The Seven Deadly Chess Sins by Jonathan Rowson

Book Review Of The Seven Deadly Chess Sins by Jonathan Rowson

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Table of Contents

Beyond just a game, chess is more. It is a test of character, a contest of being cunning, and a window into the soul. 

As a young chess player, I had to learn chess the hard way by playing against superior opponents in local tournaments—at least, they were significantly stronger than me. 

I committed a lot of costly errors on the board. I lost chess matches and eventually even my love for the game. 

One mysterious chess book (which I will talk about in a moment) was the reason for my mysterious comeback to the game.

This book not only rekindled my love for chess but also improved my skills and performance. 

I am presently ranked 1847 FIDE (that should be around 1900 USCF) and during the past year, my rating has improved from 1690. 

(This rating might not really define my true strength because I play fewer rated tournaments. My Lichess online rapid rating (Handle: AGMRapov) is 2303 presently) 

For me, the book “The Seven Deadly Chess Sins” by Scottish grandmaster and philosopher Jonathan Rowson, which explores the typical mistakes and flaws that chess players encounter in their games was both helpful and amazing.

The Seven Deadly Chess Sins (Chess Thinking)

Jonathan Rowson’s book is about chess-players who make mistakes and how to avoid them. He explains the psychological reasons behind these mistakes in a fun and interesting way.

The seven chapters in the book—Thinking, Blinking, Wanting, Materialism, Egoism, Perfectionism, and Looseness—each represents a “sin” that might derail a chess match. 

Using examples from his own games and those of other well-known players, Rowson discusses each sin with clarity and understanding. 

In addition, he offers helpful guidance on avoiding or conquering these faults as well as how to approach chess more imaginatively and comprehensively.

I had to read this book cover to cover over six months.

Since the moment I purchased this book and started reading, I have had fantastic outcomes. All my best online rapid wins were against players with greater or equal to 2400 in rating.

My best classical win over-the-board (OTB) was against a 2180 FIDE rated player. 

This book is not going to teach you how to make plans, play chess, or weigh the advantages and disadvantages of Na6 in the King’s Indian.

Instead, it will make you more aware of who you are and the conflicts that characterize chess. 

This was just what I needed. With the knowledge of this book, my results and playing power significantly rose by enabling me to play chess the way I was capable of playing—that is, by eliminating my mental errors.

It taught me how to overcome my weaknesses and optimize my strengths. The author of this book raised some rather insightful philosophical issues.

Specifically, his portrayal of the “perfectionist” very much sums me up, and he correctly points out that ultimately, “outcomes matter more than the player who made the most elegant move”, much like someone who enjoys reading and studying chess but finds it difficult to apply in real life. 

This book is not your average chess handbook, teaching you endgame strategy, opening theory, or tactics.

Instead, it serves as a philosophical and psychological manual that teaches you how to deal with the mental and emotional components of chess as well as how to better understand both yourself and your opponent. 

In his honest and humorous writing, Rowson shares his thoughts on life and chess as well as his own experiences. In addition, he questions some chess dogmas and common thinking, pushing the reader to think critically and imaginatively.

Book Chapters Summarised

In this stimulating and enjoyable book, Jonathan Rowson delves into the primary causes of chess players’ sometimes disastrous missteps, emphasizing the psychological traps that lie behind the surface:

Chapter 1: Thinking (not enough or incorrectly)

Chapter 2: Blinking (lost chances; unresolved issues)

Chapter 3: Wanting (being too preoccupied with the outcome of the game)

Chapter 4: Materialism (disregarding non-material aspects)

Chapter 5: Egoism (a lack of understanding of one’s opponent and his viewpoints)

Chapter 6: Perfectionism (trying too hard; running out of time)

Chapter 7: Looseness: Distracted Behaviour and Lack of Focus

Who is Jonathan Rowson?

Jonathan Rowson is a philosopher and chess player from Scotland. He was given the title Grandmaster by FIDE in 1999 and was a three-time British chess champion. 

In addition, he is the director and co-founder of Perspectiva, a research centre that examines the connection between the social and environmental challenges we confront and our inner selves. 

He is the author of many works on spirituality, wisdom, and chess. Below is a synopsis of his previous three works on chess:

– Understanding the Grunfeld: A comprehensive analysis of the popular and dynamic Grunfeld Defense chess opening for Black, including synopses of the key concepts and ideas on both sides.

– Chess for Zebras: An examination of life and chess from a philosophical and psychological standpoint, offering advice on how to become a better player and person as well as how to navigate the benefits and drawbacks of playing White or Black.

– The Moves That Matter: An introspective and thought-provoking journey through the game of chess and its lessons for living a full life, surviving in a complicated world, and being present.

Who is This Book For?

Chess players of all skill levels, from absolute beginners to powerful GMs, may benefit from the wise counsel of this book. 

Even though reading this book requires you to own your weaknesses to benefit from it, everyone who does so will find themselves repeatedly in the examples provided and will receive skills to help them deal with some of the flaws that all people have. 

This book is an essential read for every chess player. Extremely recommended.

What I Like

I’m really curious as to how GM Rowson accomplished so much at Oxford University, earned the rank of GM, wrote books on chess, and maintained his composure and humor. 

The book was intellectual, practical, knowledgeable, and honest. 

I didn’t purchase any chess books for three years since the authors write them for profit rather than for players. However, I felt that this work was very dedicated, full of love, and really researched.

What I Don’t Like

This book is dated 2000, and his evaluation of engines is now absurdly out of date. 

Deep Blue, which had already defeated Kasparov, was the greatest engine that could be imagined at the time. 

However, when it comes to comprehension and accuracy, that computer pales in comparison to the beast that is Stockfish 16 (after neural nets were added to it). 

In fact, all of his comments are human-based, and many of the !? (means interesting move) and ? (means bad move) in the games he added, isn’t as important. 

That does take away from one of the main arguments he made in the book, which is that there is no such thing as a flawless play (which seems to make the drawback justified). 

With engines as powerful as they are today, we can really get a glimpse of what flawless play looks like, even if we will never be able to replicate such skill in our own games.

Strong GMs agree that trying to perform “exactly” in these days’ post-game interviews is futile.


You should read books by Dvoretsky or Suba if you want to become a “better” player but… 

This is the book for you if, like me, you’ve previously read and owned those books and want to know why you’re continuing to play moves you know aren’t good enough.

Although Rowson’s thoughts might be elusive and hard to comprehend at times, taking the time to consider what he is attempting to communicate can improve your understanding of chess.

You can get the book here.

Let me know if you found this review helpful.

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