Can you Read a Chess Book Without a Chessboard? (Maybe)

Chess books are quite a pain at first, upon looking at one you will be greeted by the many combinations of letters and numbers (chess notations) that appears to be a hard thing to follow. 

Can anyone even read this thing without having a reference (for notations)? It seems to be impossible no matter how you look at it.

Well, as someone who have read a chess book before, here is what I know:

Most people who are adept at chess notations can read an entire chess book without looking at a chessboard once. With practice most people can do this, titled players usually practice with blindfold chess to be capable of this.

Many are actually capable of this feature, it is similar to how typists (professional keyboard typers) can type an entire article without having to look at the keyboard.

In this writing I will be discussing the details about this. With all of that in mind, let’s get started.

Strong players can read a chess book without looking at a chess board

There are individuals out there who are capable of reading an entire chess book without even looking at a chessboard once, however, these are already strong players. 

Beginners wouldn’t accomplish the same feature simply because they are inexperienced with chess notations.

Reading a game through chess notations only takes some experience, it is not something a beginner can do right off the bat (plus, most people who read chess books are beginners). 

If this is your first chess book you will likely need a chessboard (or any other reference) while you read.

After finishing an entire chess book or two then you can practice reading without a chess board, most people who can do this are those that have already spent some time with chess. 

It takes extreme visualization skill in order to pull this off, no matter how much of a genius you are you won’t get it right without practice.

I would say that almost all titled players are able to read an entire chess book without looking at a chessboard or any other reference, this is because people who are in this level are just that good. 

They are able to follow multiple variations without much guidance, people like this have been learning (through reading) for a long time.

I have written another article about this. If you are looking to read your first book I have beginner guide that will help you.

Beginners usually cannot read an entire chess book without a chessboard

If you are a total beginner looking to complete your first chess book, you are unlikely to read the passages without ever looking at a chessboard. 

Let’s face the truth, it is just efficient to have a reference lying around if you are not that used to chess notations.

It is actually recommended to have a chess board (or any other reference) by your side when reading a chess book for the first time, just think about efficiency at this point. 

Some “pride” their way into this, but I have found that it is better to practice notations once you have already learned something.

Total chess beginners who barely knew how the pieces move will have so many things to learn before notations, just learn the actual game first before this. 

People at this level don’t have the necessary related knowledge in order to make use of notations, it will just deter learning.

One of the easiest ways to make following games with only notations easier is to develop the concept of patterns, variations do have patterns in them that makes reading with notations easier. 

Beginners who don’t have their pattern sense activated yet are unlikely to read a chess book without any reference, it is possible but difficult.

An alternative is watching a chess video. Try reading this comparison that I made between videos and books about chess, it might give clarity.

Reading a chess book without a chessboard is achievable but difficult

One of the exceptions to my recommendation (of using a chessboard when reading a chess book) is if you are already familiar with chess notations, in this case it is better to practice reading without reference. 

There are some who have already studied chess notations before reading their first chess book, this is one of the exceptions.

Chess notations are necessary for official chess tournaments where you have to write down the moves, there are of course some out there who have learned about notations before reading a chess book. 

For these individuals reading an entire chess book without a chess board is an actual possibility, although it will take some practice.

There are those who can accomplish this quickly and those that cannot do it no matter what. 

One thing that we know is that reading a chess book without a chessboard has been done before. 

As long as it has been a proven possibility there are some out there who can achieve it, although not everyone.

You have to be familiar with the chessboard in order to pull this through (coupled with a good pint of memorization), there are definitely decent players out there who have not achieved this. 

Almost all titled chess players can achieve this feature but there is a minority that can’t, which goes to show that not everyone is capable of this.

Reading a chess book without a chessboard is a good challenge

If you just want to try reading a chess book without a chess board then who am I to stop you? Of course you can do it, but do not have high expectations. 

Most people cannot accomplish this quickly but it is worth a shot, maybe you are more talented than you think.

If you are one of those dedicated people then you should sharpen any ability that you have, it can help you in practical games. 

Probably the uppermost personification of this is in the form of blindfold chess which most titled chess players are capable of, people who can do this can read without a chessboard.

Many have speculated that this is necessary in the path to becoming a titled chess player, so it is worth a shot if you are trying to be a professional. 

Many have definitely done it before although it will take some experience with chess notations, it can be a good mock practice.

All of the best chess players in the world (top 50) can definitely read an entire chess book without looking at a chessboard or any form of reference, this is not that uncommon in the top. 

Look at any interview of a super grandmaster and you will see that they almost always talk about notations only, that is what it takes to be the best.


Reading an entire chess book without a chessboard is possible, many professional chess players are able to do it since mastering notations is so fundamental to the game. 

Some can even play blindfold chess and get interviewed after recent games spitting notations only without looking at a chessboard, it is quite common.

Having this ability may seem to be impossible at your current level, however, take note that many have done it before so you can do it with the right practice. Assess if it is the time for you, thank you for reading.