Do Chess Books Help? How To Learn By Reading

If you’re getting into chess and you’ve been wondering how you might improve your game, then you’ve probably had a quick look online to see that there are quite a lot of chess books out there. But do those books really work to improve your game? Or would you be better off studying in a different way to become a better chess player, instead?

Do chess books help? A good chess book will absolutely help your game if you apply its lessons in real practice. The authors of the best chess books spent hundreds of hours condensing a lifetime of experience and knowledge into their writings. Chess books help by providing us with new ideas, new scenarios, and new ways of thinking about chess.

Keep in mind, however, that not all chess books are created equally. There is some great chess literature out theredd but there is also some complete junk too. It also depends on how you read them and apply them! Here’s what you need to know.

Do chess books actually help? - ChessPulse.com
Do chess books actually help? – ChessPulse.com

How To Get The Most Out Of Chess Books

So, there are a few ways to get better at chess using chess books and we’ve rounded up the main (and most successful) methods here:

Identify The Areas Of Improvement

The first thing you need to do is identify which area you want to improve in. There’s no point in picking up a book that doesn’t cater to the specifics of your identified weaknesses. These will change over time, so you want to review the category of book before you start drilling down to anything:

  • Tactics. These will be mainly puzzle books that encourage you to think deeper and harder about the game in hand. You may find that they ask you to work on skewering pieces or fork traps and if you’re just looking for some fresh surprises for your game, this may be the best way to go.
  • Strategy. If tactics are small defined ways to execute a short series of moves, strategy is more how to define the “big picture”. You won’t reach for these books in order to get a move-by-move play but rather for ideas how to keep the shape of the board and how to look at where your pieces are heading in a more cohesive fashion.
  • Games. There’s no substitute for books full of games. They can help you work on all the different aspects of the game from the opening to the end game and they’re often surprisingly informative with respect to the mid-game which can be neglected by a lot of players who try to see the game as “two halves” rather than three well-defined stages.
  • Psychological aspects. This can involve everything from the way to project yourself to your opponent to lull them into false security or, alternatively, to make them fear the dominance of your game to how to better manage your time during competitions. There are quite a lot of aspects to “psychology” but the title (or at least the cover) of each work should help you drill down on what, exactly they are going to help you work on.

Practice “Active” Chess Learning

Reading just won’t cut it. In fact, it’s probably the worst way to learn. If you just want low effort learning then get online and play, it won’t boost your game very much but it’s better than trying to passively absorb information.

That means you have to practice “active” learning. You grab the book. You take a technique from it. You lay it out on the board (or stand in front of the mirror for a confidence exercise, for example) and you work through it.

Then you make notes about what you’ve learned. Then you try and put that learning back together in a different format (a slightly different set up on the board) to see if it makes a difference.

You try to avoid looking at solutions in books until you are sure that you have something that works, then it’s OK to try and compare your solution with the author’s (and there is often more than one way to solve a puzzle) and when you find that there is a difference in approach – take time to study that difference.


In short, active chess learning means working at learning. You may even want to try and see if you can start to visualize games in your head (or at least parts of games), most of the best chess players can play without a board, so confident and practiced are they with their moves and pieces.

Many grandmasters will play “blind” on a dozen or more boards at once when they have this down to a fine art. Not everyone wants to be a chess grandmaster, granted, but it’s a useful skill and it lets you work on your chess even when it’s not appropriate to put a board in front of you.


Make Learning Into A Routine

Imagine that you have been told that unless you get fit, you will soon have a heart attack and die. Your doctor tells you not to worry, that you will be just fine, but you must walk at least 10,000 paces every single day from now on. You’d, almost certainly, have that 10,000 paces done every morning, wouldn’t you?

And do you know what? Within a few months, you’d be fit even if you started from a really poor physical shape. That’s how we get better at things, we do them a lot. You can see that if you didn’t do your 10,000 paces every day but only did them once, that it wouldn’t solve your heart problems.

The same is true for studying chess from books. You need to do it daily (or at least regularly) to get the benefits from it. Reading a book, doing some active learning once and then stopping won’t make any significant difference to your game. The good news is that you won’t die from not practicing chess, you just won’t get any better.


Avoid Rote Learning

One thing new players often try to do is learn games. They find a favorite player (or two) and then see if they can memorize all the different variations of their games. After all, if it worked for Alekhine or Kasparov, why couldn’t it work for you?

There are two things wrong with this approach to using chess books. 1. It’s boring. Really, really boring. Remember learning your tables at school? That’s rote learning. It’s no fun at all.

2. Chess isn’t about rehashing old games. Computers can do that. You can do it at home with the book in front of you. It’s a game. You bring your creativity and ingenuity to the board to beat an opponent. The information in books is valuable, for sure, but it’s not you.


Do Check Out Classic Games

If you want to be a great chess player, it definitely pays to check out the classic games. If you want to see Karpov and Kasparov hammer it out between each other – the new Russia and the old in terrible glory, then find their games and work through them. Think of the stress each player was under and put yourself in their shoes.

Firing up your imagination is a great thing to do as a chess player. Books can really help with this process, if you allow them to. You don’t want to become a robot churning out the past, you want to be your own player with an exciting and interesting game that others enjoy and respect.


Conclusion

Do chess books help? In the right circumstances they really can help you improve your game. The trick is identifying when a book might help your play and when you really need the intercession of say a coach or another player to grind out some practice that can better deal with your immediate chess needs. Learning isn’t as straightforward, at least not all the time, as your schoolteachers led you to believe.

What is certainly true, though, is that chess books only help when you put the learning into practice and allow it to permeate your game. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with reading chess books for entertainment but they’re much less likely to lead to any real improvements in your game because you’re not harnessing them to do so. Whatever you decide, don’t forget to enjoy those books!

Scroll to Top