There are different types of chess books out there and I am going to explain the various kinds to you. If you are looking to buy some chess books, this will give you a good way to understand what to look for on your hunt. I will also share common search terms for these books as well.
Opening, Middlegame, and Endgame Books
I feel confident stating that these three are the most common types of chess books out there. That claim is especially true for openings books. These books cover the three phases of a chess game. Each phase has its own principles and nuances that they do tend to be separate topics (though, they are all inherently connected). Openings books cover the myriad of ways to begin a game. Middlegame books tend to cover strategies that can be implemented when tactics are not present. Finally, Endgame books cover the final phase of the game teaching you how to take a winning (or drawing) position to its expected conclusion.
This category includes both biographical books about specific chess players. Generally, you can identify them because the book title will include the name of the subject such as Pal Benko or Viktor Korchnoi. Books also might include subtitles that say “My Life and Games” or something close to that such as The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. These books tend to give you an idea about following a player’s career and getting to know that player.
This category also includes games collections, tournament books, and of course specific history type books. Games collections tend to be compilations of a player’s career games all in one book. They are not necessarily written by the person who played the games and a game’s collection isn’t specifically the games of one person either. They can be games the author feels are very good, memorable, important, or fun.
Tournament books used to be more popular. Essentially, financial compensation would be given to top players for reviewing every game of a high-level tournament. This was a way for players, especially top players who failed to win a prize, to gain a little money for their efforts. Other times, an author takes an interest in a specific tournament and collects all the games from that event and publishes a book. Some examples are Carlsen vs. Karjakin, San Remo 1930 International Chess Tournament, or Fischer-Spassky. These books generally contain commentary on the games while games collections do not specifically offer commentary in every book.
Tactics and Strategy Books
While tactics can involve strategy and strategy can involved tactics, these two concepts are generally written about separately. For example, if a favorable tactic exists in the position, you should not waste time with lengthy plans but go ahead and execute the favorable tactic. However, if no tactics are present in a position, then you must determine your long-term plan, and its intermediary goals, since you cannot currently win with a tactical shot.
Tactics books tend to help the reader identify tactical themes. Themes such as pins, forks, skewers, X-rays, windmills, double attack, discovered attacks, discovered check, double check, and several more. In tactics books, once you learn a theme, you are instructed to solve lots of tactics with that theme. Once you understand the themes, you solve lots of tactics with that theme so you may begin to build your pattern recognition skills. So, a couple of tactics books are The Magic of Chess Tactics, Fundamental Chess Tactics, and Tactics Time. For pattern recognition improvement, there is Improve Your Pattern Recognition and Train Your Pattern Recognition. It is also common that tactics books are filed under “Puzzle Books.”
Strategy books are much wordier. They tend to look at different ideas and show games or positions that contain those ideas so you can see them in action. Strategy books will help improve your ability to plan and set goals during a game. Here are some examples of strategy books that you could find helpful: Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy, Winning Chess Maneuvers, and Doubled Pawns. Each of these books teaches you about a specific strategy. However, strategies are not specifically limited to pieces and positions. They can also be more about abstract topics such as Your Opponent is Overrated, Draw!, and Saving Lost Positions.
Beginner Books, Teaching Books, and Instructional Books
These kinds of books are geared towards getting people involved with chess in one way or another. Either a person is interested to become involved themselves or perhaps you are teaching a group of kids hoping to see if any take up the game. Regardless, there is a wide variety of books with this topic.
Chess for Beginner books are a great way for newer players to begin their foundation of chess knowledge. These books generally offer simple terms and ideas to get you going. In some ways, they can be the bedrock from which more questions arise. While these books are generally for beginners, chess coaches and instructors may find them useful as well. They can give a sense of what newer players might need to learn when first starting out. Susan Polgar’s Learn Chess the Right Way series helps beginners and gives them lots of puzzles and concepts to consider. Your First Move is also a good beginner’s book as well as Chess for Children Activity Book.
Teaching books very specifically give you resources for running class rooms while beginner chess books do not specifically do that. Instructional books are also quite similar. Here are some examples: Teaching Books and Instructional Books. Teaching books are specifically designed for teaching one on one or groups of kids. Instructional books typically are going to be more advanced versions of beginner books. They often have a more serious tone as well. Beginner books often feature kid friendly cartoons and pictures but instructional books take things to the next level. Plus, it could be annoying being a new chess playing adult who is forced to read kid books. If you compare Beginner Chess Tactics for Kids and Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player you can see how the first book is kid friendly while the second, even though it has a cartoon drawing on the front, seems to be a bit more serious to attract a non-scholastic audience. Instructional books can also be very serious like with the book Thinking Inside the Box.