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How to read Jacob’s books

I get a few emails/facebook messages every week, asking questions, coming with suggestions and so on. In general, I prefer to receive them on the blog, so my answers can be seen by anyone who is interested, so they can work out for themselves which direction is right for them.

A few days ago I got the following email, which is quite typical, as is my answer, even though I went into extra detail this time around. With permission I post it here for anyone who are interested…

Dear sir,

My name is xxx xxx, aged 1x years and my elo is 21xx. I have bought a couple of books this month authored by you. I want to know which book should I start reading first. The books are:

Excelling at technical chess

Excelling at chess

Excelling at chess calculation

Attacking manuals 1 and 2

Inside the chess mind

Grandmaster versus amateur

Practical chess defense

Grandmaster preparation series-

Positional play

Strategic play

Calculation

Regards,

xxx xxx

xxx, India.

My answer:

Dear xxx

First off, Inside the Chess Mind and Grandmaster vs. Amateur can be read for fun and totally out of sequence. The same goes to some extent for Excelling at Chess, which is mainly meant to inspire.

Excelling at Chess Calculation is the place I would start. Read it carefully. The exercises are not that great; I could skip them.

Then move on to Calculation. The chapters are created with more and more difficult exercises. Once you get stuck; go to the next chapter. The attitude in solving is important. Do it like it is important!

Once you are well into Calculation, you can start working on Positional Play as well. Work on them side by side. It does not matter which one you do most of, but do some of each. Calculation is later replaced by Practical Chess Defence and Positional Play by Strategic Play. Of all of these books, Calculation and Positional Play are the most important to really understand well.

You can read Attacking Manual 1 and 2 when your solving is getting steady. (If you do an hour a day, you will see rapid progress. Everyone who works with these books seriously have made big progress; including in India). Attacking Manual 1 works well together with Attack and Defence. Read AM1 and get A&D; but first go through the other books. You can always read Attacking Manual 1 more than once. Actually, I strongly recommend it.

Excelling at Technical Chess can be read later; it works well Endgame Play, which is also not on your list.

And please read Thinking Inside the Box when it comes out. It will tie all of the books together.

If you go through all of these books in the way I describe, you will have more effective training than most young chess players in the World. It is by no means easy and it requires a lot of effort. But I think the examples are aesthetically pleasing and the process SHOULD be fun and interesting. If it is not, please think about how you can make it more fun. To work with a friend is often a good way. Most progress for most people come when they are working in a group in one way or another.

I do plan on coming on a book tour of Asia in the spring, hopefully around mid-April. The main stop will obviously be India, where I have many friends and where a lot of people have expressed appreciation for my work. I hope to meet you at one of the lectures/training seminars I will be running giving then.

I also strongly recommend reading my two books written together with Boris Gelfand and published under his name. An Indian GM and friend of mine called the first one: “something truly special…” It is for others to decide if he is right. I definitely think it is worth reading… Also, if you go to our blog, you will find some videos I made together with Boris at the end of July this year. One of them shows how we created the books, the two others are Q&A.

I hope this was helpful.

Jacob

I should add to this that the Quality Chess Puzzle Book easily fits into the Grandmaster Preparation series. The exercises were collected and analysed by me and the book finished by John, so that the tone is his, but the structure and ideas are mine and the direction something John and I have always worked together on. Those wondering where the difference is between John and me (none I presume), should know that there is no real difference. We work together and our stuff is always a collaboration.

 

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  1. pabstars
    September 5th, 2016 at 09:04 | #1

    Thanks for your great description, Jacob! I’m really looking forward to re-reading your books when I have finished the Yusupov-series which is super good too. Keep up with the good work 🙂

  2. Jacob Aagaard
    September 5th, 2016 at 10:49 | #2

    @pabstars
    The Yusupov series is where I would send 75% of people…

  3. Will
    September 5th, 2016 at 10:54 | #3

    Jacob,

    Thanks for sharing that informative email with everyone here. I have asked for the Yusupov series for my birthday, so hope to have that soon. I intend to study it in its entirety, even if some material in the earlier books might be a bit below my level (~2100). Where would you slot the Yusupov books into the above training plan?

