Pieces blue background

Study Suggestions for New Players and Beyond


A few newer players to the club have asked some of the more experienced members if they can recommend some books that might help them.  In this article I have tried to respond to that question with two book recommendations supplemented by other non-book study.

My suggestions are as follows...

An all round primer book: The Complete Book of Chess Strategy by Jeremy Silman
An endgame book: Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins
Opening study: An approach + Chessable + books + videos

Before diving into each in turn, I will make a few points:

  • Whilst these are my recommendations for inexperienced players, they will to varying degrees help more experienced players too.
  • There is merit in studying the three in parallel rather than finishing one before starting the next.
  • A lot of players put too much emphasis on studying the openings at the expense of the middlegame and endgames. By contrast, the old Soviet training methods that produced so many world champions put the bulk of early study on the endgame.  It is really important to put some work into all the phases of the game and definitely not neglect the endgame.

To prepare this article I:

  • Reviewed several books that Martin and I already owned
  • Bought and read a few extra books aimed at inexperienced players that were highly regarded on the internet.

I have chosen what I think are the best of that bunch. Everyone has different learning styles and tastes, so I cannot guarantee these will be perfect for you, but I do think almost everyone in the club should be able to get quite a lot out of the recommendations.  Happy reading!

Peter Anderson July 2024

Complete Book of Chess Strategy by Jeremy Silman (1998, 360 pages)

The title is a complete misnomer but I wouldn’t let that put you off.

So what do you get?  The book assumes you know the rules, the basic mates, and the relative value of the pieces (though bizarrely it does give these right at the end). The bulk of it is organised into 3 main sections: The Opening, The Middlegame, The Endgame.

The Opening section covers a few general principles and gives a page or two on each of the major openings.  There are a lot of openings so this covers over 100 pages.  This is not going to help you learn the openings you need to any useful depth.  However, for someone new to competitive chess it will give them a rough overview which may help them focus their proper study of openings.

The Middlegame section is over 170 pages long and takes the same approach as the opening section in so far as it gives a page or two on many middlegame techniques or ideas.  Some of these are really basic (such as forks) but some are much more advanced (such as the treatment of hanging pawns which many players under 2000 will not know).  Some of the ideas seem particularly well covered for a primer book, e.g. the handling of bishops and knights and the concepts behind pawn structures.

The material in the section is arranged alphabetically which is a bit weird. However, I am not sure that does too much harm.

Obviously, with such huge coverage, there is a limited amount of depth, but nonetheless I feel a lot of players could benefit from reading this section:

  • inexperienced players under 1700 will probably learn a lot
  • inexperienced players under 1850 will probably learn a good amount
  • experienced players under 1700 will probably learn something / get a good refresher
  • experienced players up to 1850 might even get a fair amount of value out of a read through.

I feel this section is the strongest in the book and is the best single volume “beginners” guide to the middlegame I have seen, with one of its strengths being that the material is really easy to absorb.

The Endgame section is just 50 pages long and to be honest I would have liked it to have been a bit longer.

It doesn’t cover the basic mates (e.g. K+R vs K) that are normally in primers and it doesn’t cover Q vs P on the 7th rank which is a major omission.

It does cover:

  • Some basic ideas of king and pawn endings
  • The most important rook endings and a couple of useful principles that apply to many rook and pawn endings.
  • A few other important ideas and some specifics (e.g. bishop and wrong rooks pawn is drawn)

As king and pawn endings underpin every other ending and rook endings are the most common endings, it does give a good foundation to build on.

Again the material is organised alphabetically which is again weird.  In this case I think it is very unhelpful and that the material should not be read in that sequence.  Anyone reading this should:

  • start with Using The King
  • followed by Passed Pawns in the Endgame
  • followed by Using the Rooks
  • after which the other bits can be read in any order.

Most inexperienced players are likely to get a lot out of this section.  As most experienced players under 1800 know very little about rook endings, most of them should be able to learn something too!


