Does reading chess books help? (Truth be told)

If you are looking up about chess then you might have to hear some really strong players say they have reached the peak of their skill by reading a lot of chess books.

But is that really applicable nowadays since these so-called strong players usually have studied young when books are “the thing” which is not the case today.

Considering all the modern development, do reading chess books help? Here is what I know:

Reading chess books is helpful when a player has picked the right topic on the skill level that they have. They also need to have the right amount of interest and endurance in order to finish the whole book (it wouldn’t help if the player can’t even finish the book).

I think this is an important topic to go over since chess books cost money and you wouldn’t want to waste cash on something that has no value. We want our resources for information to be really focused and helpful, that is the true road to improvement.

With all of that in mind, let’s begin.

How do chess books help in improvement?

First, we got to go over the proven and tested benefits of reading a chess book, that is something we cannot ignore.

Chess books are usually written by authoritative players who have years worth of experience, it is much more trustworthy than any other sources out there. Plateau in chess improvement can usually be broken by reading a good chess book.

Traditionally, books are the go-to medium that has been used for centuries to transfer knowledge to generations even hundreds of years later.

All the things you can read from a chess book are things that have been empirically tested using the author’s own life.

It contains information that beginners have no knowledge of (usually) therefore making it hard to search, you can just sit back and let the author explain.

It is like taking an academic test, chess books are the material that could be applied to the exam (the exam is about chess) do you think reading something that is directly on topic can help you pass the test? Of course it will.

Any knowledge that you could have gained from reading a chess book is a step towards passing individual tests (playing the game) since the topics are usually applicable.

The downside is if you have picked the wrong topic for the subject of chess, if the academic exam is about chapters 4 and 5, you wouldn’t gain anything from memorizing chapter 1. 

This is the same with chess where you can memorize all the openings you want but you still wouldn’t see success if you don’t have a decent understanding of the middlegame and endgame.

Books about chess are trustworthy

This is the problem with our modern era of technology where the information is much accessible (though accessibility is a good thing) yes, there are a lot of content creators, but there is less credibility in the quality of the information since everyone is free to do it.

You are more likely to find someone who is not that engaged in the game but decided to give information because of the money associated with it, they are likely to give some misinformation. 

There are ways to correctly identify when the resource you are getting are of good quality such as with this blog, I am not a grandmaster or anything like that but you can look at my credentials on my about me page (which gives credibility).

However, there are others out there that are not that way.

Chess books are definitely way better than any medium of information you can find online (except chess e-books and courses) since the information is likely to be written by someone of authority, and it all falls into one theme.

Chess books help overcome plateau

This is something you will realize the longer you keep up with chess, which is at some point you will suffer a moment of stagnant progress.

This is the moment of plateau, where no matter what you play and analyze each of your games there will be little to no learning value from doing so.

Chess books are an incredible source of information that will probably be needed by any player at some point in order to overcome the coming plateau (every elite has read a chess book at least once).

This is the same stigma when people say that you can’t be above 2000 Elo without having a chess coach, you can’t also probably be above 1800 without reading a good chess book (though it is possible).

When you have an outside source that is beyond your internal learning avenue, you’re more likely to find something you wouldn’t have figured out yourself (which a chess book conveniently provides).

A lot of people testifies that chess books or helpful

I have never read a chess book myself but I know a lot of people who did do it and were able to see improvement almost immediately (which is probably why I already hit my plateau).

If you ask any strong player that you can encounter, they are very likely to have read at least one book in its entirety, so there must be a pattern.

Granted there are other resources nowadays, but chess books are still popular with some young people. Just look at this competitor that was able to go from 1600 to almost 2150 just by reading chess books (the audio is pretty low but the idea is there):

This just testifies that chess books are helpful if used the right way, but it can be used the wrong way too.

When is reading chess books not that helpful?

There are many instances where chess books lead to confusion more than clarity.

Chess books will have a detrimental effect if a player is choosing the wrong topics for their skill level, the principles written in the book are not applied in practice, or it does not fit the competitor’s learning preference.

There are so many topics that you could learn from a chess book, there are openings, middlegames, endgames, psychological tricks, rating tips, attacks, defense, etc. and each of those has its own sub-topics.

This means that you can spend forever learning a particular phase or skill that would not really convert to wins (since there are other things that are needed for a victory).

