I recent reader asked my recommendations for books for someone rated ~1400. That’s a tough question and everybody has their opinion. Most players recommend something on tactics, but I’ve never agreed with that because of my own experience.
When I learned to play chess I learned strategy and played over a lot of games from different players’ games collections. A couple years after learning the game I played correspondence chess successfully at the Class C (1500) level before entering my first tournament in which I finished +1 -2 =2, which included a draw against an 1800+ and an initial rating of 1667 which never went any lower. This was without the benefit of studying tactics at all.
I think the reason I was successful was because from the beginning I played solid mainline openings; the same ones played by the GM’s in my game collection books. Also I’d played over so many games that even without realizing it, I had developed some semblance of pattern recognition and some endgame ability and tried to play solid moves and for the most part avoid losing material. I can remember in my postal games searching books for similar positions to see how to play them without realizing what I was trying to apply was pattern recognition only without the benefit of having the positions stored in my head.
In regards to the question on books for 1400’s, in addition to my recommendation of CJS Purdy and Jeremy Silmans’ books I ran across mention of a book called Excelling at Chess by Jacob Aagaard. During my research of this book I found an interesting review by John Watson on Silman’s website.
What was interesting was that Watson made some comments that I agree with when it comes to the question of should one study the games of today’s players or the old masters. I always recommend the latter.
The reason for the old masters is that modern players, as Watson points out, have a willingness to consistently ignore classical rules and conceptions that have characterized modern chess and they have indicated their preference for concrete discussions. Watson states, “Note too that concrete calculation doesn't mean just lining up moves in your head. It can involve seeing further into the position and understanding that at one point the opponent won't be able to stop you from getting passed pawns or some such. That is a positional insight, and not a rule.” For example, modern players are increasingly aware how often compensation (sometimes very subtle) exists for the exchange, i.e. they are increasingly independent of the older conceptions of material.
Watson addressed the question of “How do strong players know where the pieces belong?” He wrote, “I suggest that in most cases they employ: (a) pattern recognition (Rowson mentions 100,00 positions absorbed on the basis of experience -- I suspect that these days the number is even higher); (b) calculation, e.g., however attractive an elegantly placed piece may be, calculation can and often does lead to the conclusion than an awkward placement is the superior one; and finally, players will use their (c) judgment/intuition (hard-to-define but sometimes unavoidable words), these last are also strongly informed by pattern recognition and by concrete examination of lines, of course, but in addition by creative balancing of many often subtle positional factors that would only be describable in words by a lengthy essay (i.e., not by abstract generalities).”
My whole point is that if you play solid moves, avoid losing material and have a smidgen of knowledge of basic endings you will defeat most of the lower rated players you face. Even today, playing opponents rated under, say 1600, on places like Chess,com, I found that this methods works quite well because I know that usually no matter how well they play, that at some point they are going to blunder. This method, coincidently, is the exact same way strong players all the way up to GM’s have played against me! In an otb event once I caught a 2500+ rated IM in an opening trap and won a Knight. He didn’t resign but played on, complicating the position, and guess what? I started seeing ghosts, blundered the piece back and ended up losing. What I remember most about that game was both of our hands were shaking so badly we could hardly move the pieces. His because he was a N down against a much lower rated player and me because I had a titled player on the ropes. Oh, there was one other thing I remember about the game…we were both so upset with our play that on the way out of the tournament hall we both threw our scoresheets in the wastebasket!
The point in learning basic strategy is to increase one’s understanding of chess and that’s why strong players beat the rest of us…they have a better understanding of the game.