Chess Books: Old and New

Brief Reviews by Jonathan Whitcomb

Modern Chess Opening Traps

This is an old chess book, written by William Lombardy, the same grandmaster who coached Bobby Fischer and kept him in the World Championship match (1972) so that Fischer won that title, becoming the first official American World Chess Champion. Modern Chess Opening Traps can be a valuable book for tournament players and chess club competitors, although it is written in the old descriptive notation. This is too advanced for a raw beginner.

Book written by Grandmaster Lombardy

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Beat That Kid in Chess

This book for chess beginners, written in 2015, may be the first one written with the new NIP system of chess instruction. Nearly identical positions—that helps the player learn to think tactically, more like a master calculates tactics. The reader need know nothing about the teaching method itself, for it works naturally: under the surface. Similar positions have different tactical potential, allowing the chess student to see exactly what is possible in each setting.

One reader said the following in an Amazon customer review:

We liked that the first chapter in this book was on Checkmate. My daughter has been playing chess since she was four, but she would still struggle with finding checkmate when it was possible for her. As we went through this book, I set up the board according to the diagrams shown, and we worked together on finding checkmate when it was available. I think this provided a good confidence boost for her, and this added confidence helped give her the motivation to want to keep learning and discovering how to spot the sorts of moves that would eventually lead her to a possible checkmate during a game.

Beat That Kid in Chess is not really about competing with a child, for age is actually of little consequence when a beginner plays another novice competitor. The reading level is more for adults and teenagers, although some older elementary school children could benefit. Younger kids may also get a lot from this new chess book, if an adult helps (as noted above).

"Beat That Kid in Chess" by Whitcomb

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Think Like a Grandmaster

This old chess book was translated into English in 1971 and was written by Grandmaster Alexander Kotov. This is not for a beginner, but many tournament players may find this book especially helpful in avoiding time trouble by logical calculating of different variation possibilities over the board. The following is taken from page 28:

You simply must not wander to and fro, here and there through the branches, losing time in checking. . . . Better to suffer the consequences of an oversight than suffer from foolish and panicky disorder in analysis.

"Think Like a Grandmaster" chess book

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1.e4 vs The Sicilian II

This new chess book is not likely to be very helpful to most beginners, for specific-opening books are generally most useful to tournament players, rather than novices. This publication, written by Parimarjan Negi (a grandmaster from India) has very few descriptions on the Amazon page, as of mid-March, 2016, and not yet any customer review.

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New Chess Book for Beginners

‘You may notice that many diagrams are nearly identical, something rarely encountered in most chess books. You need to get used to those small differences that are so important in chess games. How critical can be the smallest difference! This approach can help you to think like a tournament player, in the sense of diving into a chess position as if it had never come up before . . .’

Best New Chess Book for the Beginner

A new chess teaching method, in this new book, sets it apart from all other chess books:  N.I.P.* training for tactics. This natural method develops the mind in seeing the relevant details in positions. It avoids the weakness that can be prevalent in many chess books, in which a tactic can so easily be accidentally associated with some general form of the position. [NIP: nearly-identical positions]

Fifth and Sixth Grade Chess Championship in Utah

The state elementary school chess championship was held at the University of Utah, on Saturday, March 12, 2016, and was directed by Bill Clark, with a number of assistants. The official time control listed for this chess tournament was game-in-30-minutes with no time delay, but it appears that chess clocks were not generally used.

Chess Book for the Raw Beginner

The paperback Beat That Kid in Chess was published by Createspace on September 2, 2015 . . . This book can take you into a level that should help you defeat many beginners, at least sometimes. In other words, you will no longer be a raw beginner and will instead be able to defeat [novice opponents], at least more often than you lose.

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Chess Book Reviews – Beginners

Most of the thousands of books on chess have been written for players who have already advanced beyond the beginner stage. For those with little experience in winning chess games, most of those books would be of little use, for they best fulfill their purposes in teaching those who sometimes win to gain more victories. Let’s now consider resources available for the novice, the player who rarely (if ever) has won, resources in reviews of publications for beginners.

