A beginner’s guide to reading chess books effectively

Whenever reading chess books, the learner should provide a physical or virtual chessboard to set up the positions in the examples. The learner should also take note of the author page, tables of contents, and bibliography aside from the actual chapters of the book.

If you are new to chess then you might have the urge to begin studying some concepts in order to improve, one of the mediums to do that is chess books.

However, if you’re just starting without previous knowledge whatsoever, then you may have no idea how to quickly and efficiently learn the contents in a way that is memorable and applicable.

This would also apply to chess ebooks (since it is basically the same as a chess book) where they are formatted similarly and some of these methods should be applicable.

You would be surprised at how many people are asking about this online, I have failed to find a valuable resource out there (for this exact same topic) so I am making this one. Without further ado, let’s get started. 

How to remember ideas that you’ve read in a chess book?

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to reading chess books is how to make the learning memorable. 

There is usually a lot of variation within just one book, it’s hard to make any learning that has been gained from something like this stay in the memory for a long time.

In order for learners to remember things that have been learned in a chess book, they should take notes while reading each chapter and have their own demonstration chessboard (either physically or virtually) to play out the variations in the examples.

Most chess books will have really long variations of chess notations that usually don’t have a diagram (I personally think that this is a bad practice, but it is the way it is) so I recommend having an actual board (or a computer diagram of a chessboard) near you when reading chess books.

Most people would not be able to follow a 20-line long variation of a sideline that does not have a demonstration image on the actual book, you need some visual representation for this.

When you can see it with your own eyes it will usually leave an imprint on the memory.

When you are just calculating lines on top of your head there is a tendency for some things to be missed making analysis much harder, having a chessboard either physically or from a mobile app will be really helpful.

It will also improve your insight on the position since the observation will just be better.

And since most people who read chess books are beginners, they are less likely to be well-versed with dealing with a lot of chess notations, having an actual demonstration board in real-time will be imperative for learning.

Learners should take notes when reading chess books

Another thing you can do to make things much more memorable is to actually write the things that you have actually learned l, our memory after all will naturally forget some ideas over time as we learn more things.

If you have a habit of reading multiple chess books then you are likely to forget the information from previous books when reading another, this is a problem as you can imagine.

When reading a chess book it is a good practice to jot down the important things you have learned, so you can quickly skim through the details if you ever want specific information.

You don’t want to forget some things you have learned in the past when learning new things, you are in a running mill where you keep running but don’t actually go forward.

When you have forgotten some things that you want to go over once again you can just put up a note that you have been keeping to see through minor details that makes you remember everything.

This is why you should keep notes when reading the chapters (so you can quickly go over them if ever needed).

I recommend writing the title of the book and the author of the specific ideas you have in your notes (just so you don’t mix up the information).

Do not skip variations on chess books about openings

Chess books about openings are notorious for testing the learner’s patience, you often have to deal with long variations which you shouldn’t skim over, and have to absolutely play every single move (do not skip!) on your physical or virtual board.

You shouldn’t obsessively look at every individual line but you should at least have an idea of what the author is pointing out, if a particular sideline is being mentioned then it must be important.

Just play the particular sideline on your chessboard and avoid the mindset of thinking that some lines must not be that important you have to decide that once the position is upon your demonstration process.

Because sure, some opening lines will be much more important than others (mainline) but the sidelines will have adjacent ideas complimenting the mainline, so you should at least have those lines in your memory as supplemental knowledge (even if you haven’t memorized every single one of them).

Using a computer as your demonstration boards

If you have a computer, you can input the moves in a program and have them saved in a file (which you can just quickly look over once in a while), you can even input the position on stockfish or other engines and get a broader insight on why the move worked and why not.

I personally think that this is a much more efficient medium than a physical chessboard (since you can save the file) but a physical board will work just fine if you use it correctly. 

Not only this since a virtual chessboard can easily be arranged from the starting position or even very specific endings so you don’t have to go over from scratch whenever having a new position.

It is easier to move the pieces as well since you will just tap the screen and have the program move the pieces for you (unlike a physical board where you have to move the pieces over and over again where it is tiring physically) and you can even access engines to look for improvements.

Which hidden parts of the chess book should you read?

Some hidden parts that learners need to notice in a chess book are the table of contents (summary of topics), introduction and about author page (credibility of the author), and bibliography (future books to be read) which gives specific value for the readers.

The table of contents provides a powerful summary of all the things that are going to be discussed in the book, this will give you an idea if the subjects are even appropriate for what you are looking for.

Look at the table of contents (which a lot of people just skip over) in order to get a general idea of things that you are going to learn, you can even prioritize the important things before the others.

Maybe there is a topic that is not as important as the others, and you want to skip over to the relevant ones.

It is a mountain top view that will allow you to see everything from one page, you can do some prioritizing strategy to learn more efficiently than by going just page by page.

This is especially applicable if you have a lot of books to finish so that you can focus the study on things that bring results.

The introduction and about author page is powerful in a chess book

The about author page will notify the experience of the author and why they are credible to give the information in the book.

Sometimes it can feel difficult to establish trust with the information we are learning (especially for critical people) so spending 5 minutes reading this section can become valuable.

It’s not all about credibility though, when you feel the personality of the author it is easy to make a connection, something that will keep you motivated to read the whole thing without skipping the details.

I recommend reading the introduction and about the author page of the book, it will introduce you to the creator of the publication in order for you to make a connection, a connection that will pull you towards the book.

