kasparov’s style.
7- Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953
Author: David Bronstein
The classical book with all the games from one of the greatest tournaments in chess history. With many words and few analysis, this work can greatly enhance your strategic understanding of the game. It is also worth studying the book by Don Miguel Najdorf about the same tournament, but with a different approach.
8- Test Your Positional Play
A little known book, but the duo Bellin and Pozetto produced excellent books (at least in my affective memory). The book has a very interesting format, with explanation of the main strategic themes and a series of tests. The point is that the authors offer multiple possible solutions and the reader must find out, in addition to the correct solution, which hole exists in the other available plans. The book helped me improve my positional play.
9- An Opening Repertoire For White
Author: Raymond Keene
Perhaps this work today is questionable – after all the way of studying openings has changed a lot and certainly not all the recommendations in the book are good. But remember that this article is about the books that formed me, not the ones that still have to be read today. The “ORW”, as it was known by my generation, offered a complete repertoire for white and was the basis of my openings for many years.
10- Beating The Sicilian
Author: John Nunn
During the 80’s and early 90’s (until Dvoretsky’s books appeared), John Nunn was the best author. A brilliant mathematician, the Englishman employs a scientific style in his work, inserting many analysis. All his books from this period were excellent.
11- The Najdorf For The Tournament Player
Autor: John Nunn
Nunn once again. How many games I won with my favorite Defense Najdorf thanks to the study of this book! The analyzes are so good that many variations suggested by Nunn persist today, even in the sharpest lines, something incredible if we consider that the analyzes were done without the aid of computers.
12- Mastering The King’s Indian
Another excellent book by the duo Bellin and Ponzetto. The King’s Indian was part of my repertoire during my formative years. The book’s advantage is that not only theoretical variations are shown, but also the most important tactical and strategic themes of the KID.
13- The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal
Author: Mikhail Tal
This work is a book of chess, literature, history, overcoming, love of life, science and art. And a great source of inspiration, coming from one of the most brilliant minds that have ever passed through this world. A must-have book in any chess library.
14- Grandmaster Preparation
Autor: Lev Polugaevsky
Another constant source of inspiration. “Poluga” was passionate about chess and this book is his love declaration. Recommended reading especially before playing a tournament, as a way to motivate for the “hard work” needed when preparing for the games.
15- The Test of Time
Author: Garry Kasparov
The Test of Time is a book that shows the rise of the young Garry Kasparov. The narration ends just before the match against Karpov.
We discover the dreams that motivated Kasparov from the beginning of his career and we can get an idea of the aggressive style of play he has always demonstrated as well as the tireless work that was necessary to reach the top.
I read this book when I was a dreamer too – I was starting my career and wondering how far I could go.
A curiosity: many years after reading the book I was invited to write the preface to the Portuguese edition.
16- Secrets of Chess Training
Author: Mark Dvoretsky
Dvoretsky’s early books were for me like finding a hidden treasure. They changed my way of thinking about chess. The most striking was his first work, Secrets of Chess Training. This book showed me that the road to mastery was long and arduous and that there was no shortcut. The only thing to do was to study hard and analyze many positions.
17- Secrets of Chess Tactics
Author: Mark Dvoretsky
The second book from Dvoretsky I read is about calculation. The complexity of some positions is absurd. This is essential material for anyone who wants to start calculating as a grandmaster. It is worth explaining that these books were re-released in a collection entitled “School Of Chess Excellence”.
18- Test Your Endgame Ability
This little-known book is great for training calculating with endgames. The format is similar to Test Your Chess IQ: tests to each specific type of endgame. You need to calculate accurately to solve the positions and after solving the whole book you will improve both your calculation and your pattern recognition. This book is a little jewel.
19- The Art of Chess Analysis
Author: Jan Timman
Another excellent and not very well known book, which shows the evolution of Jan Timman as a player and analyst. Memorable games (from several chess players) are dissected by the great Dutch player, showing his love for the game. Another excellent book to improve your calculation.
20- Secrets of Grandmaster Play
Author: John Nunn
Another book by my favorite author for many years. This is a book of Nunn’s own games, analyzed in his mathematical style, with many variations and a constant concern to find the “truth”. Recommended for chess players already close to the International Master title (at least).