While it’s almost certainly not the most efficient way to improve our chess, we’re all tempted from time to time to rework our opening repertoire. Book publishers know this as well, and that’s why there seem to be more books on the opening than any other part of the game. After all, it’s fairly easy to put together an average, bland book on the opening of your choice: just talk about a few main lines, write out some variations, find example games from grandmaster play, and the book virtually... writes itself! It’s not quite that easy, but many opening books feel like they come from this template.
On this list, I’ve including five books (or book series) that offer a little something more. There’s no way I could cover all opening styles or lines in one short list, but these are the books that I’ve personally gotten the most from. I also haven’t included the library style books such as the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO) or Modern Chess Openings (MCO), though these books certainly have a place in the library of the serious player. Here’s a look at five opening books I’d personally recommend to those who want to begin or continue studying the first phase of the game.
If you’ve never really studied the opening before, Back to Basics: Openings is the perfect place to start. This book covers the main lines and critical variations of every opening system under the sun but never overwhelms the player with too much knowledge. It’s a great way to quickly learn just the basics about any opening system – and for players rated under 1500 or so, that’s about all that needs to be learned.
Larry Kaufman’s repertoire book is a great addition to the library of any serious chess player. Half of the book is devoted to a White repertoire (he recommends 1. d4, though there are a couple lines that transpose to 1. e4 lines, so e4 players can get at least something out of the book), while the reverse half focuses on Black responses to various White systems. All lines are both computers checked and referenced with grandmaster play, making them both sound and practical. If you want a solid... opening repertoire that will always get you to a decent position (or better), then this is the book for you.
Looking for sidelines that will surprise your opponents and lead to some spectacular wins? Secrets of Opening Surprises has long been one of my favorite columns in New In Chess, and the collections of articles they occasionally publish as books in the SOS series are a great way to quickly find a line or two you can incorporate into your repertoire. I especially like these lines for players who play with the same opponents over and over again in a club setting, as many opponents will assume... you’ll always play the same lines – and bust out one of these very dangerous (if not always entirely sound) SOS lines can lead to an easy win in an important game.
This series is similar to the Back to Basics book recommended above, but it's much more in-depth (and comes in a set of four volumes). If you want a reference that both covers all of the important variations in every relevant opening system while also giving you information on the plans and strategies associated with each opening (along with the requisite example games), the Chess Opening Essentials books are just what you need.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
The only book on this list about a specific opening, I've included Dismantling the Sicilian both because it is incredibly complete - it offers thousands of positions to study in individual variations and covers every single line that one might encounter after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 - and because it has a place in my heart. As an e4 player, I used this book to bulk up my preparation against the Sicilian, which is the thorn in the side of most who play e4. It produced rather rapid results - not long... after studying the lines within, I won my first tournament game against a master in a Scheveningen Sicilian. To be fair, the win didn't come in the opening, but the lines I learned from this book helped me confidently get to a solid middlegame position - and what else can you really ask for in a well-played opening?
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