Mini-reviews of three chess books

The following are NOT pseudo-beginner-chess-books (to the best of my knowledge), meaning the cover gives the impression it is for beginners but it’s really too advanced for most novices. On the contrary, these appear to be chess books for REAL beginners.

Four Short Chess-Book Reviews

  • How to Beat Your Dad at Chess (1998)
  • Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games (2013)
  • Beat That Kid in Chess (2015)
  • 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations (1969)

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Chess book resources for beginners and intermediate players

This also includes access to information on queen-vs-rook endgames, tactics, and tournaments for children

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New teaching method in the book Beat That Kid in Chess

How does an average non-genius learn how to win a game of chess? The tradition method for a beginner is quite simple: Play chess games and learn by experience. Reading a chess book is the second most popular way for a novice to learn, but that does not usually work as well, for most chess books are not for beginners but for players of mid-level abilities at least.

Tactics Taught in Chess Books

The concepts of tactical motifs can certainly be learned through proper study from the best literature on the royal game. Applying those concepts in a game, however, is not so simple, for it requires practice and self evaluation. We often learn best from our mistakes.

Two brief book reviews

This divides chess beginners into three groups and explains how the choice of a chess book depends on how the reader might fit into one of those groups. The books reviewed are Chess for Children and Beat That Kid in Chess, which are for different kinds of readers.

Two Books: How to Beat Your Dad at Chess and Beat That Kid in Chess

The first is not really about defeating your father; the second is not really about defeating a kid. Both are exceptional at teaching you to win a chess game . . .

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A Chess Book as a Gift

Most chess books are purchased by the players who use them, rather than by those giving them as gifts. One exception is a gift-book for a beginner. A new entry in that genre is Beat That Kid in Chess. We’ll now compare it to an older book, Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors. One thing these dissimilar books have in common is a misleading title: The age of the reader (or the age of one’s competitor) has almost no relevance. Many adults and teenagers, and some talented older children, could benefit from one of these two books. Which one is best—that depends on the chess skills the player already has.

Basic Approach to the Chess Beginner

Beat That Kid in Chess is strictly and clearly for the “early” beginner, the chess player who knows the rules but would like to learn how to win, at least win some games, rather than lose all the time. The back cover says:

Do you know the rules but almost nothing more about chess? This is the best book for the early beginner. . . . Checkmate, pin, knight fork—those are demonstrated and explained, but how much more is given to you in this chess book for early beginners!

Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors, on the other hand, does not appear to actually be for beginners, at least not for the raw beginner; it’s more for talented and experienced young players. In fact, the back cover says:

At some point in every strong chess player’s career, [he or she] stopped and made a deliberate study of tactics. A skilled tactical player can reach the Class “A” or even Expert level with only limited opening and endgame knowledge. No amount of opening or endgame study, on the other hand, can make a good chessplayer out of a weak tactician.

Basic Content of Each Book

Beat That Kid in Chess has a great variety of subjects, selected for the early beginner in chess to quickly learn what is most needful in winning a game.

  • Basic chess terms
  • Brief introduction to notation
  • Checkmate patterns and principles
  • “Power Grabbing” (gaining a material advantage)
  • Defending your king position
  • Tactics of knight fork, discovered attack, and pin
  • The order of what to look for in a chess position
  • Simple endgame instructions
  • Simple middle game instructions
  • Simple opening instructions
  • Simple exercises
  • Advanced exercises (still for beginners)

Beat That Kid in Chess

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Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors

Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors, on the other hand, has 534 chess problems for the reader to solve. That can do wonders for an intermediate player who wants to advance in tournament-competition results. But few of those problems are suitable to most beginners, many of the puzzles being multi-move tactical finesses that are way beyond the ability of a raw beginner.

Conclusion

If you’re a low-level beginner or will be giving a chess book to such a player, Beat That Kid in Chess is best, regardless of the age of the opponent.

If you’re an intermediate-level player, capable of winning at least one game in a tournament, Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors may be helpful to you, regardless of your age (or lack thereof).

