United States Chess Federation / USCF Chess Life Online / September 2, 2007

By Elizabeth Vicary

For the complete article, see

I work in a public junior high school in Brooklyn NY, teaching a mixture of chess and eighth grade English. This week I've been getting ready for the new school year, trying to plan (roughly) my year's curriculum. In doing so, I'm noticing how much I steal from a relatively small collection of books; this gave me the idea to write an article detailing which ones these are, in the hopes that the list is useful to other chess teachers. I also enjoyed and learned quite a bit myself from these books, and so I also hope a reader with no interest in teaching might get something useful from reading them.

Let me be clear that I am choosing these books specifically for teachers who give group and private lessons. This means they will have material that can be translated into lessons-- ideally into lessons with multiple parts: warm-ups, direct instruction, practice, extended thinking, etc. In addition to giving my thoughts about each book, I often try to describe how I translate these into 45-minute (or longer) classes. The teacher-focus also means that some excellent books for beginners are omitted.
I should say upfront that my personal top ten list is heavily skewed in favor of a few authors. Why? Because great teacher-authors seem to consistently write great books.

#1 Winning Chess Strategy for Kids by Jeff Coakley.

If you are a chess teacher and don't personally own a copy of this book, stop reading the article, and BUY IT RIGHT NOW. This is easily the best instructional chess book that has ever been written (or will ever be written) in English; at least half of my favorite lessons are stolen directly from it. Explanations are clear; the material covered is useful and relevant to beginners; example positions are excellent; and every page has a silly cartoon of a chess piece engaged in some lesson-related activity! In addition to being an extraordinary teacher and engaging writer, Coakley is also a strong player (I think 2300ish), which means his work is mercifully free from error...

(See the complete article on the website for a detailed look at several examples from the book.)

Hard Work Can Be Fun
by Mark Donlan

Excerpts from the book review section of the excellent Chess Cafe website: The complete review can be found at:

... Alexei Shirov succinctly stated in Chess Life magazine that “talent is one thing, hard work is another.” And Jacob Aagaard wrote in Excelling at Chess, “There is no alternative to actually studying chess if you want to become a stronger player.” However, working hard doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and Winning Chess Strategy for Kids is a fun place to start.

This is a comprehensive chess course written for children 7 to 13 years old. The author notes that the division of strategy into three parts is derived from the works of Reuben Fine. It covers the rules of play, basic mates and elementary tactics. Then it leads the student through a whole range of more advanced strategies, including piece development, pawn structure, and attacking the castled king. Finally opening principles, middlegame plans, and endgame techniques are all explained in clear and simple language for easy comprehension.
I have reviewed a number of scholastic chess education products including the TASC training CD and John Bain’s workbooks, but this book is geared towards a child’s independent use more than any other that I have seen. It is designed to keep their interest by presenting the material in a fun as well as informative manner.
_______________________ November 6, 2003

Not Just For Kids!
By John Williams (Abilene, TX)

If you are a dad who wants to teach his child serious chess, here’s your book. If you are a chess coach for an elementary or middle school, you’ve found a mine of information.
Coakley clearly explains the tactics, strategy, and terminology of chess in simple language graced by lots of illustrations and exercises.
While concentrating on middlegame skills, he also covers essential endgame information as well as opening guidelines. This book assumes you already know how the pieces move (although an appendix explains the basics). It is designed to take a beginner to the intermediate level. By working through it, adults as well as kids will acquire the tools of winning chess.
Coakley has put a sophisticated survey of chess principles in a breezy format. But don’t be fooled. If you master the information in this book, you will have become a formidable opponent. This is a valuable book.

Chess In Education
N. Richland Hills, Texas

If you are looking for the perfect book to teach chess from, this is it! It’s fun, easy to read, and easy to use. The 240 pages are packed with illustrations, tactical problems, and 78 lessons that cover everything you need to know to get your chess students off to a great start. Destined to be a classic in the scholastic community.
_______________________ April 28, 2008

Theory and Exercises
By Howard Stevens (New York, NY)

I got this book for my son because it contained a lot of easy to understand explanation along with visuals. My son reads it every day and can spend hours working through the examples and exercises. I enjoy reading it with him and solving the examples with him. This book is a great resource for chess students young and old!
______________________ January 27, 2009

Not Really for Kids
By Howard Goldowsky (Boston, MA)

The only thing about this book "for kids" is the simple verbal explanations and the somewhat random, yet logically progressive, organization of the material. Neither of these issues is a drawback for the adult student; and the simple language is, in fact, welcome in a book that covers such a technical subject as chess strategy. Coakley mixes tactical exercises (typically nine to a page, preceded by three sample exercises for practice) with essays on strategic concepts, along with little vignettes about chess culture. Each section is one to five pages in length. ...

For the stronger player, this books could serve as a nice refresher course in basic chess strategy. The book is complete in its scope and treats sophisticated material in a straightforward way. For the beginner, the book is an excellent introduction to chess strategy, because it ramps-up the technical material in an appropriate manner and includes many topics not covered in less ambitious texts for kids.

Recommended Chess Books
by NM Dan Heisman


Fundamentals for students of all ages. The following four books form a great "set" of basics:

Chess Tactics for Students – John Bain ...
Logical Chess Move by Move - Chernev ...
Everyone’s Second Chess Book – Heisman ...

Winning Chess Strategy for Kids - Coakley
Highly recommended for basic tactics AND strategy- don't be fooled by the "...for Kids". For example, check out the advanced "Steinitzian" concepts on pages 202-204. Also, don't confuse this with the also excellent (and more advanced) 2nd work, "Winning Chess Exercises for Kids" or his newer (and much more basic) "Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids"

See the website for a list and description of all the books recommended by NM Dan Heisman.


8 March 2009
by SmokeJS

I was sitting here earlier thinking about the next two chess books that I'm considering buying when I looked over at the bookshelf in my office and wondered where in the world am I ever going to shelve two more books. Chess has been in my life for about a bit of time now and somehow I've managed to collect about 40 books.
So all of this got me thinking what if I had to cull the chess books down to just five books? Which five would it be? Chernev's Logical Chess for sure. MCO-15 seems like a good choice. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess also works for me. With some Canadian content I think Coakley's Winning Chess Strategy for Kids is one that's essential to every beginning to intermediate player. And last, given I believe studying tactics is crucial I'd go with Bain's Chess Tactics for Students.


Richmond Junior Chess Club
by FM Peter Sowray
I'm from a generation who learnt chess from books, and there are literally thousands to choose from!

Amongst the many beginners / improvers books, the outstanding titles are 3 books by Canadian chess master Jeff Coakley. The striking thing about these books is the enormous amount of material contained in each. There is an emphasis on solving puzzles and each book will provide hours of material for the keen player. The titles are:

  • Winning Chess Puzzles for Kids (the red book)
  • Winning Chess Strategy for Kids (the green book)
  • Winning Chess Exercises for Kids (the blue book)
I would read them in the above order ...

The above books assume that you know the rules of chess, but they do explain chess notation. Highly recommended, but requiring a lot of effort to go through all the material and to get the most out of them.
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