The ChessGoals survey began in late 2018 and has run through present day. We have tallied the most popular chess books mentioned by about 400 survey takers. These books also align closely with what we feel are the best chess books for improvement. Here’s a rundown from 10th to 1st place with a short description of each book.
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#10 – Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play by Jacob Aagaard
Jacob Aagaard is well-known for writing extremely high quality books, and this is his most popular book in the ChessGoals community. This is part of a six book series that covers calculation, positional play, strategic play, attack and defense, endgame play, and the final book thinking inside the box.
Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play is geared towards players from advanced level to master (1700-2300 chess.com blitz). Similar to Yusupov’s Chess Training Program, this book aims to help players who don’t have regular access to a chess coach. The book is a nice compliment or follow-up to the Yusupov program.
In the book, Aagaard recommends asking yourself three questions prior to making a positional decision. Each of the questions receives it’s own chapter in the book, and they are followed up by exercises.
- What are the weaknesses?
- What is the worst placed piece?
- What is my opponent’s plan?
#9 – Everyman Chess Move-By-Move Opening Books
The ninth ranked book is actually a series of opening books by Everyman Chess. We don’t recommend spending too much time on openings for players rated below 1400 especially, and believe the openings don’t really start to become important until the advanced level. With that said, the series is a great resource for players rated between 1400 and 1999 chess.com blitz.
Each chapter is a different opening variation, as is common with most opening books. The series really shines thanks to their thorough explanations instead of focusing on the most cutting edge detailed theory.
Here are some reasons why we like this series for openings:
- Highlighted question and answer boxes that get you thinking about key ideas
- Important notes on move orders
- Highlighted exercises to get you thinking about key positions
#8 – My Great Predecessor’s Series by Garry Kasparov
How great is it to have one of the best players of all-time writing historical chess books? Former World Champion Garry Kasparov goes through a five book series on all of the great chess players who came before Kasparov. Each part covers an era of great chess champions:Anatoly Karpov (world champion from 1975 to 1985) and his three-time challenger, Viktor Korchnoi
- Part One: 1886-1946
- Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-1894)
- Emanuel Lasker (1894-1921)
- Jose Capablanca (1921-1927)
- Alexander Alekhine (1927-1946)
- Part Two: 1935-1961
- Max Euwe (1935-1937)
- Mikhail Botvinnik (1946-1963)
- Vassily Smyslov (1957-1958)
- Mikhail Tal (1960-1961)
- Part Three 1963-1972
- Tigran Petrosian (1963-1969)
- Boris Spassky (1969-1972)
- Part Four: Bobby Fischer (1972-1975)
- Part Five: 1975-1985
- Anatoly Karpov (1975-1985)
- Viktor Korchnoi
#7 – Yusupov’s 9 Course Training Program by Artur Yusupov
The second winner from Quality Chess publishing on the list. We went into detail on Yusupov’s 9 Course Training Program in a previous post. This series has three levels, taking players from <1500 all the way through master level. We recommend these in our premium study plans as a way to improve without needing a chess coach.
The books cover openings, endgames, tactics, calculation, strategy, and techniques. Each book has a set of example positions, followed by a nine question test. Each test question has a number of points corresponding to it’s difficulty level, and you can tally the points to see your grade.
Each book has 24 chapters, and there are three books per level. As the books get more difficult, you can see how the layout of the levels changes. Similar to ChessGoals recommendations, strategy and openings are more important at higher levels, but tactics and checkmates are more important at lower levels. Endgames keep a steady amount of importance throughout (I do think endgames start to matter more above master level).
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#6 – Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman
Silman’s Reassess Your Chess is a classic that was first published over 20 years ago. I remember reading the book in high school and it really helped form my love for imbalances. Throughout my coaching career I have focused heavily on teaching students intermediate to advanced level about the techniques taught in this book.
The book contains 9 parts with tests at the end of each part to test what you’ve learned. Part One discusses the concept of imbalances in chess. Finding imbalances and exploiting them is one of the best ways to beat the opposition when they are not making many mistakes.
Parts Two and Three discuss the knights, bishops and rooks specifically. Learning how to put these pieces on their best squares will prepare you for tactical success when battles unfold on the board. Part Four is about chess psychology, and while it may seem less important than the first three chapters, for some players psychological aspects are one of the factors that can really help improve their game. Part Five looks into weak points in the enemy position. The remaining parts are less important, but also interesting.