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New Chess Book for the Beginner

If used as a gift, this new chess book may be more likely to please the recipient, compared with other books on the royal game. The main requirement is that the reader is a true beginner in chess . . .

Chess Book for a Teenager

The reading level is teenager/adult, although some twelve-year-olds could understand and enjoy it [referring to the new book “Beat That Kid in Chess”].

New Chess Books for Beginners and More Advanced Players

Three publications: authors are David Smerdon, Jonathan Whitcomb, and Gawain Jones

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Chess Books on Tactics

four chess books on tactics

Brief Overview of these Four Chess Books

How to Beat Your Dad at Chess is confined almost entirely to checkmating patterns. If you’ve played many games of chess and win at least 40%-60% of them, this could benefit you, helping you win more games. But it’s not for the raw beginner.

Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games is a vast collection, focusing more on quantity than on quality. Like How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, it’s more for the intermediate-level player than for the beginner.

Beat That Kid in Chess is for the player who knows how to move the pieces around but has never, or almost never, won a game of chess. Its content is true to that form: for the “raw” beginner to learn how to win. It concentrates on simple tactics.

The older book 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations—that’s a large collection of tactical problems, with 1001 solutions at the end of the book, fortunately. It’s not for a beginner but for the intermediate competitor.

Examples of Chess Puzzles Found in These Books

How to Beat Your Dad at Chess

tactic in a chess position

Diagram 1: White to move (a multi-move tactical combination)

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Chess: 5334 Problems, Combination and Games (No position is displayed on the Amazon page, so no chess-puzzle example can be shown here, from this book of thousands of puzzles, tactical combinations, and games)

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Beat That Kid in Chess

White's move in this endgame of chess

Diagram 2: White to move (a simple application of a tactic)

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1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations

neat tactic but way beyond a beginner

Diagram 3: White to move (too difficult for a beginner)

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Reviews of Three Chess Books

. . . three chess books, each of them appearing, from the cover, to be for children. The ideal ages for readers of these books, however, may surprise you.

Chess Books for Novices

These appear to be chess books for REAL beginners. . . . three in alphabetical order of the title . . .

A Chess Book for raw Beginners

Beat That Kid in Chess easily leads you into the most important tactics that win games. It uses the new NIP system of chess instruction, perhaps used in no previous book on the royal game

Best Chess Book for Beginners Who Already Know the Rules

This instructional chess book is best for the “raw” beginner, the novice who knows how the pieces move but wants to actually win a game.

Kids’ Chess Books

I found several publications that could be very beneficial for children. Since these books do not appear to be directly competing with mine [Beat That Kid in Chess], I feel no hesitancy in mentioning them.

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Avoiding Common Mistakes in Chess

Two Examples of Mistakes in an Amateur Game

The following two blunders were made in the same informal game, in Magna, Utah, in October of 2015. The first error was by White; the second, by Black. But those two mistakes have one thing in common, and this is rarely covered in chess books.

The black knight is being kicked out

Diagram-1  after White moved a3, attacking the black knight at b4

In Diagram-1, White has just advanced the pawn that was near the lower left corner. That pawn is now attacking the black knight on the left side of the board, but we need to take this in context. White’s previous move was Ne1, putting a knight onto a square that would prevent the black knight from forking the white queen and a rook.

How does that knight move relate to the mistake that White will soon make? When the black knight was on c6, near the black queen, it was attacking the white pawn at d4. That was no problem at the time, for White had a knight at f3, helping to protect that white pawn. Both the black knight and white knight moved away from those attacking and defending squares. But now that the black knight is attacked by that pawn near the lower left corner it will return to c6 and again be attacking the white pawn at d4. That should have been noticed by White.

Black now has three pieces attacking White's pawn at d4

Diagram-2  after Black moved Nc6

Black’s knight was attacked by the pawn White had moved to a3, so it moved to c6. White saw that move only as a defensive response by his opponent. He failed to see that Black now had three pieces attacking White’s pawn at d4, and White has only two pieces defending it.

