For many chess-players, opening study is sheer hard work. It is difficult to know what is important and what is not, and when specific knowledge is vital, or when a more general understanding is sufficient. Tragically often, once the opening is over, a player won't know what plan to follow, or even understand why his pieces are on the squares on which they sit. John Watson seeks to help chess-players achieve a more holistic and insightful view of the openings. In his previous books on chess strategy, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action, he explained vital concepts that had previously been the domain only of top-class players. Moreover, he did so in ways that have enabled them to enter the general chess consciousness of club players. Here he does likewise for the openings, explaining how flexible thinking and notions such as 'rule-independence' can apply to the opening.
In this major four-volume work, Watson presents a wide-ranging view of the way in which top-class players really handle the opening, rather than an idealized and simplified model. This volume, focusing on king's pawn openings, is a book that will make chess-players think hard about how they begin their games, while offering both entertainment and challenging material for study in openings such as the Sicilian and Ruy Lopez.
International Master John Watson is one of the world's most respected writers on chess. His groundbreaking four-volume work on the English firmly established his reputation in the 1980s, and he has produced a string of top-quality works since. In 1999, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, Watson's first book for Gambit, won the British Chess Federation Book of the Year Award and the United States Chess Federation Fred Cramer Award for Best Book. His former pupils include the 1997 World Junior Champion, Tal Shaked. In 2022 he was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame as “one of the greatest writers in the history of American chess”.
Gambit books by Watson: The Gambit Guide to the Modern Benoni, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, Chess Strategy in Action, Mastering the Chess Openings volume 1, Mastering the Chess Openings volume 2, Mastering the Chess Openings volume 3, Mastering the Chess Openings volume 4, Chess Openings for Kids, A Strategic Chess Opening Repertoire for White.
Download a pdf file with a sample from the book.
"The publication of this series is a bellwether event in chess publishing, and all players should avail themselves of the opportunity to read these books." - Mark Donlan, Chess Horizons
"When your reviewer was a teenager in 1964, there were no databases, no Internet, precious few really good chess books and no DVDs. I picked up a copy of Nimzovich's Chess Praxis and a copy of My System. Over the course of my summer vacation, I read those books. My rating jumped from 1400 to almost 1700. I actually started to understand some key chess ideas. For those of you who want a similar epiphany in the 21st century, these two volumes by Watson will do the job." - Pete Tamburro, Chess Life
"...even better than I imagined" - Marco Milone, beautychess.blogspot.com
"Even though volume one mostly deals with 1 e4 and volume two deals with 1 d4, the books nonetheless represent one body of work that should best be enjoyed together, and they are written by one of the finest authors of the last several decades. ... To say that these books are about opening strategies or opening theory would be a disservice to the importance of the material covered in them. ... I found his chosen examples excellent and his commentary instructive and very enlightening. Whether you are an inexperienced improving player or a seasoned tournament player, you will learn loads from studying these books. His discussions of pawn structures and their interconnected strategies are worth the price of both books. Even I feel as though my game has improved after having studied both volumes at length. ... The books convey an understanding of the opening that even specialized opening works do not provide. ... I highly recommend the two volumes of Mastering the Chess Openings to anyone who truly wants to improve their understanding of the openings and of chess in general. - Carsten Hansen, www.chesscafe.com
"If you are aspiring to be a strong player you should really like this book. ... I've been putting off writing about this book because there is so much in it to read it's hard to figure out where to start. The section I started out with this morning was the Sicilian Poisoned Pawn, Fischer's contributions, and latest theory (which by the way holds that Black has excellent winning chances, AND, so does White!). In fact, it seems that this is the currency of this book-openings where the better prepared player and student has chances of winning. ... In the beginning he writes about 'Fundamentals' and covers 80 pages on that, structure, opening ideas and positional features, and the introduction to the Open Games. Here's a thought - read those 80 pages if you read nothing else. You will learn a lot about chess and it will probably spur you on to looking at the later chapters. This section has been very ably written and it explains a lot of the things the rest of us take for granted, but for which we really don't know all that well. Seriously, read this. ... In fact, just get this book. Full retail is $29.95 and it's worth every cent - it'll teach you chess." - Bob Long, www.chessco.com
"When Chess Life asked me to review John Watson's new
opus, my reaction was that this was akin to criticizing Moses on the Ten
Commandments. Aside from his almost legendary books on specific openings like
the French Defense, his last two spectacular books - Secrets of Modern Chess
Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action - are landmark books in their
own right. All of these epic Watson works have one thing in common. You walk
away after reading with a deeper understanding of chess. He does not try to
tell you how to beat your opponent by the first time control. He treats the
reader as an adult who is willing to work a little to find the greater richness
of the royal game. Watson explains to us the value of modern grandmaster chess:
the new ideas in the middle game and the new approaches to opening play. He
translates what the grandmasters play into understandable concepts. ...