This is why chess books will be useful only if you are studying the right topic for your skill, otherwise, you will only end up confused rather than enlightened after finishing the book.

There might be terminologies and ideas there that are not really something you can absorb well on your own (there should be initial knowledge), so you need to be really careful when choosing the topic.

Chess books can be really confusing

A lot of beginners actually find it hard to gain any value from chess books since the notations are confusing and they are likely to pick the wrong topic. Considering that they are beginners, they are likely to not know how to read or write chess notations.

Of course even beginners have to learn notations at some point, but it does make the actual reading of a chess book much more difficult. It is unlike a video course for example where you just have to sit back and see the positions.

You have to visualize sometimes which concepts are being taught rather than just seeing it with your own eyes, it can be really confusing.

Sometimes you have to look on an actual board (not just the image of the book) in order to very quickly skim through the contents.

Chess books are useless without application

I have seen a lot of strong players say that reading chess books really helped them overcome their plateau, but also a lot has stated that playing is probably much more important overall.

You can read all the chess books in the world and memorize their ideas but there is one thing that reading these sources could not give, which is instincts that come from the experience of playing.

Reading a chess book should only be a preparation for the actual matches not the harbinger of the result, that will be decided by you only.

If you do not apply what you learned from the book then it wouldn’t make much difference from not reading the book at all.

Chess books are just one of the major mediums that will deliver knowledge, it is a source of information that would be useless if not applied in practical conditions.

This is something you should understand, learning through mediums should only be a supplement not a substitute from actual playing.

Chess books are not cheat sheets

Some beginners get disappointed from the result of reading a chess book not because there isn’t any value, but because it was not what they were expecting. Beginners after all look for the cheat sheet that will ultimately win them games conveniently.

This is the wrong mindset since chess books are just a supplement, not substitute from the experience of playing.

Do not expect immediate improvement after scrolling through an entire chess book, it is not a silver bullet that will boost your Elo magically.

You still have to apply what you have learned after all, some beginners will just give up reading through a book halfway since they couldn’t really see the magic win in their games.

It does help you win, but you have to play well by properly applying what you’ve learned. do not fall into the trap of unrealistic expectations.

Are there any other alternatives to reading chess books?

This is something that we should ask ourselves, chess books after all are not the only source of information.

Some alternatives to chess books are e-books that learners can easily download in most cell phones, video courses that are presented visually, and audiobooks that players can just listen to if they are familiar with chess notations.

A lot of players say that chess books have improved their game since most of them are older people that are already accustomed to old ways of learning chess (though books are still really popular with some young people)

The world has already advanced since the dominance of books as a source of information, there are other mediums now like e-books, audiobooks, and courses that would probably work better for some individuals.

For someone who doesn’t like the extraneous amount of space that a book needs for storage, an ebook that can be stored in a cell phone will probably be more suitable.

If you are someone who likes listening during those hours of the day rather than reading, then audiobooks might be more helpful for you.

Audio Books though are really more restricted than regular books since chess is just a visual game, there are certain limitations to what things can be taught in an audiobook (but it is possible with chess notations).

The easiest of all will probably be a chess video course where the positions get demonstrated with an actual visual chessboard, that might be more applicable for some people.

The helpfulness of a chess book depends on whether you can finish it

Chess books will of course turn out to be not that helpful if you’re unable to read the whole thing, you should also consider your attention span when it comes to different mediums of learning.

Perhaps you are much more likely to finish a 5 hr. video course than reading an entire book.

Then, in this case, you should prefer video courses to chess books since you are more likely to watch the whole thing and absorb all the ideas than just by reading a book.

Or maybe you are more likely to finish an audiobook by just listening (once you got a grasp of chess notations), you should also consider your attention span when determining the right medium.

Do you now know if chess books are helpful?

We certainly have evolved from our old ways of delivering information, and it is a good thing since it is a sign of improvement. However the written format will never go away in human history, we have been doing it for centuries for a reason. 

All the videos and audios are good, but chess books have their place if you know how to use it correctly.

But as I discussed above, there are certain pitfalls that you can fall into when trying to learn with a book, so it’s just best to determine your preference whenever thinking of getting one.

Hope this article will be a good resource for such a decision! That is all, sleep well and play chess.

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