White now made a long-term strategic-type move: Kh2. It would better prepare for the advance of the pawn at d4 to d5, for the king would then be defending the pawn at a3, in case the bishop at g2 needed to move up the diagonal towards d5. But Kh2 was a blunder, a narrow-minded move. White would have been much better to move Nf3, defending the pawn at d4 or advancing it immediately to d5.

This kind of error is not examined in most chess books, especially if the author is a grandmaster. Yet this concept is critical in over-the-board competition, whether the players are beginners or more advanced in their abilities.

White forgot to protect the pawn on d4

Diagram-3  after the black knight captured the pawn on d4

After White moved Kh2 (failing to see the need to defend a pawn), Black captured that pawn on d4, and White advanced his rook from d1 to d2, preparing to double rooks on the d-file. Black should now support that knight at d4 by moving c5 or e5, protecting it with a pawn. That knight at d4 has a great outpost, for White cannot attack it with a pawn.

Instead, black responded with a blunder, a long-term strategic-type move: Qg2. It freed the knight from a pin and the potential future pressure that could come from White’s doubling of rooks on the d-file.

White can capture the knight at d4

Diagram-4  after Black moved Qg7

White now has two pieces attacking a Black knight that is protected by only one piece. Black made a very similar blunder to White’s. And just as Black took advantage of White’s error, White takes advantage of Black’s.

Black left a piece en prize

Diagram-5  White captured the knight on d4

Interesting to note, the blunder by Black was only two moves after White’s and on the same square. It was a tit-for-tat comedy of errors. Some experienced chess players would brush off those mistakes as common beginner blunders, but this game, in its earlier stages, had an absence of such mistakes. Both players were quite experienced amateurs.

Blunders—Why?

To best understand why we blunder in chess, we need to know something about the best way to search during a chess game. Searching while playing? Yes, we always do that, although the word searching may not come to mind. During the game, we’re always looking for something.

In the chess book for beginners Beat That Kid in Chess, it says:

In a chess game, when it’s your turn to move, what should you look for
first? Here’s the order for an early beginner:
1) Can you make an immediate checkmate?
2) Is your opponent threatening you with an immediate checkmate?
3) Can you set up a potential checkmate?
4) Can you win material?
5) Is your opponent threatening to win material?

In fact, if you play better than an early beginner, even much better, the above order is probably close to what you need. But there’s another way of searching during a chess game.

When your opponent makes a move, it generally opens up new move possibilities for that piece. In particular, that piece sometimes attacks one of your pieces or threatens to move to a square that forks two of your pieces or pins one of them or makes another tactical threat. The immediate response to your opponent’s move should be automatic: What is my opponent threatening by that?

Of course that sense of awareness can be taken to extremes. If your opponent makes a move that allows you to checkmate him or her in one move, make that winning move and win the game. It matters not what your opponent’s move appeared to threaten when it allowed you to win the game with one move.

The big point is tactics. They should be first priority before looking into deep strategic needs.

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Beginner Chess Books

The following are NOT pseudo-beginner-chess-books (to the best of my knowledge) . . . these appear to be chess books for REAL beginners.

Avoiding Chess Blunders

Your chess rating is not only an indication of your ability to find good moves. It’s just as much an indication of your ability to avoid mistakes.

Book for Chess Beginners

The book [“Beat That Kid in Chess”] trains the “early beginner” in the most basic tactics and winning methods, regardless of the age of the chess opponent

Best Chess Book for the Beginners

One estimate for the number of chess books published (in history) is about 100,000. Probably less than 10% of those were written for the raw beginner

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Chess Books for Children

While marketing my chess book (and researching potential competition for my Beat That Kid in Chess), I found several publications that could be very beneficial for children. Since these books do not appear to be directly competing with mine, I feel no hesitancy in mentioning them.

On the other hand, for those chess books that do appear to compete with mine head-to-head . . . I will be silent, for they get enough attention as it is, and I still believe that Beat That Kid in Chess is the best book for its intended readers.