Overall, the book is not perfect: the opening section is lightweight, the alphabetical arrangement of material in the middlegame is weird and in the endgame positively unhelpful, The Endgame should really be the first major section in the book, not the last, and I would like to have seen some illustrative games and some puzzles to solve.

That may seem like a long list of gripes but nonetheless I feel it is a really good book.  The middlegame section carries it, supported by the best bits of the endgame section.   Its readability means it is likely to be well used, which in turn means it is likely to improve your chess and that is always good!

Amateur to IM by Jonathan Hawkins (2012, 369 pages)

There are two odd things about the title of this book:

  • It is very largely a book about the endgame, despite no clue to that being given in the title
  • Jonathan Hawkins was regarded by many to be of GM strength when he wrote it and indeed he went on to collect the GM title, so it could very reasonably have been titled Amateur to GM.

This book is in three sections:

  • Part 1 Thinking Techniques is 51 pages long deals with basic king and pawn endings and planning in the endgame.
  • Part 2 Principles and Essential Theory is 110 pages long deals with a lot of basic theory of some important endgames including rook endings, rook and pawn vs bishop and pawn, bishops of opposite colour, bishops of the same colour.
  • Part 3 Endgame Explorations is 194 pages long and covers a few specific endgames in great depth, plus a chapter on games with middlegame minority attacks and their resulting endgames.

It does not attempt to be comprehensive and does not cover, for instance, the basic mates (e.g how to mate with two bishop vs the lone king), queen vs pawn on the seventh, rook vs pawn, or knight endings.

Part 1 is an easy read and will be valuable to those not familiar with king and pawn theory and anyone who needs a refresher in endgame planning.

Part 2 is a little harder work but still very digestible.  It will help beginners and people up to 2100 and probably beyond.

Part 3 can be read casually but really requires more effort to get the value out of it.  It is probably not worth putting the work into this section until you are a least 1800 as you will have more important things to learn.  However, thereafter, I doubt there would be many people under 2300 who would not benefit from working on it.

In studying this book you will gain valuable technical knowledge.  That can be said about many endgame books.  However, I think this book has two special qualities:

  • The writing style makes it a pleasure to read even the more technical sections of the book. Many endgame books can seem very dry but somehow this one doesn’t.  You are therefore more likely to keep reading it and learning from it.
  • It is very good at teaching you how to think about the endgame overall. So even if you are not using specific theoretical knowledge from the book, you should be able to navigate endgames better.

If you want a comprehensive technical guide to endgames then perhaps Dvorestsky’s classic “Endgame Manual: Fasttrack Edition” is for you.  If you want a less comprehensive but very readable practical guide to the endgame then I can wholeheartedly recommend From Amateur to IM.

Opening Study

As explained in the introduction, this section is more about an approach to opening study rather than a specific recommendation.  Please bear with me as I will get to some sort of recommendations for material towards the end of the section.

Picking a repertoire with White

It used to be recommended that when starting out you play 1.e4.  These days quite a lot of inexperienced players use 1.d4.  Probably either is OK.  The key thing to do is pick one and, unless you feel really uncomfortable with it, stick with it for at least a year or two.

Whilst grandmasters will use both, and 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 too, at club level it is hard to master both and it is generally recommended to stick to either 1.e4 or 1.d4 and build up your depth of knowledge and understanding in whichever you choose.  1.c4 is generally not recommended until you have reached around 2000 as it can lead to very strategically complex positions that are hard to navigate; playing it is a bit like giving a Formula 1 car to a new driver – the outcome may involve quite a lot of crashes!

If you pick 1.e4 you need to be ready to play against:

  • 1...e5 and assuming you play 2.Nf3 then
    • 2...Nc6, leading to the Ruy Lopez, Guico Piano, or Scotch (your choice)
    • 2...Nf6, the Petroff
  • 1...e6, the French
  • 1... d5, the Centre Counter
  • 1...c6, the Caro-Kann
  • 1...c5, the Sicilian
  • 1...g6 and 1...d6, leading to the Modern and Pirc
  • 1...Nf6, Alekhine’s Defence

If you pick 1.d4 you need to be ready to play against:

  • 1...d5 normally leading to either a whole set of Queens Gambit setups, a Catalan, or a London system (your choice)
  • 1...Nf6 and assuming you play 2.c4 then
    • 2...g6 with ...d6, the Kings Indian
    • 2...g6 with 3...d5, the Grunfeld
    • 2...c5 leading to the Benoni or Benko (Black’s choice)
    • 2...e6 leading to the Nimzo Indian or Queens Indian (your choice).

