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Essential classical chess books that you must read (I)

by Srikanth Govindaseshan - 22/06/2017

Chess literature is humongous and rich. There are hundreds of classical books written by the great masters of the past which have so much to teach us. The problem is we are so involved with engines and opening theory that we devote absolutely no time to developing our classical knowledge about the game. In this series, experienced Chennai chess mentor Srikanth Govindaseshan brings in front of you his all time favourite classical books and tells you why you should be reading them.

Introduction to the series

By IM Sagar Shah


I went to Chennai on the 5th of June for the wedding of my friends GM Vishnu Prasanna and WIM Raghavi Nagarajan. The wedding was early in the morning and we were done with the celebrations by 10 a.m. The reception ceremony was supposed to begin at 7 p.m. in the evening. I had nine hours to kill. It was then that I got an invitation to the house of three true chess lovers - IM V. Saravanan, Srikanth Govindaseshan and Ganesh Dorairaj. And although the wedding was memorable, these nine hours showed me a completely a new side towards how someone can love the game of chess.

Saravanan, Kidambi, Srikanth and Ganesh
IM Saravanan's collection of books. Mind you, there are three layers of books behind the ones you can see.
Srikanth Govindaseshan's collection is even bigger!
I was of the opinion that when it came to chess literature I was quite well read. I had good knowledge about the classics (In fact, I even made a DVD for ChessBase on that subject) and I kept myself updated with every new book or DVD that was published. However, a few hours spent with Saravanan, Srikanth and Ganesh was enough to wipe off this thought! They would pull out a book from their shelf and ask me if I had read it and I would say "No!". Then another, and another, and my answer would be the same! This went on for quite some time and I realized there were so many classical books that were pure gems, and I had absolutely never heard about them!
Saravanan and Ganesh looking at "an ancient chess book" with great interest!
Srikanth (right) gave us a position from the game of Sultan Khan, who was black. In case you can see the board, try to find an interesting move for black.
When I would open any of the books I would see lines of wisdom written all over them. Here was a group of chess lovers who were not discussing Elo or rankings, but actual chess moves and games. Here were three gentlemen whose main aim was to enjoy the beauty of chess and not indulge in the result. A completely new side to the way chess can be studied was shown to me.


If I hadn't read the books, there was a good chance that a lot of people in India and all over the world had never been exposed to such rich classical chess literature. I must let people know about these great books, I thought to myself. With this aim in mind, I asked Srikanth to give me a list of classical books that he thought were essential for an ambitious chess player to improve.


In a day or two I received a mail from Srikanth with the names of 145 classical books that he considered important! Yes, you read it right! 145! And when I went through the list I realized that each one is a special book. However, just heaping 145 book names, on you, dear reader, will not help. The aim with this series is to educate you about the classical books written by the old masters of the past that are very much relevant even in this present day. Reading them will help you build a strong base which will not be affected by the omnipresent computer evaluations.


The aim of the series on classical books that Srikanth will write about is simple - it is to inspire you to pick up these forgotten beauties of chess that will help you to become a stronger chess player.


And today we begin with Srikanth's favourite! It was not an easy choice for him! He says, "But let me confess that when I pick a favourite, there are 10 others which come and stare straight at my face demanding, "WHY" and "Why not them"! That is the sort of quandary one finds when it comes to the great treasure trove that we are left with in chess!"
GM Vishnu Prasanna discussing his favourite classical book with Ganesh and Srikanth, just minutes after he got married!

Essential classical chess books that you must read

By Srikanth Govindaseshan

"Chess Struggle in practice - Tournament book on Zurich 1953" by David Bronstein

This is my copy of the Zurich 1953 book, which I have read so many times, that I don't remember the count!

In the preface to this book, the editor wrote thus: "The author has set himself a difficult task: to create an original textbook on the middlegame out of the material of an international tournament of grandmasters" and this underlines the basis on which this book attained its stardom!

The crosstable of the Zurich Candidates 1953, which was won by Smyslov. The author of the book finished second.

