Instructional Chess Books for Christmas 2018

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In this article, I review two instructional chess books published in 2018. Either one would make a great Christmas present! One is aimed at teachers, the other at kids. But both books would benefit chess players, of any age, rated around 600-1300. That rating range includes players who know the rules of chess, have played several complete games, but are still learning tactical themes. Of course, the books could also serve non-rated players, who have played with friends and family but have not earned chess ratings (which are acquired through playing in tournaments).

The Learning Spiral

The Learnign Spiral - A new way to teach and study chess - book cover

The Learning Spiral: A New Way to Teach and Study Chess is written by Kevin Cripe and published by Mongoose Press. Mongoose Press also published two of my books, Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children Ages 5-14 and Prepare With Chess Strategy. I may be biased in favor of Mongoose Press, but the formatting of its books is outstanding. For example, in The Learning Spiral there are huge chess diagrams, oversized font, and plenty of white space. You won’t need your reading glasses or a large-print version, as this book will be pleasing on your eyes. The general format is diagrams with questions underneath them, followed by answer-key pages that repeat the diagrams with explanatory words and variations. A chess set and board are unnecessary, as the variations are short enough to follow in your head. The excerpt provided shows this format. Take a look at Diagram 61:

sample diagram

Many beginners have learned what a fork is, when one chessman attacks two or more enemy chessmen at once. And they also know that knights are great at forking. 1. Nc7 is a fork, so one’s first instinct is to play that fork, expecting to win a rook at the cost of one’s knight. But, as the answer key points out, that would be an error due to 1…Rxe5+ 2. Kxe5 (or dxe5) Kxc7. After those moves, White lost both a knight (worth three pawns) and a bishop (worth three pawns) to gain a rook (worth five pawns). Then Black will have a king and rook versus White’s king and pawn, and Black will win. So the answer to the question “Is 1. Nc7 a good move for White?” is “No.”

Chess Opening Traps for Kids

Chess Opening Traps for Kids - book cover

In contrast to Cripe’s book, Chess Opening Traps For Kids written by FIDE Master Graham Burgess and published by Gambit Publications is ideally read while using a set and board. Most traps don’t arise until at least 8-12 moves into an opening. That’s when this book’s first diagram is for each game, right before the trap. Since I cannot reliably follow 8-12 moves of notation in my head, I played out those initial 8-12 moves using a chess set and board. Playing out the moves gave me hands-on experience with several openings not in my repertoire, which made the effort worthwhile. If one does not have a set and board, one could skip straight to the diagram picturing the trap, consider that diagrammed position, then follow Burgess’s 1-3 moves of post-trap notation and explanations in one’s head.

I learned something mind-blowing from Chess Opening Traps For Kids. According to Burgess, the piece-value chart that I’ve used all my life (including in this article) is wrong! My familiar chart is as follows: a pawn is worth one point, knights and bishops are three points each, a rook is five points, and a queen is nine points. You will find this chart in my books and in many other chess texts, with the caveat that a bishop is actually worth a bit more than three points. Here is Burgess’s chart: a pawn is worth one point, a knight is worth 3.5 points, a bishop is worth a little more than a knight, a rook is worth 5.25 points, and a queen is worth 10 points. Burgess wrote, “These values are the result of a lot of testing” by powerful computer programs.

Santa Claus playing chess

The holiday season is the time to make some chess wishes. Do you wish for these books or for other chess merchandise under your Christmas tree? Leave a comment stating your desired chess books or products and maybe Santa will grant your chess wishes. To increase your odds, link to this article so that Santa, your friends, and your family members learn your Christmas chess wishes! Ho, ho, ho, and happy holidays!

WIM Alexey Root, PhD

Alexey Root is a Woman International Master and the 1989 U.S. Women's chess champion. Her peak US Chess rating was 2260. She has a PhD in education from UCLA. You can find her books on chess on Amazon.com.

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