Chess is Child’s Play: Teaching Techniques That Work

This book helps parents and other adults to teach chess to children. Taking a brief look at some of the pages, I found Chess is Child’s Play to be a wonderful promotion of the benefit of becoming engaged in this game. Indeed, for its intended audience, it may be the best chess book, but keep in mind that this really is for adults who want to effectively teach chess to children; it’s not for handing over to a four-year-old. To illustrate that, consider these brief excerpts:

Page 12-13

. . . Throughout life, one of the most valuable skills a person can have is the ability to solve problems. Parents want their children to be able to find and select the best solutions for every given situation they will encounter out in the real world.

A weaker mind waits for others to solve problems for them. Such individuals lack the courage and skill to implement their own ideas. They become dependent upon others to solve their problems.

As a chess player you face your opponent one-on-one. No one is allowed to whisper answers into your ear, or feed you game-winning moves.

Your child will start recognizing patterns. Children who have this ability are less likely to make the same mistake twice. They tend to learn from their errors. . . .

Page 14-15

. . . In a world where children are often ignored and devalued, chess gives them a tremendous edge. Over the board, each player has a truly equal opportunity to come out ahead. There is no bias for age or physical size. You win because you outplay your opponent. . . .

Chess players learn to think outside the box.

If we’re going to solve some of the enormous problems this world has, our children must be able to think outside the box. They will need to come up with many innovative solutions.

Chess-is-Childs-Play

Chess is Child’s Play (by Sherman and Kilpatrick)

This hardcover has 304 pages and is published by Mongoose Press (April 16, 2012). The price offered on Amazon on October 15, 2015 was $15.11. Of the 64 reader reviews on Amazon, 84% were 5-star rated.

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The Kids’ Book of Chess and Chess Set

This is an updated and newly-illustrated version of the 1970 publication Illustrated Chess for Children. This new edition comes with a chess set. In contrast with Chess is Child’s Play, this one is directly for kids: You can hand it over to a child 8-12 years old and it should be a delight to the young reader.

Probably few chess books have been praised in the School Library Journal, yet that’s the case with The Kid’s Book of Chess. Here’s a excerpt from that review:

Grade 4 Up– Instead of technical language and difficult diagrams, The Kids’ Book of Chess explains all the basic elements of the game in a colorful, dramatic story of the medieval battlefield that the chessboard represents. All the pieces from pawn to king are introduced according to the role they play in the chess game and compared to their actual role in medieval life. How to begin the game, move the pieces, and develop a winning strategy are well described in clear, simple text; accurate diagrams; and delightful illustrations of medieval life. . . .

cover of the chess set for kids

The Kids’ Book of Chess and Chess Set

This paperback of 96 pages is published by Workman Publishing Company (January 11, 1990). The price offered on Amazon on October 16, 2015 was $15.36 (including a chess set). Of the 62 reader reviews on Amazon, 65% were 5-star rated.

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Beat That Kid in Chess: For the early beginner to win games

My book is for the raw beginner who already knows the rules, in contrast with The Kid’s Book of Chess and Chess is Child’s Play, both of which devote many pages to the rules of the game. Yet there’s another difference. Beat That Kid in Chess is not for an average child 4-8 years old; it’s for older children, teenagers, and adults. Consider these excerpts from the back cover.

Do you know the rules but almost nothing more about chess? This is the best book for the early beginner . . . How few chess books are for the raw beginner! How few of them concentrate on what the early beginner needs the most! . . . Checkmate, pin, knight fork—those are demonstrated and explained, but how much more is given to you in this chess book for early beginners!

This may be the only chess book that regularly uses the new teaching method called nearly-identical positions (NIP). This makes it easier for the beginner to see a chess position more like an intermediate tournament player would see it. It makes tactics easier to notice and mistakes less likely.

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:

This book can take you into a level that should help you defeat many beginners, at least sometimes. In other words, you will no longer be a raw beginner and will instead be able to defeat raw beginners, at least more often than you lose. And it may be easier than you think.

