Overlearning Chess Books

One of my 2013 New Year’s resolutions is to overlearn chess material for one hour per day.

I plan to add books to my overlearning list in this order:

–    Tactics

–    Endgames

–    Tactics

–    Openings (see remarks below)

–    Tactics

–    Other topics

In addition to criteria discussed in a previous post, it is important to choose books for overlearning that have these qualities:

1) They are very good books;

2) You will enjoy reading them many times over the years;

3) The sequence of books follows a rough progression from easier to harder; and

4) Taken as a group, they cover the broad spectrum of chess studies: tactics, endgames, openings, and what I call “other topics” (books that do not fall neatly into other categories of the spectrum but are nevertheless well worth reading, for example game collections, primers on positional play, and books hors catégorie such as Mednis, How to Be a Complete Tournament Player and Webb, Chess for Tigers).

Let me hasten to say here, we are now in the twenty-first century, a golden age of chess literature and information, in which printed material is no longer the only source of wisdom. In addition to traditional printed books and magazines, DVDs, websites, databases, and other software are now available for chess. Indeed, chess professionals who naturally are well beyond the basics may consult books only rarely. Instead they may focus on the latest professional literature, both print and electronic, such as New In Chess, Informant, Chessbase Magazine, etc. Some may rely almost exclusively on their computers.

From time to time in these blog posts I may use the word “books” loosely, when actually I am referring to “books and other media.” My own bias, I admit, is for actual books. One reason is that I was born in 1958 and grew up with books, but I contend it is also easier to find and use valuable instructional material in books than in any other media (though chess DVDs are coming on: the best are like getting a personal lesson from a top player, which you can review whenever you wish). Most classics of chess literature are available only in book form. Books are portable and require no electronic device or power supply. (This situation is evolving with Amazon’s Kindle and other electronic readers now available.) The information in books is stable and they last a long time. It has even been said that paper books, if they had not previously existed and were invented now during the electronic age, would be heralded as a great breakthrough because of their ease of use, portability, and relative permanence.

A word about overlearning openings. In an earlier blog post I recommended against doing this, and suggested only referring to opening monographs after a tournament game, when your interest is strong and focused on specific practical issues. Indeed, I still believe it is probably wasted time for most of us to read (or play) through all the moves in any opening monograph. They are best used as reference material, and ideas for further exploration. I say this despite Bobby Fischer’s famous advice to his biographer, Frank Brady, who once asked him for a chess lesson: “For your first lesson,” Fischer told him, “I want you to play through every column in Modern Chess Openings, including footnotes. For your second lesson, I want you to do it again.” What are we to conclude from Fischer’s advice? For what it’s worth, my own conclusion is twofold: Fischer really wasn’t interested in spending any of his precious time giving Brady chess lessons; and Fischer really did value opening knowledge very highly. But Fischer himself had already mastered chess principles, and was now at the advanced stage when he needed a great deal of very specific knowledge to win more games. We may doubt whether Brady or most non-masters would benefit much from following Fischer’s advice.

Attack With The Modern Italian
Attack With The Modern Italian
In a word, here is why I decided to include openings on my list of overlearning topics: DVDs. Today you can buy a DVD with one or two or a few hours of instruction from a GM on almost any opening that interests you. You can familiarize yourself with an opening by watching a DVD attentively, then go forth and try your luck with it. Ultimately you will need to play an opening many times, and analyze your games afterward, to become a proficient practitioner, but I do believe a DVD can help you get started. One of the better DVD authors is GM Nigel Davies. Recently I bought from Chessbase his excellent effort, Attack with the Modern Italian. The Italian Game, or Giuoco Piano as it has long been known in the U.S., is perhaps the oldest and most famous of all chess openings, and GM Davies has given it new life with a new approach. Your opponents who know only the old ideas will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.


Author: Tim Hanke

Tim Hanke is a U.S. amateur who still believes, despite much evidence to the contrary, that he can become a decent chessplayer.