Bronstein is known for his original concepts, and the way he perceives chess is very unique, and through his games and his annotations he strives to lift the game of chess to art status! In this book, you will not find detailed analysis of moves and variations - which are futile when it comes to understanding the game and how the play evolves and advances in a game. What Bronstein does is to bring out the essence of the struggle in the various phases of the game through his deep insight which he explains verbally and in easily understandable language (though it is translated from Russian).

Szabo - Geller

The game that explains the weakness of dark and light squares

In the very first game from this tournament, played between Szabo - Geller, he deals with "dark square weakness" and explains how it impacts the pieces on the light squares too! Like many concepts in chess, chess players have no lack of knowledge of principles of play and the various concepts; but find it difficult to apply it practically. It is a common knowledge that even great players commit mistakes which lead to weakening pivotal squares. This leads to lesser mobility for one's own pieces and renders one impotent to prevent opponent's pieces from moving freely, targeting those weak squares or using them as outposts and launch pad.


If one has to understand the King's Indian Defence and the Nimzo Indian Defence, there cannot be a better place to start than acquainting oneself with reading this book thoroughly as there are more than 50 games each played in these openings and Bronstein has commented very deeply about their secrets.

Stahlberg - Boleslavsky

The King's Indian structure with weakness on d6 being compensated by the activity of black pieces 

For example, in the King's Indian, we all know about the 'dynamic weakness' of the backward d6 pawn in many variations. Bronstein demystifies the secret of this backward d-pawn and its dynamic potentials in his comments after Black's 23rd move in the Stahlberg vs Boleslavsky game.


He further demonstrated the dynamism of this plan and how the play is conducted in such positions through his game against Reshevsky (position given below). Who can forget the precursor to this theme....his games against Zita and Pachmann in 1946.


Reshevsky - Bronstein

Bronstein was well known for his games in the King's Indian

Everybody would have heard about blockade - and learnt the theory by its propounder Nimzowitsch in his "My system". What can be a better example and a practical education of this theme than the game played by Gligoric against Kotov and that too through the poetic words of Bronstein!


Kotov - Gligoric


Gligoric sacrifices two pawns to create a blockade on dark squares. An amazing game!

Throughout the book, Bronstein keeps emphasising on the fundamental aspects of the game and his focus is on bringing out the aesthetic appeal that the game offers us both in the moves that were actually played or in his comments if it is hidden in the variation when a side fails to play it. 

Euwe vs Taimanov

Position after 28 moves

Position after 32 moves!

Do you wonder how that little pawn on 'h3' triumphantly marched to 'h7' unscathed in the above picture!? There are innumerable such wonders strewn over the entire book which are both instructive and provide us with immense joy!

The book is poetic, but as one has to keep re-reading poetry many times to understand its beauty and grasp its essence, so here, one needs to keep repeatedly viewing the game with the comments to understand the concepts and beauty better!

If I have to deal deeper, this exercise itself will turn into a book! One thing is sure, you cannot help getting better after you work on this book and the least that I can guarantee is that you will be filled with great joy of reading a masterpiece!

 The great "Devik", as Bronstein was affectionately called, has left us with this gem which must be read at all costs by any serious chess player. 

Buy David Bronstein's Zurich 1953 from Amazon India for just Rs.699/-


About the author:

Govindaseshan Srikanth is a native of Chennai, with Tamil as his mother tongue and English as his favourite language of expression. He was a contemporary of Vishy Anand during their teens and early 20s days at the Tal Chess Club at the Soviet Cultural Centre, Chennai. He now works with strong grandmasters like Sundararajan Kidambi, Vishnu Prasanna and helps them to uncover their full chess potential.


A keen reader of varied subjects as philosophy, science, literature, neurology and Hindu spiritualism, Srikanth – Sri to his friends – is a connoisseur of Karnataka Samgita or Indian Carnatic music, one of the richest and most ancient classic music forms in the world. You can contact Srikanth on his mail id.

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