Bruce Pandolfini is an American Grandmaster who came to prominence in the chess world during his analysis of the 1972 FIDE World Championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. He has written dozens of chess books and is known in chess circles as a world-class instructor. Ben Kingsley played a modified version of him in Searching for Bobby Fischer, which was based on the life of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin.

For amateur chess players around the world, there are a seemingly endless number of beginner books designed to help students learn the basics and gain some insight into tactics and strategy. Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess is one of those rare gems that rises above the rest and gives the reader something truly extraordinary to partake: a series of chess sessions with Bruce himself. The book is structured like many other chess instructional texts with an introduction chapter to explain concepts such as basic moves, forks, pins, skewers, discovered checks, etc. Fortunately, the introduction does not last very long before Pandolfini dives into the meat of the lesson.

By far what sets this book apart from its competitors (aside from the quality chess instruction) is the dialog. The entire book is essentially a transcript from a series of chess lessons between Pandolfini and one of his students. As the games progress within the book, the student will pause to ask questions that are quite common inquiries for the budding amateur. Pandolfini will offer a (sometimes cheeky) response to the student and provide several options for how to proceed with the game. The reader can see the thought processes at work as the student evaluates each position and considers his next move.

I read this book on Amazon Kindle and the book had no significant issues such as poor diagrams or incorrect notation, which often plagues electronic updates of chess books. Some of the dialog seems pandering from Pandolfini, but the attempts at humor do not interfere with the chess dialog in a significant way. If you select this book as a guide for gaining insight into the basics of chess, I recommend setting aside a specific chess board to make moves and follow-along during the lessons. All of the lessons are designed around a single game played by Pandolfini and the student, so it helps to have a visual reference when examining alternative lines.

Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess is an excellent addition to any established chess library or a perfect beginner’s book for a serious student looking to break into chess. Rating: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