    Cheers,

    Will

  4. FredPhil
    September 5th, 2016 at 13:18 | #4

    Could someone recall me where is the discussion about time studing opening compared to the total time according to the ELO?
    Thank’s

  5. Richard Martin
    September 5th, 2016 at 14:50 | #5

    Speaking for myself, Yusopov has complemented my studies with Aagaards books. I can tell that my thought process is changing and chess is getting simpler. I finally made it too book 7! Also the revision and exam is awesome. I like how hard those puzzles are. I hope to see more from Yusopov in the future.

  6. Jacob Aagaard
    September 6th, 2016 at 09:30 | #6

    @Will
    On top! I actually recommend a lot of people to have the books lying on the toilet, if they are “easy” for them. You can read the articles in 1-2 sittings and solve the exercises in one.

  7. Jacob Aagaard
    September 6th, 2016 at 09:32 | #7

    @FredPhil
    I cannot. But essentially I made it to GM without having great preparation. I did find that it helped a lot, when I surpassed 2350, but today I think it is enough to read a few good books and memorise the content. I have to be honest and say that openings were never my strong suit, but my general philosophy is that you have to be able to play well before you can explore good positions.

  8. Larsen_fan
    September 6th, 2016 at 10:45 | #8

    Hi
    With all this fantastic material I so wish you would move into online/software training programs. The idea of course to have a responsive software feeding the user exactly the kind of material and exercises he/she would benefit mostly from. If you include the Yusupov material you would cover the marked from 1300 players to super GMs ;-). Monthly evaluations, mixed theory / exercises, monthly progress chart and evaluation of weaknesses/strength etc. With your brand (and the quality of material you would bring to the marked) everybody would sign up regardless of price. Im talking early retirement for you and the Team – you could quit work and start doing what you enjoy like writing chess books and stuff like that.

    regards,
    Larsen_fan

  9. Gollum
    September 6th, 2016 at 11:25 | #9

    I gather that the order you propose is:

    0. Yusupov books.
    1. Calculation + QC Puzzle book.
    1.5 Positional play (you start when you have point 1 well under way, and finish it all together.
    2. Practical chess defense + Strategic play.
    3. AM1 + A&D + AM2
    4. Excelling at technical play + Endgame play
    5. Gelfand books.
    6. Thinking inside the box.

  10. Gollum
    September 6th, 2016 at 11:31 | #10

    I thought Practical Chess Defense was significantly harder than the other ones, so I do not own it (yet!). The order I am following is:

    1. Positional play (already done twice, thinking on going over it for the third time).
    2. AM1 + Gelfand 1 (already done).
    3. QC Puzzle book (already done).
    4. Calculation + A&D (both under way).
    5. Strategic play.
    6. Endgame play. (I’ve done like 20% of it, but in the subway, so plan to go over it more seriously starting from the beginning).
    7. Thinking inside the box.

    And in between, I will mix material from other publishers too 😛 But there are not that many puzzle books out there, specially if you do not count tactical puzzle books.

  11. Jacob Aagaard
    September 6th, 2016 at 22:19 | #11

    @Gollum
    No really. 5 days & 6 should be read parallel…

  12. Le Bruit Qui Qourt
    September 7th, 2016 at 06:28 | #12

    Jacob Aagaard :
    @FredPhil
    I cannot. But essentially I made it to GM without having great preparation. I did find that it helped a lot, when I surpassed 2350, but today I think it is enough to read a few good books and memorise the content. I have to be honest and say that openings were never my strong suit, but my general philosophy is that you have to be able to play well before you can explore good positions.

    I hope that all these worthy advices will be covered in GM Prep – Out of the box.

    Actually, I’m, really really fed up with general advices. Get to the point! How to improve!

    • Jacob Aagaard
      September 8th, 2016 at 09:14 | #13

      I will not engage with this sort of rudeness

  13. Supi
    September 8th, 2016 at 02:24 | #14

    Jacob, you have a divine talent for writing, is indescribable the way which I admire your work, already said via email on one occasion, but I say again, my sincere congratulations!

  14. Stephen Jiang
    September 9th, 2016 at 20:31 | #15

    Mr. Aagaard,

    You have 2nd edition for Attacking Manual 1 ( 6 years ago ). I just wonder whether you have plans to have 2nd or 3rd editions for your other GM Prep books.

    • Jacob Aagaard
      September 11th, 2016 at 12:54 | #16

      The quick answer is no. The long answer is that whenever a book is reprinted, we always look to see if we know of any corrections that needs to be inserted. But a reworking of the books is not needed and will not happen.