The two lists above are not exhaustive but rather cover the most important defences to work on as White.

Picking a repertoire with Black

Start with picking a defence to 1.e4 and a defence to 1.d4 (same openings as listed above).  You can try a few out in friendly games to see what suits you but pretty quickly you need to pick one defence to each of 1.e4 and 1.d4 and, unless you find you are really uncomfortable, stick with the pair for at least a year or two in serious games.

You will come across other White first moves but you can build up your knowledge of those more slowly as 1.e4 and and 1.d4 will be by far the most common opening moves you face.

Pick things that suit your style and your capacity to study

Do you like sharp tactical chess or more solid positional chess?  This is important for picking your defences as Black.  As White, it is less important for choosing between 1.e4 and 1.d4 but it does inform how you respond to each of Black’s defences.

So if you like sharp tactical chess, then as Black against 1.d4 you might (there are plenty of other sharp choices) pick the Benoni: 1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 c5, 3.d5 e6, 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 g6.   As White you can meet this head on with 6.f4 or 6.Nf3 which normally lead to sharp play, or you could play 6.g3 which leads to a more positional game.

Picking something you are comfortable playing, as long as it is reasonably sound, is more important than picking what grandmasters think is the strongest line.

The other thing to consider is how much time and energy you have to study.  Some openings, especially sharp ones, require you to know an awful lot of stuff.  Others require less study. Be realistic about how much effort you can and will put in and how good your memory is too!

Don’t just learn by rote

You will have to memorise some lines.  However, that is not sufficient.  It is really important to understand the purpose behind the moves and what your plans in the resulting middlegame will be.  Indeed, once you know the basics of an opening, it is a really good idea to study the middlegames that result from it.

Don’t go too deep too quickly

It might be tempting to try to learn an opening to master or even grandmaster depth.  However, remember IMs and GMs are trying to squeeze the last fraction out of an opening and they have the middlegame skill to make it worthwhile.  If your middlegames are not yet strong enough there really is no point in going this deep in the opening.  To put it in computer terms, if you regularly make mistakes that cost you 1.0 or even 0.5 in the middlegame, then don’t go too mad on opening theory – balance your opening study with middlegame and endgame study.

Hit a problem?  Fix it rather than give up.

We all have opening disasters from time to time, especially with Black.  If the disaster is because you are playing a whole opening (none of the ones listed above) or opening line that is fundamentally unsound, then it is time to stop playing it.  However, that is rarely the case and normally a better response would be to fix the problem.

I played the French Defence (1.e4 e6) for about 3 years when I was starting out.  I got wiped out in one game, looked at the game a bit at home, couldn’t see where I went wrong, and gave up the opening.  That was a bad decision.  Better options at the time would have been to just try harder in my own analysis until I solved the problem, get a book to help me or ask a stronger player for advice.  If I had done any of those I might well still be playing the French today.  Of course, nowadays I could also use a computer or an online course to help me fix the problem.

Options for study

You have three broad options for studying openings:

  • Books: these probably still give the most material for your money.
  • Videos: for the same money, these contain less material than books but a lot of people find them easier to learn from.
  • Chessable courses with limited or no video: these courses can be read online sort of like a book but there is also the option to learn the lines by repetitively entering the moves on an online board. Some of the courses are free.  Most courses are paid for and whilst they probably don’t reach the book level for material per £ they do exceed videos for material per £.

I should mention that Chessable offers video versions of their courses.  These are very expensive and I don’t personally know anyone who has bought them.