"Beat That Kid in Chess" by Whitcomb

Beat That Kid in Chess

This paperback of 194 pages is published through Createspace (September 2, 2015). The price offered by Amazon on October 16, 2015 was $13.40.

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Beginner Chess Books

Regardless of how many chess books may be similar to mine in various ways, I doubt that even one of them is equal to BTKC in following this new training method for developing tactical skill. Yet the following two publications may be worthy of consideration, in their own right.

Review of Some of the Best Chess Books

The following five chess books were chosen, for this review, not for head-to-head competition but for comparing different skill levels of chess players.

A Queen Versus Rook Endgame of Chess

Let’s look at the standard winning method against the Third Rank Defense in the queen versus rook end game. This is a challenging defense to break down.

Play Chess to Win

Teamwork really counts —  Try to get your pieces to work together

Beat That Kid in Chess – for Beginners

The book trains the “early beginner” in the most basic tactics and winning methods, regardless of the age of the chess opponent.

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Three Chess Books for Real Beginners

I’ve been promoting my own chess book (for novices) for several weeks now: Beat That Kid in Chess. So why would I mention two competing books on the royal game, both of them for beginners? Mine could be the only one ever written that uses a new teaching method called nearly-identical positions. Regardless of how many chess books may be similar to mine in various ways, I doubt that even one of them is equal to BTKC in following this new training method for developing tactical skill. Yet the following two publications may be worthy of consideration, in their own right.

The following are NOT pseudo-beginner-chess-books (to the best of my knowledge), meaning the cover gives the impression it is for beginners but it’s really too advanced for most novices. On the contrary, these appear to be chess books for REAL beginners. We’ll consider these three in alphabetical order of the title, which puts my own book first, I’m happy to say.

Included are promotional phrases, along with an Amazon reader review. If one of these two brief reviews of publications of my competitors causes someone to buy one of them, instead of my book, I’ll still survive . . . somehow.

Beat That Kid in Chess

"Beat That Kid in Chess" by Whitcomb

This chess book is balanced in depth and breadth, with lessons on how to checkmate your opponent, gain a material advantage over another beginner, promote a pawn to a queen, pin one of your opponent’s pieces, make a knight fork, avoid becoming checkmated, and much more. It emphasizes what a beginner most needs to know and understand, as soon as possible.

194 pages; published in 2015

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Chess for Beginners: A Picture Guide Including Photographs and Diagrams for Self-Teaching

Al Horowitz chess book

In this book, I. A. Horowitz, Chess Editor of the New York Times and former U.S. Open Champion, applies some of the ideas and convictions acquired from thirty-five years of playing, teaching and analyzing the royal game. He emphasizes the tactical aspects of the game: how to recognize the big chance and hit hard when it occurs.

144 pages; published in 1992

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How To Play Chess For Beginners: Tips & Strategies To Win At Chess

chess book by Joe Carlton

I recently started playing chess . . . and although I found the learning curve quite hard at first, I can definitely say that I picked up on it quite a bit. . . . I picked up this book in an attempt to learn some new strategies and tricks and I can truly say that it has improved my game substantially. [reader-review: Lucidity]

118 pages; published in 2014

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A Book for Chess Beginners – Tactical

‘Beat That Kid in Chess’ has one thing missing in other chess books for the beginner: the NIP system of teaching (nearly-identical positions), which naturally strengthens the beginner’s tactical abilities.

Quoting From Chess Books

I must tell you something I’ve learned over the past half century: If your opponent has both a greater natural ability at chess and a greater drive to win, expect to lose at least a few games. [The study of chess theory will then probably help you but little.]

Queen Vs Rook End Games for Beginners

Many chess end game positions can be challenging, especially with queen versus rook. But Beginning Chess really is for beginners, so let’s look at easy puzzles with simple tactics.

New Book for Chess Beginners

This approach [the “nearly-identical positions” training method] can help you to think like a tournament player, in the sense of diving into a chess position as if it had never come up before . . .

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