  15. Jacob Aagaard
    September 11th, 2016 at 12:21 | #17

    @Supi
    I appreciate it. More useful for me is probably what you think we can do better though 😉

  16. Mirso
    September 13th, 2016 at 19:09 | #18

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Jacob, the Yusupov books are really good. Where in the Yusupov series would you insert Chess tactics from scratch, Mating the castled king and Chess structures. Thanks for publishing such good and quality books!

    • Jacob Aagaard
      September 14th, 2016 at 10:12 | #19

      Thank you. The first two as parallel – they can be read whenever you feel like it. The latter I would put after, but again, reading it earlier would not damage you. On the contrary!

  17. Matt
    September 15th, 2016 at 07:37 | #20

    Hi @jacob Aagard – as a weak (but improving!) player I found this thread fascinating. One of the key challenges we face as chess book buyers is knowing how new releases fit into the bigger picture of the resources available, and which ones will benefit us most at our stage of development.

    Have you though about expressing this visually, in a sort of book/learning roadmap, where you plot your library and future releases against both strength and learning theme? This would make your range both more accessible, and also help us to plot our development through your library. Just a thought!

    Keep up the great work 🙂

    Matt

  18. Jacob Aagaard
    September 16th, 2016 at 15:05 | #21

    @Matt
    Hi Matt,

    There are various reasons why I do not want to do this. Mainly, because I think that there are so many ways to do things that I do not want to give people the impression that “their way” is wrong. We do regularly make recommendations here on the blog and elsewhere, but we always stress that it is a recommendation. As it is very hard to get people to understand that a “provisional” publishing schedule is not final, we tend to think that qualifiers don’t work and thus do not want to limit the possible ways of doing things by suggesting what we think is useful in too formal a way.

  19. Stephen Jiang
    September 20th, 2016 at 22:03 | #22

    Hello, @Jacob Aagaard

    I know in the past, you did recommended GM Prep from Quality over your Excelling series from Everyman. To me, the GM Prep series are workbooks for Excelling series. The following are the orders I summarize from your comments (note: (2), (3), (4), (5) could start in parallel; (2) probably starts a little earlier than others)

    (1). Excelling at Chess
    (2). Excelling at Chess Calculation -> Calculation -> Practical Chess Defense
    (3). Excelling at Positional Chess -> Positional Play -> Strategic Play
    (4). Excelling at Technical Chess -> Endgame Play
    (5). Attacking Manuals 1 -> Attack and Defense -> Attacking Manuals 2
    (6). Thinking inside the Box

    I just wondering whether “Excelling at Combinational Play” fit into this – this is more like calculation, but focusing on Sicilian Defense tactics. Should this be part of ‘Calculation’ work?

  20. Jacob Aagaard
    September 21st, 2016 at 07:44 | #23

    @Stephen Jiang
    You are trying to make too many connections. Only Exc. Calculation and Exc. Technical works this way from that series. Excelling at Positional Chess is a workbook itself, not a manual. But yes, Attacking Manual 1 and Attack and Defence definitely work together as a pair.
    I would also not put PCD in any sequence. But it is still a good book, of course.

  21. Gollum
    September 21st, 2016 at 10:21 | #24

    I’m banging my head with Attack & Defense… it is hard! Or I’m not such a good attacker… but you read AM1 and Gormally’s book and think it is really easy, but then the A&D book kicks you in the ass.

  22. Jacob Aagaard
    September 21st, 2016 at 10:56 | #25

    @Gollum
    Easy to understand; hard to do. This is chess.

  23. Stephen Jiang
    September 27th, 2016 at 19:30 | #26

    Hello, @Jacob Aagaard

    One more question, do you have any plan to publish DVD or CD version of GP series? I remember you talked about typing in Averbakh’s endgame yourself during your own training. A lot of people here would save a lot of time if you have pgn or cbv version of your books (By the way, Everyman is saleing your 5 Excelling books in pgn/cbv format).

  24. Stephen Jiang
    September 27th, 2016 at 19:33 | #27

    Hello, @Jacob Aagaard

    I read your review in chesscafe on Mark Dvoretsky’s book. That was long time ago. Now Mr. Dvoretsky is RIP and we will miss any new books from him. I just wonder whether you have plan to update your review on his work (and maybe talk about how to use his work to combine with your work books, as you mentioned in multiple places, your work had a lot of influence from him).