#5 – The Woodpecker Method by Axel Smith
The Woodpecker Method by Axel Smith is the most popular tactics book by a wide margin. I am personally a huge fan of this book and Axel Smith’s Pump Up Your Rating. The Woodpecker Method is recommended for players from 1400 through master level.
Smith’s co-author, Hans Tikkanen, used this method himself with great success. The method involves going through a large set of puzzles from start to finish and tracking your accuracy and total solve time. Next, go back through the whole book again and try to improve the total solve time and accuracy. Eventually, if you are ambitious, you may be able to complete the whole book in a day!
Woodpecker Method focuses on tactics that occurred in games of famous players, many of them world champions. The sections are split into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I have this book and can say that the intermediate puzzles get pretty tough already. If you can stick with the method your pattern recognition will become a huge strength in your game.
#4 – Grandmaster Repertoire Series from Quality Chess
The top opening book in the list is actually a series of books by Quality Chess. These books are highly recommended for ambitious advanced players (1700-1999), experts, masters, and beyond.
I have personally owned or looked at 8 or 9 of the books in this series and all of them have been very high quality. These books are not intended for beginners and intermediate players as they go very deep into theoretical waters in an attempt to build an ironclad repertoire that will work at the Grandmaster level.
My favorite series to help my 1.Nf3 and 2.c4 repertoire to reach master was Mihail Marin’s volume on the English (1, 2, 3), Avrukh’s volume on 1.d4 also helped me with my Catalan repertoire. From the black side, Grandmaster Repertoire 7: The Caro Kann by Lars Schandorff will give you a complete repertoire against 1.e4. Grandmaster Repertoire 17: The Classical Slav by Boris Avrukh will give you a complimentary system to the Caro-Kann against 1.d4. You can also play for Slav setups against the English and 1.Nf3.
The top 3 books…
Are all endgame books! Endgame books are classics and don’t go out of style as quickly as other books. We highly recommend using physical books and a chess set for practicing your endgames and calculation skills. This will definitely help your over-the-board vision. For a spoiler on the three books, check out 3 Best Chess Endgame Books.
#3 – 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de la Villa
Out of the top three endgame books, you can pick one and that should be good enough to use as a guide on your pathway to chess master. 100 Endgames You Must Know, has you guessed it, 100 endgame positions. This is the shortest book of the three endgame books, and has been very popular in recent years. It is recommended for all levels.
The book start out with basic king and pawn vs king endgames and works all the way up to queen vs rook and pawn. Jesus gives a very thorough overview of every single endgame in the book.
A real highlight of is the focus on minor piece battles in the middle sections. These are practical examples that are likely to occur in your own games. No space is wasted in this book. At the very end of the book there is a final exam. You can even compare your results against Magnus Carlsen’s test.
#2 – Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual by Mark Dvoretsky
Mark Dvoretsky (1947-2016) is the most well-respected trainer of all time. In the 90’s he wrote a series of training books that were very popular among aspiring chess learners. His most popular book today was originally written in 2003, Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. The most recent 5th edition was just released in August of 2020 by Karsten Müller.
This book is recommended for all levels, but is the most serious book for advanced players out of our three most popular endgame books. Dvoretsky’s coverage of rook and pawn endgames is especially impressive, and these types of endgames are very common between titled players.
The last section of the book is also particularly interesting because it covers some unique topics like imprisoned pieces, binding, and domination. If you are already an advanced player, or are looking for a challenge, this could be your endgame book of choice.
Before we get to the number one book, please take a look at our newly released 12-week premium study plans. At the time of this post there is a sale going on in our shop for these new items.
#1 – Silman’s Complete Endgame Course by Jeremy Silman
Coming in at number one… drumroll please… Silman’s Endgame Course! This book had as many mentions as the other two endgame books combined. It’s a true endgame classic, and the oldest of the three endgame books. This book is good for novice players all the way through master.
This is my number one recommendation for aspiring chess learners. I personally enjoy Silman’s writing style and feel the layout of this book is the best of the endgame book trio. Each section is assigned a target rating to help guide you through the book.
This means you can master the endgames at your level, and I’d recommend adding one higher, and then put the book back on the shelf for a while. You can revisit this book for the rest of our chess career.