How to read a chess book? It sounds easy, right? However, a lot of people don’t want to read because they find it boring or it feels like hard work. That’s why I read chess books differently from all other books.
My goal today is to make things a bit easier for you.
First of all, there are both good and bad chess books. And even if it’s a good book, it might not be suited to your strength or need. Another problem is that most people find it hard to read chess notation without moving the pieces on a board. It sounds cozy sitting with a chess book and chess board late at night. However, with a lot of things to do, I rarely have such moments.
The following method works well on books about the middlegame, endgame, game collections or even chess magazines. This is how I do it:
1. I find a chess book with a topic that interests me. Make sure the book has good reviews because there are many bad ones out there as well.
2. What I am looking for is a book with many diagrams and pedagogical explanations next to it. I don’t want endless variations. Instead, I want good explanations on instructive moments.
3. I quickly scan through the book to see if there are topics that interest me. I don’t read everything – I need an overview, and this process might take me 15 minutes. I have seen Magnus do precisely this when he stands in front of a bookshelf filled with books about chess. He is hunting for exciting positions or ideas.
4. Next time I pick up the book, I open it on a random page and read for 10 - 15 minutes. I might do this when I’m eating, relaxing, are about to go to sleep or even visit the toilet. Every time I open it at a random page.
5. Reading a game of chess should be like watching highlights from a football match. You want the goals and the big chances. In chess terms, this is the critical and instructive moments. I'm mainly interested in the diagrams and the explanations – I don’t care about the long line of moves between the diagrams. If there are no diagrams next to the moves, they are probably not important.
6. I continue opening the book on random pages. After a while, I will recognize the position. That is a good thing because then I can check if I remember the explanation and the next move. If I know it, I switch to another page. I continue like that until I can’t find a page where I don’t remember the diagrams, the next move, and the reasoning.
Reading a chess book like this is more comfortable and more fun. Studying chess doesn’t have to be hard work; it can also be a fun journey where you do the things you want to do. The method I’m suggesting trains your memory, increases your knowledge, and saves you time. And perhaps the most important thing: You are getting better at chess!
You might argue that you lose something with this method, and I agree. Chess is a series of moves, and one move logically leads to another move. However, playing through the game with pieces on a board will slow you down considerably, and even stop you from opening the book in the first place. And when thinking about it, seeing whole games shouldn’t be a problem, because there are so many games you play online anyway.
I have a son who is only three months old. Soon we will start reading a book about animals. I will open it on a random page, and he will see a big animal. Hopefully, he will say: “A cow!” and I will say “Mooo.” Then we will happily continue through the world of animals. Why not read chess the same way?