Wrong Books (3): My System

It’s getting on for a century old now, but Nimzowitsch’s My System is still often recommended as a good book on positional chess for intermediate players.

I’m not at all convinced that it’s the best choice, though.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re interested in the development of chess ideas over the past 100, or even 200 years, it’s essential reading: without doubt it’s one of the most important books in the history of chess.

Nimzo was an idiosyncratic writer with, perhaps, an inflated sense of his own importance. You may love his style of writing, or you may hate it: not everyone will appreciate his arrogance and egotism. While I enjoyed the games section at the end, I found the book as a whole to be too verbose to be a useful learning tool. While much of what he wrote about is still valid – and important – today, he also oversold some of his more controversial ideas. If you like his style you might also want to read Chess Praxis, a games collection explaining his ideas in practice. I’m not the only one who prefers this book to My System. If you want a more contemporary look at Nimzo, you should also read Ray Keene’s excellent Aron Nimzowitch: a Reappraisal, but even that is now almost half a century old. There have been more recent works as well, but I’m not in a position to comment on them.

However, first recommendations should perhaps be less controversial and more recent. We know a lot more about chess now than we did in the 1920s, and also a lot more about teaching and learning. Many current authors, though, know a great deal about chess but not so much about educational theory.

If you want a good book on positional chess for this level, a much safer recommendation would be Simple Chess, by Michael Stean. (Declaration of interest: I used to know Michael and his family well: we played for the same club and I was also at school with him.) This book explains positional ideas clearly and simply, in a way that everyone can understand and benefit from. It’s still more than 40 years old, though, and chess has moved on in many ways since then. Having said that, my view is that top level GM games from the past 40 years or so are, for the most part, too complex to be used for higher intermediate level (1500-2000) positional instruction. You really want thematic games where the winner was successful because his opponent only realised too late what was happening: and, in contemporary practice, these games are not so easy to find.

Another possible recommendation, aimed at a slightly lower level (1000-1500) – in many ways still excellent, but in other ways hopelessly dated – would be Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move, which I might possibly write about in future.

If you can think of any suitable titles, please let me know. I’m looking for books aimed at players between 1000 and 2000 strength which are written with clarity and simplicity, with neither too many words nor a host of engine-generated variations, where the authors understand what their readers will and will not know, which are free of major analytical errors, which are annotated objectively rather than by result or by computer, and which, ideally, are based on current ideas concerning both chess and educational theory.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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