Monday, 20 August 2012

Michael Stean’s Simple Chess

I have just worked my way through Michael Stean’s Simple Chess twice, and the final chapter three times.  This book is another old favourite of mine.  However, unlike O’Kelly’s Improve Your Chess Fast, this book has become a classic, albeit a little one.  My old first edition paperback has just 116 pages.  You can tell how old my copy is when I tell you that the price on the back cover is £1.95 (about $3 or 2.5 Euro at the current exchange rate).  This was Stean’s only chess book.  He wrote it shortly after becoming a Grandmaster and retired from chess five years later.  What other books did he have in him?  We will never know.  My old copy uses descriptive notation, but there is now an algebraic edition:

This edition is reviewed on Chess Cafe:

Judging from this review, the new edition has a lot of added typos, so perhaps my old edition is better.  Unfortunately, the pages are starting to fall out.  The first edition hardback is the one to have - provided you are happy with descriptive notation - but they are very rare. Simple Chess is an introduction to chess strategy.  The chapter headings are:
  1. Introduction
  2. Outposts
  3. Weak pawns
  4. Open files
  5. Half open files: the minority attack
  6. Black squares and white squares
  7. Space
The book’s title is something of a misnomer, as the author himself attests.  The examples are all from Grandmaster games, often between World Champions, and cannot be called simple.  Stean’s commentary and analysis are very clear, and better than O’Kelly’s.  The basic themes of chess strategy are described well.  Nonetheless, by itself, understanding basic themes does not get you very far, as Stean himself makes clear.  Mastering chess strategy is about learning to make accurate judgements, and requires more than rules of thumb.  Nonetheless, I found Stean’s explanations helpful.  The level of this book is about the same as that of O’Kelly's book.  I would class it as another “getting to 2000” book. The Chess Cafe review above says that the book is suitable for players rated 1300-2000, but players towards the lower end of that range would probably be better off with books like Jeff Coakley’s Winning Chess Strategy for Kids.

Overall, Simple Chess is an excellent book and deserves its mini-classic status, and I highly recommend it.  It packs a big punch for its size!


  1. Thanks for the look at the book. Michael Stean had interesting games and is responsible for a very intriguing main line (7. Qf5!?) option in the English Four Knights (with 4. e3) that I play.

    It's really a shame about the typos in the new algebraic edition, hopefully a revised version will come out eventually.

  2. The linked article gives an errata, and there may be a more comprehensive one on the web. The games are all available on

  3. This is a GREAT idea. I have a placemat that I'm going to use right away!

  4. Nice post man thanks for share this blog i just love

  5. I bought the book several months ago because a few people had recommended it, including a GM who found it useful as a source for teaching exercises. I have yet to read past the first diagram, but it remains on my desk rather than the bookcase.