The $200 chess budget challenge

Chess blogger question:

So you’ve just taken three years off from chess.

You sold all your books and all your memberships have expired except for USCF. Everything else – state, club, ICC, Playchess, MCO, Fritz, Chessbase – you have none of that. You’re starting from scratch.

You’ve decided not only to get back into the game, but also to raise your rating to the next class level.

But you only have $200 to invest this year.

How do you spend the money?

Which books, DVDs, lessons, memberships, software…? Be specific to your own improvement requirements — as opposed to saying “every chessplayer should have a copy of My System” —  and stay within budget.

Question inspired by standing in front of the suddenly-expanded chess bookshelf at local Barnes & Noble, wistfully eyeing “Play the Ruy” and “Starting Out: Slav and Semi-Slav”, $25 each. I bought neither.


17 thoughts on “The $200 chess budget challenge

  1. Here is my 1800-level list:

    Opening: A decent repertoire book or two (no real suggestions here, let’s say $40)
    Middlegame: Chess School volumes 1b/2/3 ($60)
    Endgame: Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual ($20)

    If tournament entry fees have to come out of the budget, then I guess I’d stop there.

  2. From the standpoint of a class B player:

    $0 (preferably): Opening books. Unless your openings suck so badly you lose by move 10, this is not where most class level games are decided. If you REALLY need the help, get a single book that focuses more on principles than preparing lines. You WILL be out of book quickly. A lot.

    $0: Chess analysis software. Not that a good piece of software isn’t worth the money, but with only $200, Fritz or the like will be a big chunk. There are sources for free computer analysis. E.g., BabasChess includes the ability to analyze games with the Crafty engine.

    $20-40: A good middlegame/principles book.

    $20-40: A good endgame book. Lack of basic endgame knowledge converts draws to losses and wins to draws. (See one of the saddest endgame finishes ever.)

    The rest: tournaments. BDK was right on. There’s no substitute for OTB play.

    There are many free resources for the chess improver to take advantage of: as already mentioned by BDK, FICS and blogging. There are multiple tactics trainer websites. Heck, even the forums can be useful if you avoid the tripe.

  3. $0 – tactics training software – there’s a wonderful free online resource –

    $0 – online chess servers. There are many that are free (FICGS,, to name a few).

    $0 – opening books. Coming off long retirement you’d be better off intentionally playing something unfamiliar, learning how to defend bad positions.

    $0 – middlegame books. Raid your local library, it is guaranteed to have some decent chess books on various subjects(library in my town in a middle of nowhere had a very good Silman’s book, collection of Keres’s games and two manuals on tactics. That’s 25 miles away from the nearest chess club…)

    Buy a membership ($30) in a local club, preferably the one that meets every Tuesday. Be sure to hang around strong players (stronger than you anyhow). Come one hour before the round, and leave at midnight.

    Play every month in the lowest section you can. That way you will have a chance of getting some of your money back. Avoid weekend tournaments and open sections.

    Be prepared that none of this will help and you will end up ignoring everything I said and spending way more than $200 after all…

  4. ah, must be some freudian slip. I was writing my comment and reading C++ manual at the same time… Please, ignore that whole paragraph.

  5. $0 wikipedia for chess openings
    $0 Chess Base lite and use it to search positions
    $0 Free Crafty Chess engine to analyze games
    $30 fee at to allow 25 tactical problems a day plus numerous other lessons online ( including opening tree study, endgame, games collections)
    $30 anual club fee and attend weekly at the Tuesday club Denys mentions
    $140 in OTB events

  6. RedHotPawn costs $40 for online year membership. Join a club online and join a clan to get a lot of games. I focus on 2 basic openings and see variations through tournaments on line. This will build your game, and there are great websites to study games for free.

  7. I would spend it on nothing but playing OTB rated games.

    As Denys said, there is a free tactics trainer, and free online play site, and I will add, a free openings explorer at Also, the free archive of articles from TONS of high quality stuff there. (Basically, all of Dvoretsky’s “Analytical Manual” appeared there before it was published as a book.)

    Don’t forget the inter-library loan option too. You can basically get any book for free for three weeks.

    If you’re morally lacking, pirated copies of software, databases, and PDFs of books are out there. I don’t condone that however; chess “professionals” deserve all they can get for their content.

    You can even play for free most places if you volunteer for a club! That’s a great way to meet, and learn from, stronger players too.


  8. Lots of interesting thoughts here. Thanks all!

    I just gave my own answers in a new post.

    The question of lessons is a key one. If I had $1000, I’d probably just forget the books and spend it all on lessons from a strong player. But I don’t think 5 lessons @ $30 is going to get me over the hump.

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