The bibliography of a chess book will introduce you to future books

I also recommend reading the bibliography in addition to the introduction and about the author page, it will give you an idea of where the information comes from and if you are willing to follow the writings of the said authors in future readings.

When you are able to finish a whole chess book it gives a sign that you like the style of writing (of the authors) and want to learn more things from them, so it is useful to know if they have covered the topic you are looking to read in the future (or the author that they have cited have covered those topics).

This is so you can keep the motivation of reading through some information-heavy topics (since you know the author) and feel safe about the quality of the future books knowing that you already have a taste for some of their works.

How to efficiently read the main contents of the chess book?

Now we are going to talk about the meat of this article, which is some of the practical tips I have for you about efficiently reading the chess book’s main contents.

When reading a chess book you should read the explanation first before going to the examples, try to interpret the examples without the author’s insights, and summarize things at the end of each chapter, this ensures that you will have the best experience from reading the book. 

First let’s talk about the thing that you will see first in each of the chapters,  which is a brief explanation of the subtopic of the general topic of the book (Sicilian dragon in a Sicilian defense opening book for example).

Each chapter of a chess book will have a certain explanation of the concept being taught in the particular section, it is imperative that you absorb these ideas before going into the examples.

Some people will go headfirst into the positional examples without reading the brief explanation of the author, and I think this is an inefficient way of approaching this. 

When you don’t even know what the author is trying to point out in a particular example, you are unlikely to immediately pick up the purpose of the position.

You will spend a lot of time trying to make sense of this purpose instead of just spending some minutes going through the actual explanation, you are more likely to waste time this way.

This is a backward way of reading and something I don’t recommend unless you have already read the book and just want to refresh your memory (as a supplement for the notes that you have taken while you actually read the book).

Dealing with the examples of a chess book

After every example there is likely to be an even specific explanation as an added value for the initial explanation at the top, I suggest you don’t read this right away.

I know this is kind of contradictory with the idea put forth above, but hear me out in this specific section.

If you have actually read the general explanation above of the chapter then you might have an idea of what the author is trying to tell, this is a good opportunity to test your ability to spot this before going through the actual explanation.

It is similar to trying to solve a chess puzzle where you want to work it out the puzzle first before seeing the answer, it is to test your analytical skills

When dealing with the example of the ideas (in every chapter) you have to make sense of the moves before going through the explanation, it will surprisingly make you more engaged in the answer and learn efficiently.

Spend 80% of the time reading the mainline and only 20% on the sideline

If you want to make your study much more focused on opening books, you should learn the mainline first and spend about 80% of the reading time while only having 20% of the reading time on the sidelines.

The mainline will usually be featured in more games than the sidelines (plus you can easily avoid the sideline for the most part) so you should focus on the variation that is likely to appear than those that are not.

If you actually take the time to review every individual sideline it will take forever, there are so many sidelines in very specific openings that will take up most of your studying time.

So I suggest prioritizing the variation that is likely to appear and most of its ideas are usually even applicable on the sidelines.

Don’t read a chess book read too quickly

Avoid glossing over paragraphs too quickly, a lot of people just want to read faster without much comprehension, you really wouldn’t get the most value in a chess book if you don’t understand the ideas completely.

You want to read faster but should not be at the cost of reading comprehension, sometimes it is good to take your time on very important themes of the book that you find some value learning.

It’s not really about how many books you have read, but whether you can make full use of the books that you have actually read.

If you have only consumed one book but you have mastered every individual aspect of it, I think it is much more useful than a surface-level understanding of three more books.

Do a review after reading a whole chapter of a chess book

After each chapter, do a review of the things that you have learned through your notes, if this is your first time reading a chess book you are likely to be introduced to something new that is harder to remember.

This is where the notes come in, there should be third-party writing that you are recording yourself to keep tabs on the things you’ve learned.

This is so you can input the information you just absorbed when the memory is still fresh, a time where you are likely to put a more detailed explanation.

As you go deeper with the book, you will forget some specific things that you have learned previously (this is natural) so keeping notes will make it easier to review the book in its entirety without going through the entire thing. 

Another thing that this will give you is an evaluation phase that will test if you’ve retained what you expect from each individual chapter, you may have actually learned little than you hoped for, and this will help you identify if such a scenario occurs (and whether to work on them).

Reading chess books are quality over quantity

Reading chess books is really quality over quantity, you want to be fast but not too fast that you are glossing over the important details (and therefore learning faster, not learning efficiently).

This is just based on all the people I’ve talked with, but they have found more value in reading fewer books but fully understanding all of them than reading multiple books with less comprehension.

I suggest not feeling bad about yourself if you take a long time reading just one book, as long as you are able to apply the concepts within it.

If you are going with the fewer approach though, I suggest choosing more broader topics than specific ones (opening books are specific for example) in order to learn things that you can apply to different phases.

Do you now know how to read a chess book properly?

Reading a chess book is intimidating if you have never done it before, there are so many chess notations that have to be followed which seems confusing at first. 

This article however presents some of the things that you can immediately apply not to make the experience instantly easier, but at least makes it as efficient as possible.

I really think you could jumpstart your experience with reading chess books and learning in general if you apply these ideas, it is modified specifically to make things much more memorable and applicable.

This would of course also apply to ebook since it is just a book in a computer interface, so this is a double value article.

I have enjoyed making this article and I hope you have enjoyed reading it too, see you soon, sleep well and play chess.