The best books to help you understand and play better chess enjoyably

Who am I?

As a nerdy kid growing up in New York in the 1970s, I got swept up in the “Fischer Boom” of 1972 when Bobby Fischer became the first official American World Champion, and chess clubs and tournaments sprouted up around the country. I persevered to become one of the top 30-ranked players. I’ve coached chess since my teens, with students ranging from ages 3 to 95. Not until my 40’s did I discover that I had perhaps an even greater talent and passion for writing. My first book Forcing Chess Moves presented a novel and challenging approach to how to think ahead in chess, and understand human biases which can blind us to winning ideas.


I wrote...

Forcing Chess Moves: The Key to Better Calculation

By Charles Hertan,

Book cover of Forcing Chess Moves: The Key to Better Calculation

What is my book about?

Charles Hertan, an experienced chess coach from Massachusetts, has made an astonishing discovery: the failure to consider key winning moves is often due to human bias, since your brain tends to disregard many winning moves because they are counter-intuitive or look unnatural. Charles Hertan's radically different approach is: use Computer Eyes and always look for the most forcing move first! By studying forcing sequences according to Hertan's method you will develop analytical precision, improve your tactical vision, overcome human bias and staleness, and enjoy the calculation of difficult positions. By recognizing moves that matter, you will win more games!

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Art of the Checkmate

Charles Hertan Why did I love this book?

One thing that separates chess from all other games is the concept of checkmate. You’ve heard the word a million times, but what is it exactly? You’re probably thinking “Capturing the Enemy King”, but that would be incorrect. Actually it means threatening to capture the enemy King, while denying him any means of escape. I was already an experienced player when I read this book, but it was an “aha” moment. There are recurring checkmating patterns that are far from obvious to beginners; but once you learn to recognize them, you become a better player and enhance your appreciation for the beauty of chess.

By Georges Renaud, Victor Kahn, W. J. Taylor

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of the Checkmate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The art of the checkmate has at last been provided with a scientific foundation." — Chicago Sunday Tribune
One of the most difficult situations in chess is seeing potential mates in the near future. All players, even grandmasters and champions, have missed such mates in actual play, to their chagrin and the bystanders' delight, for all too often it is easier to play for momentary advantage than to force a mate.
This book by two former national chess champions of France provides a rational classification of mating situations, and shows how each possible type of mate has emerged with its…


Book cover of Pawn Power in Chess

Charles Hertan Why did I love this book?

The legendary 18th-century chess champion Andre Danican Philidor called pawns “the soul of chess”. The Dutch master Hans Kmoch was the first to catalog all the nimble and fascinating tricks the humble pawn can do, and how the lowliest chess piece can work together with its neighbors to build a “structure” around which chess positions develop. Unlike computers, we humans need concepts to help us learn, and the ideas around pawn play I learned from this book have stuck with me for decades, helping me understand the correct strategy and tactics for different chess positions. 

By Hans Kmoch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pawn Power in Chess as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"One of the few books…which, at a glance, one can recognize as an immortal." — Chess.
The proper use of pawns — of paramount importance in chess strategy — sometimes even puzzles experienced players. This profoundly original and stimulating book by an International Master and prolific chess writer offers superb instruction in pawn play by isolating its elements and elaborating on various aspects.
After a lucid exposition of the fundamentals and the basic formations of one or two pawns that virtually constitute the keys to winning chess strategy, the reader is shown a multitude of examples demonstrating the paramount significance…


Book cover of Pandolfini's Endgame Course: Basic Endgame Concepts Explained by America's Leading Chess Teacher

Charles Hertan Why did I love this book?

Once you have some practice playing chess, studying endgames is one of the most important roads to improvement. Endgames are situations where many trades have already occurred, leaving few chessmen remaining on the board. In these positions the remaining pieces have a lot more room to roam, and since they have only a few teammates around them we can see more clearly how they operate, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Famed New York coach Bruce Pandolfini, portrayed in the most famous chess film, Searching for Bobby Fischer, takes a subject mystifying to many and distills the essence of the most important endgames, with easy-to-understand diagrams and explanations. I was already a strong endgame player when I read this book, but I learned a lot and was so impressed, I’ve recommended it to students ever since.

