"Learn to think the same way Bobby does. This is the secret. You will be put in increasingly complex situations where you will be required to think and move the way Fischer does. You'll be a better player after you take Bobby Fischer's Chess Course. It works." (from the back cover)

A little bland, to the point, light on the poetic and accurate. As the back cover notes, this is a "Chess Course". It contains no lists of openings or moves, no analysis or deep tactics, nothing of any real color and in comparison to other books on the market, very little text. And yet, "It works". Xerox published in January of 1966, today it is the best-selling chess book of all time1. As Bobby Fischer notes in the preface, it is useful both for beginning players, unfamiliar with chess notation, and experienced tournament players.

How "It Works"

This book was a collaborative effort on the part of two organizations and many individuals, the goal of which was to write a book of programmed chess instruction (writing credits and collaborator's input listed below). In Bobby Fischer's preface he compares the difference between their book and other's as the difference between a tutor guiding you step-by-step and a reference of materials you are expected to memorize2. There is an active role designed for the reader, that of solving progressively more difficult puzzles (samples of which are also provided below) which in turn are based upon intermittent lessons.

Puzzles and lessons are organized by chapter with various lessons on the theme in each. They are further organized into 275 frames. The reader progresses through the book reading only the right hand pages. The top of each is page is the answer to the puzzle on the previous page, the bottom is the next puzzle. At the end of the book, the reader flips it over and does the other half, up to now upside down on the left hand side.

When you finish with the last frame sample, and considering the content briefly described in the chapter divisions - imagine going from How to Play Chess to solving the third frame with ease, in an afternoon or two.

Chapter Divisions

Introduction: How to Play Chess
Covers notation used within the book, how the pieces move and capture, special moves and relative piece value.
1. Elements of Checkmate
Frames 1-79
Introduce check and checkmate, pins and how to use pieces in combination. Introduce move, interpose or capture for evading/verifying checkmate.
2. The Back-Rank Mates
Frames 80-124
Move, interpose or capture theme expanded for back-rank checks. Example 1 Below.
3. Back-Rank Defenses and Variations
Frames 125-158
Begins with removing a defender, proceeds through defensive variations on the theme and finishes with several puzzles incorporating all of the preceding elements.
4. Displacing Defenders
Frames 158-194
Remove defenders with a sack, use zwischenzug or the intermediate check to force away a defender, reintroduces combinatorial attacks and gives numerous puzzles to solve incorporating all of the preceding elements. Example 2 Below.
5. Attacks on the Enemy Pawn Cover
Frames 195-239
Opens with piece sack into pawn cover and continues exploring the theme using each of the mating combinations learned thus far. The rest of the frames reinforce the lessons with several different styles of question.
6. Final Review
Frames 240-275
Opens with a review of the 16 different introduced elements for mate and several examples of the elements of defense and closes with several difficult puzzles. Example 3 Below.
My first tutor recommended this book to me after about six months of lessons. I already understood the rules and had played a few games. Our lessons began with an explanation of the fundamentals of each stage of the game, the opening, midgame and endgame. We then went back to the opening stage and learned a few specific openings and their themes, how they differed from each other in strategy and play. After that was midgame and endgame lessons including goals and tactics of midgame play and endgame play characterized by progressively fewer pieces, until I had a list of several endings I should memorize. At the end of all of this he explained that in Russian schools they do it backwards, learning mates and endgames first. Guess how Bobby Fischer teaches chess? Exactly. And it cemented every lesson I'd been given up to then by showing me the results in a more logical manner.

Frame Samples

Example 1

Frame 103

Draw an arrow showing the first move of white's mating combination:

                     |BR |   |   |   |   |   |   |BK | 8
                     |   |BP |   |   |   |   |WR |WP | 7
                     |   |   |   |   |WN |WN |   |   | 6
                     |   |   |   |   |BQ |   |   |   | 5
                     |BP |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 4
                     |WP |   |   |   |   |   |   |   | 3
                     |   |WP |   |   |   |   |WP |WP | 2
                     |   |WB |   |   |   |BB |   |WK | 1
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H

Answer is pipelinked here.

Example 2

Frame 192

Draw an arrow to show the first move for White in his mating combination:

                     |   |   |   |   |WR |BR |BK |   | 8
                     |   |   |   |   |WR |BP |BP |BP | 7
                     |   |BB |BP |   |   |   |   |   | 6
                     |   |BP |BKn|   |   |   |   |   | 5
                     |BP |   |   |   |   |   |WKn|   | 4
                     |WP |   |   |   |   |   |   |WP | 3
                     |WB |WP |WP |BR |   |WP |WP |   | 2
                     |   |   |   |   |   |   |WK |   | 1
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H

Answer is pipelinked here.

Example 3

Frame 258
                     |   |   |BB |   |   |   |   |BK | 8
                     |BR |   |   |   |BQ |   |BP |BP | 7
                     |BP |BP |BKn|   |   |   |   |   | 6
                     |   |   |BP |   |BP |   |   |   | 5
                     |WP |   |WB |   |WKn|BR |   |   | 4
                     |   |   |WP |   |   |   |   |WR | 3
                     |   |WP |   |WR |   |WP |WP |WP | 2
                     |   |   |   |WQ |   |   |WK |   | 1
                      A    B   C   D   E   F   G   H
Can White mate?:
  • Yes
  • no
If "Yes, draw an arrow showing his first move.

Answer is pipelinked here.


ISBN - 0553263153
Publisher - Bantam Books
History - Printed three times in 1966, first Bantam edition 1972, reissue in 1992.
Credited Writers - Bobby Fischer, International Grandmaster; Stuart Margulies, Ph.D. (Educational Design, Inc.); Donn Mosenfelder (Educational Design, Inc.)
Acknowledged Contributors
Leslie H. Ault - U.S. Intercollegiate Champion, General Editor during preparation for publication, assisted with original development of program sequence
Raymond Weinstein - International Grandmaster, assisted with original design
Michael Valvo - Technical Editor
Basic Systems, Inc. and Educational Design, Inc. - Contributed significantly to the design, development testing and production of the program.

1 - "In 1966 he co-authored Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess, the best-selling chess book ever, and in 1969 he published My 60 Memorable Games, arguably the best chess book ever." - Rene Chun, The Observer - http://observer.guardian.co.uk/

Mark Weeks at about.com, writer of their Chess Guide, compiled statistics from amazon.com and Barnes and Noble for sales figures, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005. This book was No. 1 for those two lists. - http://chess.about.com/

2 - While this may have been true at the time, both the ordering of the concepts and the active role point of view has been duplicated since.

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