Mastering the Chess Openings is yet another magnificent effort by arguably the most important writer in American chess history. If you are a young chess player who wishes to learn the openings in a proper way, you will give yourself a big boost toward developing into the strong player you want to be by studying this book. If you're an older player still open to learning more about what you should already know, this is the book for you. If you simply want to understand why the grandmasters play the openings the way they do, John Watson explains why. Add this book to your 'Watson shelf' in your personal chess library." - Pete Tamburro, Chess Life
"Aside from chess players, this is also a good reference material for chess coaches, too. With clear explanations, this Watson's masterpiece can serve as the openings' textbook used by chess coaches around the world in training with their students. This book is a highly recommended option as a reference material in chess coaching. What more can I say, but it looks like John Watson has done it again! This is proving to be a classic already. So, wait no more, dear chess player. Just buy it! Highly recommended." - Edwin Lam, Black & White
"[Watson] ... looks at thematic lines and ideas using illustrative games. Within these games a considerable amount of theory is given, probably just enough to see a club player through the main lines. Watson has been very astute with his choice of illustrative games. As well as using recent games, there are classic games from the past (where fundamental plans are more clearly illustrated) and even one or two interesting correspondence games. It's good work by the author to use musltiple sources - a lot of effort has gone into finding the right game to demonstrate a theme or idea." - Munroe Morrison, Open File
"The main factor that sets this book apart and makes it unique is the way Watson explains the openings and the ideas behind the moves giving the reader a broad view of the openings and a good idea of how to play the opening and then proceed from there. Many of the works out today focus on long lines without much explanation except for short evaluations at the end of the variations. Watson's book is the perfect manual for beginners, intermediate, and even many advanced players who are wishing to study and improve their opening! All I can say is I highly recommend this book and I am eagerly looking forward to volume 2!" - Andy May, www.nsgchess.com
"International Master John Watson of Lincoln, Nebraska, is widely regarded as one of the most influential chess writers in the world. His thoughtful masterpieces Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action gave contemporary players an updated Nimzowitsch's My System and Euwe and Kramer's books on the Middlegame combined. His latest venture is no less bold. ... Mastering the Chess Openings Volume 1 is a first class production from a physical as well as chessic perspective.The two-column format is easy to read, the type-setting first rate, the paper of a good quality and the binding sturdy and ready for hard use. This is a book that belongs in every chess library. Highly Recommended." - IM John Donaldson, www.jeremysilman.com
"I would like to make special mention of Mastering the Chess Openings, an important new Gambit book by IM John Watson. The renowned American author previously won prestigious awards for earlier works ... and his new book will also be very well received. You'll find interesting analysis, ideas, and strategies relating to numerous popular openings, and many mysteries will be unravelled with the help of Watson's choice of instructive illustrative games that he has annotated with characteristic crystal-clear clarity." - GM Paul Motwani, The Scotsman
"The author explains it best when he writes that his goals are to explain the 'ideas, strategies, and interconnections of chess openings' as a whole, and to give a feel for 'the common threads that underlie opening play or the reasons why opening strategies can differ so radically,' so that 'regardless of the uncertainties of theory, you should be able to find your way through many of the problems posed by unfamiliar moves.' The first of two volumes, this focuses on king's pawn openings and should help to teach chessplayers how to think for themselves by examining openings 'from the ground up.' As individual variations are explored, special attention is given to move-order issues and how 'openings and their variations fit into the general contours of a chess game.' (Highly Recommended)" - Mark Donlan, Chess Horizons
"Put it on the Christmas list!" - John Lee Shaw, www.chessgateway.com
"A major release providing a powerful but easily read insight into modern opening theory. It may finally be time to ditch that old openings book and start to use this modern coverage of the openings and strategies behind them. Watson offers an opportunity to take your play to the next level. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED" - Michael Blake, www.bfcc-online.org.uk
"...seems to have what it takes to become another Watson classic!" - New-in-Chess, www.newinchess.com
"...promises to unlock the mysteries of modern opening play and as usual Watson is great in explaining the fundamentals and the basic ideas." - GM Lubomir Kavalek, Washington Post
"All openings are characterised by distinctive moves, but what Watson points out so cogently is that there are many inter-connecting ideas that apply to all these openings. The realisation of this fact by the average club player marks a tremendous leap forward in his understanding of the game. This, ultimately, is what the book is all about, and it should be high on the essential reading list of all aspiring players." - Alan Sutton, En Passant
"A book that is overloaded with a unbelievable amount of instructive text." - John Elburg, www.chessbooks.nl