By Bruce Pandolfini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pandolfini's Endgame Course as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on his private course for students, America's foremost chess coach and game strategist for Netflix's The Queen's Gambit presents an easy-to-use guide that explains invaluable "inner circle" endgame concepts for players of any level.

The endgame has always been a particularly instructive phase of chess play. It provides the perfect opportunity for understanding the potential power of each chess piece in every chess situation-from opening move to checkmate.

But the endgame is often viewed as an inaccessible area of play by most players whose experience is limited to watching championship games. Now, Pandolfini changes all of that.

With one…


Book cover of A History of the Crusades

Charles Hertan Why did I love this book?

When I’m not writing or researching chess books, history books and biographies are about all I read these days. Not until college did I realize how amazing a well-written history book could be, telling a great story about how people actually lived in different times and cultures. After 9/11 I wanted to avoid the soundbites and actually understand the history of religious conflict. In my view a great history book must have amazing research and wonderful writing, as well as being fair and balanced, and this trilogy was one of the best I’ve ever read on all counts. It still blows my mind that an author can put together a compelling, accurate, day-to-day account of events that happened 1000 years ago. You have to read it to believe it.

By Steven Runciman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of the Crusades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

History


Book cover of Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors, Part 1

Charles Hertan Why did I love this book?

For a true chess geek, it doesn’t get much better than this. The longest reigning world champion in modern times and some would say the greatest player ever, Gary Kasparov is also an important critic of the current Russian regime. In 5 volumes he dives deeply into the games and legacies of all world chess champions that came before him. His understanding is naturally off the charts, and he can write really well too! Reading this gave me a great window into how champions think, and the great games and personalities were fascinating. Warning though—the chess aspect is very advanced. You might want to read this with a worthy chess computer program to help with parts you don’t get—you might even want to first tackle my tactics manuals Forcing Chess Moves or Power Chess for Kids, for more grounding in the process of finding strong moves.

By Garry Kasparov, Kenneth P. Neat (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors, Part 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The battle for the World Chess Championship has witnessed numerous titanic struggles which have engaged the interest not only of chess enthusiasts but also of the public at large. The chessboard is the ultimate mental battleground and the world champions themselves are supreme intellectual gladiators. These magnificent compilations of chess form the basis of the first two parts of Garry Kasparov's definitive history of the World Chess Championship. Garry Kasparov, who is universally acclaimed as the greatest chessplayer ever, subjects the play of his predecessors to a rigorous analysis. Part one features the play of champions Wilhelm Steinitz (1886-1894), Emanuel…


You might also like...

Deep Roots

By Sung J. Woo,

Book cover of Deep Roots

Sung J. Woo Author Of Deep Roots

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Tennis fan Cinephile Gamer

Sung's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

After solving her first case, private eye Siobhan O’Brien is hired by Phillip Ahn, an octogenarian billionaire with his own personal island in the Pacific Northwest. Ahn, a genius in artificial intelligence, swears that Duke, his youngest child and only son, is an impostor. Is Ahn crazy, or is Duke really someone else? As Siobhan attempts to arrive at the truth, her biggest challenge will be dealing with Ahn’s family, who all live under the same gilded roof: his current wife, his two ex-wives, and their awful, privileged children.

What is the real reason that Siobhan was brought to this isolated estate? If she can keep her head – literally and figuratively – she’ll learn that family secrets have some very deep roots.

Deep Roots

By Sung J. Woo,

What is this book about?

After solving her first case, Siobhan O’Brien faces her biggest challenge yet – Thanksgiving!  With her lawyer boyfriend Craig in tow, Siobhan travels to Minneapolis to endure small talk with the extended O’Brien clan and chow down on some seriously delicious turkey and dressing.  Everything’s swell until her sister-in-law Gwen tells her about her brother Sven's frequent late-night meetings with his co-workers.  Since Siobhan’s next case is just a ferry ride from their house in Washington state, she asks for Siobhan’s help.
Big sister is happy to oblige, though she’s got her hands full.  Hired by Phillip Ahn, a Korean…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in chess, artificial intelligence, and the Crusades?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about chess, artificial intelligence, and the Crusades.

Chess Explore 49 books about chess
Artificial Intelligence Explore 277 books about artificial intelligence
The Crusades Explore 53 books about the Crusades