  25. Will
    September 27th, 2016 at 20:28 | #28

    @Stephen Jiang
    I recall someone (I think it was Jacob) posting here in the past that they would not produce cbv/pgn versions of their books. I would imagine that is because they are so easy to pirate.

  26. Reyk
    September 28th, 2016 at 07:00 | #29

    @Will
    Yes, you probably cannot do this nowadays. But the work done this way is not wasted as you will learn on the way and if it is really too much you could split the work amongst you and a friend for instance.

    I don’t see the need btw to digitalize the whole work book – in fact I prefer books and board for this type of training rather than screen. But I’m trying to do it with opening books – and often never finish 😉 But it’s much easier to type into pgn from a book than it is from a stream.

  27. Jacob Aagaard
    September 28th, 2016 at 07:15 | #30

    @Stephen Jiang
    No, I do not. Maybe Forward Chess though.

  28. Jacob Aagaard
    September 28th, 2016 at 07:15 | #31

    @Stephen Jiang
    I will write an 8 page obituary for NIC the issue after next.

  29. Jacob Aagaard
    September 28th, 2016 at 07:16 | #32

    @Will
    Forwardchess.com an app for IOS or Android is the way to go. I really should put my GP books on there…

  30. Matt
    September 29th, 2016 at 13:37 | #33

    hello @jacob Aagard – while you’re looking at new book son Forward Chess, any chance of Yusupov’s series getting on there? That would be awesome…

    Matt

  31. Jacob Aagaard
    September 30th, 2016 at 08:48 | #34

    @Matt
    No chance at the moment.

  32. PaulH
    October 4th, 2016 at 21:33 | #35

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Do you have an opinion on whether there are benefits to mixing any of the Dvoretsky books in to the above order?

  33. Jacob Aagaard
    October 4th, 2016 at 22:28 | #36

    @PaulH
    Yes, they can be used quite freely. I would add the newest (Prophylaxis) after or before Strategic Play. I would have Endgame Manual together with Endgame Play. The 9 old books I would read continuously, but if you have the English editions, I would check the solutions with an engine. Mark had 100s of corrections, but Olms were not that interested in putting them in. And (controversially), I would advice against using the Analytical Manual. I know of 2700+ players that found it unreadable. Just too difficult. Tragicomedy you can include whenever.

    It is all rather loose anyway. The main thing is to work on your game, and you will improve. I have yet to see it not working, although it is certainly no shortcut.

  34. Gollum
    October 5th, 2016 at 07:36 | #37

    The last book of Dvoretsky published in english is “Maneuvering: The Art of Piece Play”, and my guess that you are refering at “Recognizing Your Opponent’s Resources: Developing Preventive Thinking”, which is the previous book.

    In my opinion, the book on preventive thinking is quite difficult. I have not given “Strategic play” a shot yet, but comparing to ‘Calculation’ and ‘Attack and Defense’, I think it is more difficult (so it would make sense to study it afterwards, as you do).

    The book about piece play I’m reading together with ‘Attack and Defense’, for no special reason really. I have solved only 10 exercises of the ‘warming up’ chapter, so no definitive opinion yet, but up until now, I’m doing quite ok.

  35. Jacob Aagaard
    October 5th, 2016 at 08:20 | #38

    @Gollum
    It was not the opinion of the 2600s I have worked with. They found Mark’s book a lot easier.

  36. Gollum
    October 5th, 2016 at 08:33 | #39

    Maybe I’m not a good preventive thinker… The easy part of the Dvoretsky book is that you need to find a line to refute and a line that you cannot refute. If you stumble unto the line you cannot refute first, it can drive you crazy, as you expect to refute it and then find something better… But I guess that knowing there are those things to find can make it easier.

    Around exercise 115 from chapter 1 I failed _a lot_, hence I felt it was time to move on, as there are 180 exercises in that chapter and things were bound to go worse from that point on.

    In calculation the last exercises of a chapter are hard (really hard), but I think I’m a little under the 50% mark overall, same thing happens in A&D. Maybe the differential factor is that you divide your work into a lot more chapters than Dvoretsky, hence the steep wall you find at the end of the chapter is not that frustrating in your case.

    For reference, I’m a little above 2200 (and that little bit has to be thanks to your books).

  37. Jacob Aagaard
    October 5th, 2016 at 08:35 | #40

    @Gollum
    Continue the work and it will pay off in great ways. Chess is very difficult and takes a long time to learn, but it can and will happen.