Which is best depends on the individual.  I have read (and not read!) a lot of books over the years and still rather like them.  I have found some video courses very effective.  I have bought some Chessable courses and found them good but personally I am not sure the repetitive learning feature works for me – rather I use them more like a book.  On the other hand, I know someone else of my strength who buys books and types the key lines he wants to learn into Chessable just so he can use the repetitive leaning feature.  There is no right answer – it just depends on what works for you.

Where to start

If you are starting from scratch or near to scratch, I am going to suggest that you start with the Short & Sweet courses on Chessable.  Creating a Chessable account is free and the Short and Sweet courses are free and generally of good quality, albeit with limited material (fair enough, they are free).  They are ideal for giving you a taster of different openings and deciding if you want to play 1.e4 or 1.d4 and to pick a defence as Black against each of those.

You could also look at some videos on youtube to get a feel for different openings and there is no harm in that.  However, bear in mind that the quality of these is very variable and quite a few focus on trappy openings rather than good openings.

Building your opening knowledge

Once you have picked either 1.e4 or 1.d4 and a defence to each, you will soon want and need a bit more depth.  There you have a few more choices.


  • For pretty much every Short and Sweet course there is a paid for course that goes into more depth. However, this is where my previous warning about depth kicks in for the first time.
  • I suggest you avoid the Lifetime Repetoire courses – these require a huge amount of study and are really aimed more at aspiring masters and grandmasters rather than the average club player or even county level player.
  • Try to pick something more appropriate to your level (reading the reviews helps).
  • To illustrate the above two points, I bought Lifetime Repertoires: Reversed Sicilian as a defence to the English Opening, spent a couple of hours on it and realised that there was way too much for me to learn and gave up. I have not looked at it since. On the other hand I bought 1.d4 For Ambitious Improvers and found that the level is about right for me.  I have not adopted all its recommendations by any means but there is plenty of useful material in there and I go back and look at a new chapter every so often – good value for money to me.


  • There are many sources of paid for videos but the quality of some of them is very poor.
  • I can recommend Chessbase videos. I have bought a few of these and have yet to have a duff one.


  • The Starting Out series published by Everyman has a good reputation and is ideal for building your opening knowledge from a low base. Everyman also publishes more advanced opening books and these are good too (I have a few).
  • You could consider The Kaufmann Repertoire published by New In Chess. This covers a repertoire for both White and Black.  There have been 3 editions of it and they propose different openings:
    • Edition 2 (published 2012) is based upon 1.d4 as White and as Black 1.e4 e5 (leading to the Breyer in the Ruy Lopez) and the Grunfeld against 1.d4. It gives a basic repertoire as Black against White’s other opening moves.
    • Edition 3 (published 2019) is based upon 1.e4 as White and as Black 1.e4 e5 (but this time leading to the Marshall in the Ruy Lopez) and again the Grunfeld against 1.d4. Again it gives a basic repertoire as Black against White’s other opening moves.

  Even if the Black openings do not suit you, these books are good options for an opening repertoire with White.

  • The books published by Quality Chess deservedly have an excellent reputation. However, beware of the depth. Whilst a few are aimed at intermediate players (from say 1700 upwards) many are aimed at more advanced players (2000 upwards or even 2200 upwards).  Whilst I am a big fan of the books (I have about 12 of them) I would not recommend most of them to people just starting to build up their openings.
  • Finally, I will mention Gambit Publications as the other major chess book publisher. I have only one of their books (it is pretty good) so have little idea of what level their books are generally pitched at.  However, you could consider them, especially if you read the reviews thoroughly.

Chessbase Software

And finally...

I have mentioned Chessbase as a publisher of good quality videos.  It also makes a program called Chessbase (its original product) and a database with millions of grandmaster games.

The software allows you to see which moves grandmasters have played in any position, how often each move gets played, and what % score White got after that move.  You can key your own games into it, store your preferred opening lines in it, and run chess engines such as Stockfish in it.

This is not necessary for starting out but if you are serious about improving your openings then this is a good long term investment.  However, it is not cheap: the Chessbase 17 program and the 2024 edition of their Big database together cost 240 Euros.  Perhaps one for Santa to buy you!