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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

Which Chess Books? Openings? Courses? The 3 Golden Rules When Asking for Recommendations

What's the best chess book/opening/course? Follow these 3 golden rules in order to get meaningful recommendations to speed up your chess growth!

Improvement Hacks | 6 min read
Which Chess Books? Openings? Courses? The 3 Golden Rules When Asking for Recommendations

Whenever we want to learn something new, be it in chess – or in any other aspect of our lives – we have three main options:

  1. Learn from the first available source we have
  2. Search using Google
  3. Ask others for recommendations

Sometimes we might get lucky and find that what we already have in our hands is the best possible source of learning, but often that isn’t the case.

While Google can be a handy tool for finding information quickly, using it to find the best educational websites or sources to learn from is not always the best idea. Why? Because Google is a robot, not a human! 🙂

Asking Google for recommendations

For example, if we search for, "How to become a Chess Grandmaster" – Google won’t know which articles were actually written by a GM. Whereas for a human, it’s common sense that only a GM could possibly teach that.

All Google does is order its search results based on complex algorithms and SEO – who has the most links, the most keywords, etc.

That’s why the best sources to learn from don’t always rank at the top of Google. While they’ve concentrated all their efforts on creating the best content, others have focussed more heavily on trying to please Google. Overall, this makes it tricky to research using Google for the purpose of learning something.

This leaves the third option – asking for recommendations – which often becomes the most optimal choice.

While it’s very important to ask someone who’s already achieved what you want to, (we’ll speak about this topic in upcoming articles), there is a classic mistake people often make...

The classic mistake

On chess forums or in chess groups on social media, we often see very vague open-ended questions like:

“What are the best chess books?” or...

“What opening should I learn?”

Followed by 50-100 answers in the comments section with everyone recommending something different.

The person who asked the question either ends up completely confused or even worse finds themselves heading in the wrong direction.

As you’ll soon see, this is why you need to be much more specific if you want to receive a meaningful recommendation.

Does it make sense?

Imagine someone goes to a doctor (without knowing what they specialize in) and says, “Hey doctor, give me the best pill in the world”. 😄

Or someone goes to the gym, and asks, “Hey coach, what exercise should I do?”

It doesn’t make sense, right?

The doctor would ask tons of questions in order to understand the problem.
And the coach would ask if you want to gain muscle, become fitter, or lose weight.

It would be ridiculous if they gave you medicine or an exercise plan without asking any questions.

In the same way, asking a question like, “What chess book should I read?” or, “What opening should I learn?” won’t elicit any meaningful answers.

Before asking for a recommendation, you should first consider these 3 important factors:

1. Your level

One of the key factors when deciding on the right recommendation is your level (or ability).

In chess, there are many openings that are fine to learn – no matter your playing strength. But, that’s not always the case.

If you’re a beginner and someone recommends that you try the Latvian Gambit, it might be okay, even if it’s probably not the best recommendation. On the other hand, it would be a disaster to recommend it to someone who’s rated 2,200 or above.

In the same way, while the Modern Benoni is one of my favorite openings, I wouldn’t recommend it to players below the 2,300 level, as there are many advanced concepts and strategies to learn.

The same applies to books. A list of great books for beginners, intermediate and advanced players would be very different.

2. Your goal

What’s your goal?
Is it to learn chess enough to be competitive when you play with family and friends?

Do you want to become a master or Grandmaster?

Do you want to learn fundamental openings or do you want to know just enough, in order not to lose the game right at the beginning?

In order to just be competitive and play for fun, it’s enough to read 1-2 books, know the fundamentals and enjoy this beautiful game. But if you want further improvement – I would highly recommend learning from some classics.

3. How much time you can invest in chess

Often I see people who have just a few hours a week to spend on chess, but they learn the Sicilian Najdorf…

Of course, it’s one of the most fundamental, solid, and at the same time most complicated openings you can learn. However, it will take a long time to learn it and a long time to understand it before you can play it with success. But if you’re rated 2,300+ and have 8 hours per day to spend on chess, I would say go right ahead!

And if you have just a few hours weekly, and you spend all that time on the Najdorf, first of all, it’ll not be enough, and secondly, you’ll not have time to spend on middlegames and endgames.

Your style

Think of "style" as an additional piece of information you may wish to consider.

Often, beginners make claims about their style.
They say, “I’m a positional player,” or “I’m an aggressive player.” But when you’re a beginner, your style can change very-very fast – even after reading just one book.

If you ask most aggressive players what their first book was, you’ll hear answers like “The best games of Morphy, Alekhine or Tal.” And what are the answers of positional players? “The best games of Capablanca, Petrosian or Karpov.” 🙂

By the way, in order to improve at chess, you’ll need to learn to be a multi-style player. It’s fine to prefer one style of play rather than another, but you can’t be very weak in positional chess or very weak in sharp positions. Otherwise, you’ll be very easily exploited by your opponents.

So style is just a piece of useful additional information, but it’s more relevant when you’re an advanced player.

Personalized plan

When we do 1-1 welcome calls with our PRO Members, the first question we ask is “How’re you doing?”

But you might be able to guess the next three:

  1. What’s your level?
  2. What’s your goal?
  3. How much time can you invest in your chess?

Sure, we have a step-by-step program in ChessMood. But knowing the answers to these 3 questions helps us make the correct adjustments to speed up the growth of our students.

These questions are essential!


Here are some examples of the right way to ask for recommendations:

1. “Hey everyone! I’ve played chess already for a few months, and my online blitz rating is around 1,000. I have around 5 hours per week to spend on chess and my goal is to learn some openings and the main plans in the beginning. I don’t want to become a master, but I hate to lose the game in the opening phase. What are the best sources/books/courses you would recommend?”

2. “Hola! My blitz rating is around 2,000 and I reached a plateau already after about 2 years. I want to get to 2,200 and I have 2-3 hours daily to spend on chess. My weakest part is positional chess. What books/courses would you recommend?”

As you see, these questions all mentioned their levels, goals, and available time.

Last thoughts

For the fastest growth, we need to learn from the best sources.
It's worth spending some time on research and asking for recommendations.

Do you remember the 6 P’s from the article about organizing your chess journey?

Be specific and try to ask for recommendations from someone who’s already achieved what you want to, not someone random.
Otherwise, you might go in the wrong direction.

In some of our upcoming articles, we’ll speak more about this important topic.

P.S. Feel free to share your thoughts or ask for your own recommendations in our forum.

Originally published Mar 09, 2021

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