  38. January 10th, 2017 at 08:57 | #41

    I think it was in Jesper Hall’s “Budding Chess Champions” where he wrote a chapter Haven’t I Seen This Before. What I took from that was with all the theory that abounds, millions and millions of pages of GM analysis, millions of millions of PGN files in databases, most amateur players, like myself, still get lost in finding the most relevant aspect of the position. Sit around any game and the kibitzers will tell you you should have done this, you could have done that. The better players will comment on the structure, the tacticians will say you missed a good sacrifice, and the positional pundits will say you went bad many moves ago when you played h3/h6. But as Aagaard has mentioned in his GM series, paraphrasing, “before you can look you need to see.” And that’s where I hit the wall. I have mountains of ideas floating around in my head but which ones should come to the fore, and when? The art of evaluating a position and knowing what matters most, Soltis, is what separates the better players. While I am looking for a beautiful bishop and knight mating pattern, my opponent is just happy to push a passed pawn. The QC series of books are excellent. I own many. But I need something to help me with cutting the wheat from the chaff and not getting lost along the way. Thanks.

  39. Pinpon
    January 10th, 2017 at 18:37 | #42

    @ Martin Dixon : Inside the chess mind which is JA book ( but not a QC one ) deals with this topic with different test positions submitted to average players and titled players . Could interest you .

  40. Jacob Aagaard
    January 11th, 2017 at 05:45 | #43

    @Martin Dixon
    Have you tried using the method of the three questions? It is specifically designed to help with this issue.

  41. pawnmayhem
    January 11th, 2017 at 09:07 | #44

    Hi Jacob,

    Where would Psakhis book ‘advanced chess tactics’ come into your list ?
    Before, after or together with your ‘attack & defence’ book ?

  42. Tim
    January 17th, 2017 at 14:19 | #45

    @Jacob
    You mentioned in september that putting GP Series on forward chess is a serious option. My question is, when approximately can we expect this to happen?

  43. Jacob Aagaard
    January 17th, 2017 at 16:52 | #46

    @Tim
    Going from being an option to giving a date is a long step. If so, it would be after Box is done so the whole series can be bought at a discount.

  44. Jacob Aagaard
    January 17th, 2017 at 16:53 | #47

    @pawnmayhem
    Parallel. Good books that cover the subject in different ways. Maybe between the two volumes.

  45. pabstars
    January 18th, 2017 at 11:46 | #48

    I’m almost halfway through Smirin’s new book KIW. This could also be added to “How to read Jacob’s books”. Even though the book is only related to one opening, it is stuffed with tactics and it also contains quite a few exercises before each chapter starts. It is truly a fantastic book because you really feel Smirin’s dedication to chess and especially the KID.

  46. Jacob Aagaard
    January 18th, 2017 at 12:17 | #49

    @pabstars
    Smirin’s energy and enthusiasm is amazing. I helped a bit with structuring the book. Ilya is a fantastic player and interesting personality, but of course he is not a natural writer, so a bit of assistance has hopefully made the book more accessible. Actually, I really love the book. We will see what else we put out before the summer, but to me, it is our first possible candidate for a book of the year nomination…

  47. Thomas
    January 18th, 2017 at 12:47 | #50

    Jacob Aagaard :
    We will see what else we put out before the summer, …

    Any hints?

  48. pabstars
    January 18th, 2017 at 12:53 | #51

    Jacob, I have voted for it as the best opening book 2016 on chesspub.com, even though you can argue that it is at least as much a book on the middle game. It is true treasure!

  49. Ray
    January 18th, 2017 at 12:55 | #52

    @Jacob Aagaard
    I agree, this is a superb book, and really a must for each KID player! He kept the option open for a second volume, so who knows… And indeed you can use this book also for training, because of the exercises at the start of each chapter.

  50. The Doctor
    January 18th, 2017 at 13:44 | #53

    Anyone got the GM Rep book on NID on Forward Chess yet?

  51. bedogus
    July 25th, 2017 at 03:24 | #54

    Hi Jacob, a question:

    I am a 1700-1800 player so maybe the GMP series is a bit avanced for me, but I am working with Calculation and Positional Play, which has been very useful and rewarding, But I still feel my calculation is quite disordered, unstructured, and randomized, (like A. Kotov describes in his Think Like a GM) specially in caothic positions.
    What advice would you give me in order to fix that?
    Thank you

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