Is Reading Chess Books Really Worth It? (Full Answer)

Reading a chess book in an active and engaged manner can lead to a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the game. However, it’s important to know that not every chess book will suit your individual needs and, depending on your current level, you may be better off delaying reading books until a later stage in your chess journey.

I encourage you to read on to find out more.

Many wonder whether reading chess books is necessary to improve their chess game.

In this guide, I explain why reading chess books can be a very fruitful experience, and what books you should be looking at depending on your current level.

But also, I explain when and why reading a chess book might not be your best bet.

How Reading Chess Books Enhances Your Play

Many chess books contain the distilled wisdom of chess masters, offering deep strategic insights that you wouldn’t get from a quick YouTube video.

The digital world offers instant updates and interactive experiences, but there’s something uniquely valuable about the immersive process of working through a complex chess concept captured in print.

Chess books encourage a level of concentration and visualization that’s unmatched. When you read a chess book, you’re actively involved in the process, picturing the board, the pieces, and each potential move in your mind.

This mental exercise strengthens your ability to visualize moves ahead, which is of course a fundamental chess skill.

When you comb through chess literature, you’re not just reading moves; you’re also absorbing stories, psychology, and historical context.

You’re seeing the rationale behind each move, the ebb and flow of the players’ strategies, and this narrative teaches you much more than the simple mechanics of chess.

It’s not anecdotal that many players have climbed the ranks of chess mastery with books as their companions. There are many case studies of individuals who attribute significant portions of their skill development to the insights gained from chess literature.

The Importance of Active Reading

In general, reading can be considered a solitary activity, but in the context of chess, it’s highly participative.

You’re not passively absorbing content like you may do when watching a video. Instead, you’re challenged to decrypt the positions, to make sense of the notes, even replay the sequences on your board.

The level of engagement you get from reading is active and can lead to a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the game.

Of course, this is not to say that you will automatically gain 50 Elo with every page you flip, but active reading contributes to a far more fruitful experience than just passive scanning.

Tips for Selecting the Best Books

Now, suppose you’re convinced that chess books can be a gold mine for enhancing your skills and you’re ready to start building your chess library.

You might wonder, where do I begin?

The array of chess literature is vast, but not all of it will suit your individual needs or help you progress. I’ll share some guidelines to make sure you choose the best resources for your chess journey.

1. Know Where You Stand

Firstly, understand your current level of play. Beginner books differ greatly from those aimed at advanced players.

Look for books that match your skill set — a complex book can be discouraging, while an overly simplistic one won’t challenge you enough.

Your goal is to find materials that push your understanding just beyond its current limits.

If you’re looking for the best chess books for beginners, head over to my article where I give you my 5 top picks.

2. Know the Author

Evaluate the author’s credentials. Just as a trusted coach can be invaluable, a chess book written by a renowned and accomplished player or instructor will have reliable insights.

For example, when you learn that the legendary chess player Bobby Fischer himself has authored a chess book, you will naturally be drawn to give it a read.

Bobby Fischer, winner of the world-renowned chess game of the century, is regarded by many as the best chess player of all time.

His famous book, Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, is a unique and instructive work.

3. Variety

Your collection should include a mix of strategy, tactics, endgame studies, and game collections.

This ensures a well-rounded approach to learning, keeping you engaged as you switch between different aspects of the game.

Having said that, it’s very important not to overwhelm yourself.

Start with only one aspect, tactics, for example, and only switch to something else when you feel you’ve given yourself enough time to absorb the information.

My Experience With Chess Books

Personally, I reached a rapid rating of around 1500 on Chess.com without reading a single chess book.

I chose to delay reading books because I found that many people in the intermediate level actually make silly blunders quite often.

For this reason, my focus was to first gain as much playing experience as possible to reduce my blunders and silly mistakes to a minimum.

Here’s what I did: I played an average of 1–2 games a day, analyzed my games, and tried my best to find instructive moments and learn from my mistakes. It’s a slow but steady process.

To get the best of both worlds, you should follow this process AND complement it with a bit of studying. You will probably see growth at a much faster rate than I did.

Here’s a great video by GM Igor Smirnov in which he suggests a very time-efficient plan to reach 2000 Elo.

International Grandmaster Igor Smirnov, founder of the Remote Chess Academy (RCA), is a distinguished figure in the world of chess education, renowned for his profound knowledge and exceptional teaching abilities.

If you liked his teaching style in the video, be sure to check out my detailed review of his academy.

Final Thoughts

Historically, the evolution of chess theory is heavily documented through literature.

Masters and grandmasters have conveyed their life’s work and strategic revolutions in texts that have shaped how the game is played today. To ignore these works is to dismiss a critical piece of the chess legacy.

Do keep in mind, also, that you may find the experience of reading a chess book fun in and of itself.

In other words, not every chess enthusiast who reads a chess book does so because they think it’s a must, but sometimes, a chess book can be a very good read!

If you have any questions or insights you’d like to share, feel free to leave me a comment down below. I’d be more than happy to have a chat with you.


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