Two Chess Books for Novice Players

To begin, we’re using novice players to mean those who have limited experience playing and observing chess games, yet they know the rules of the game. Out of the many thousands of chess books published over the past few centuries, surprisingly few have been written especially for this level of skill. Consider these two exceptions:

Beat That Kid in Chess (published in 2015)

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (last published in 1986)

Those two chess books have these two things in common:

  • Paperback editions are available
  • Mostly for beginners, real novices

They differ in many ways, including one assumption about the reader: Beat That Kid in Chess assumes the reader already knows how to move the pieces; Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, on the other hand, has 13 pages of instructions on the rules of the game.

Beat That Kid in Chess

This is a new chess book, published in September of 2015, and it uses a new method of chess instruction: nearly-identical positions (NIP). That method itself requires no particular attention from the reader: It just teaches tactics naturally, as the reader compares similar positions that have important little differences.

Many of the 194 pages have large diagrams, so the book is not as intimidating in size as most chess books with 150-250 pages. Yet the subject matter is broad for beginners:

  1. Opening
  2. Middle game
  3. End game
  4. Attack
  5. Defense
  6. Checkmate
  7. Pawn promotion
  8. Pins (both kinds)
  9. Knight forks
  10. Discovered attacks

How a beginner can win a chess game

Beat That Kid in Chess appears to be the right size for the beginner who wants to learn how to win but does not want to immediately commit to years of study and practice to advance in tournament competition. In other words, it’s for the raw beginner who wants to advance to the level of intermediate or advanced novice, capable of winning at least a few games that otherwise would have been lost.

The reading level is more for teenagers and adults, but some older children can benefit from Beat That Kid in Chess. The books ends with two chapters of exercises (Simple and Advanced) and an index.

This chess book is for the player who knows how to move the piece but wants to win games against other beginners. It probably will succeed in this modest objective, in contrast to some publications which promise the world but deliver almost nothing in promoting actual over-the-board winning of games.

Why do some chess books fail? The beginner gets bored and frustrated with complicated and demanding combinations that require what is unreasonable from a newcomer to the game. Beat That Kid in Chess is different, teaching with easy-to-understand concepts. In that way, it resembles the following book.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

Be aware that this book was not written by Bobby Fischer. The Amazon introduction includes, “The real authors were experts and authorities in the field of programmed learning. Bobby Fischer lent his name to the project.” The title by itself can be misleading, but that’s a common fault of many chess books, including Beat That Kid in Chess (which is about how to win against an opponent of any age). Yet the title “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” has been the cause of a special kind of disappointment among some readers, for the use of the name of that world chess champion cuts both ways: It sells many books but it sounds like Robert J. Fischer himself will teach you . . . he does not.

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess has been very popular, among chess books that are purchased on Amazon, especially recently. On October 29, 2015, it was ranked #7 best-selling book on Amazon, in the following format:

Humor & Entertainment > Puzzles & Games > Chess

"Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess"

Nevertheless, for some of those who purchased this mass market paperback (usually meaning a cheap and small paperback), reader reviews show dissatisfaction. Better quality editions are available (library binding and standard paperback), but they are more expensive. This review is for the mass market paperback.

When you see a book on Amazon, and it has over 100 customer reviews, be aware of the combined total of two-stars and one-star. When those dissatisfied readers total over about 8% or so, one or both of the following may apply:

  • The subject is controversial
  • It has one or more problems

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess had 397 customer reviews on October 29, 2015, for this is an old book, published in 1982, and the title alone can sell many copies. Yet notice the proportion of dissatisfied readers:

  • Two-stars: 10%
  • One-star: 16%

Beware of an old book that has, out of hundreds of reviews, a combined total of 26% for disappointed readers. That’s way over 8%, more than three times that figure. Indeed, 26% is an alarming proportion. Look at brief excerpts of five of the one-star reviews:

1) BOBBY FISCHER TEACHES CHESS begins . . . with a 13-page introduction to the rules of chess. This is probably redundant since many chess boards come with a sheet describing the rules.

2) This book has the title that made me think there was covering of all points of chess. But when I got the book Bobby Fischer only sets up positions (and only one per page) where you must find a checkmate that is very, very easy to find. Every page is like this.

3) I thought this book was going to cover a lot of things in chess because is says Bobby Fisher Teaches Chess. Now after looking at it I did not like it because it is very narrow minded and only sets up checkmates that are so easy and there are not a lot of them.

4) The book is insubstantial, cheaply made, and has a weird choice of formatting: only the right-hand pages are used; upon reaching the end of the book, one has to flip the book over and work back through it again.

5) The only thing you need to know about this book is that it has almost nothing to do with Bobby Fischer. It is apparent that the authors had every intention of the average reader seeing Fischer’s name and immediately buying the book.

Teaching readers how to play chess and win games is not controversial. We’re not looking at extra-terrestrial intelligences invading Earth or extremes of politics here. It’s just the game of chess. The many dissatisfied readers of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess—they have been disappointed with actual problems with the book, apparently, and although they are in the minority (53% gave it five stars) it does remain a large minority.

On the positive side, Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess resembles Beat That Kid in Chess in one important way: It teaches the raw beginner by using simple basic examples.

Conclusion

The titles of both books can be misleading, but Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess appears to have a more serious problem. That book is far more narrow than Beat That Kid in Chess, and the title can too easily cause a purchaser to be disappointed that it has nothing to do with the American grandmaster. Beat That Kid in Chess, on the other hand, teaches the reader how to win against an opponent of any age, and it covers a wide range of subjects.

In other words, Beat That Kid in Chess gives the reader more than the title indicates, and Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess can give the reader much less than what was expected.

With all that said, I need to be plain about this double-review: I am Jonathan Whitcomb, the author of Beat That Kid in Chess, so my own opinions obviously may be weighted in favor of BTKC. If you see anything on this post that makes these two books appear similar in quality, then the tie-breaker should therefore go to Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, for that particular subject.

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A Chess Book “for all ages . . . almost”

I wrote Beat That Kid in Chess for a variety of ages. . . . The reading level is for adults and teenagers and some older children.

Best chess book for the early beginner (who knows the rules)

Beat That Kid in Chess gives practically no emphasis on winning a game against a child [the opponent can be of any age]. In that sense, it resembles the book How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, which is not really about how to win against your father. Book titles can be chosen for marketing purposes.

Chess Book for a Novice

“If you know the chess rules but almost nothing about how to win, this book [Beat That Kid in Chess] is for you.”

Teenager Chess Book

The cover seems to show a  young boy and a mom, but the text of  this book is more for the teenager or  adult reading level (or the older child).

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