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Jeremy Silman, author of bestselling chess books, dies at 69

Jeremy Silman, an international chess master whose books were popular with players looking to improve their game, died Thursday at his home in West Hollywood, California. He was 69.

His wife, Gwen Feldman, said the cause was complications of primary progressive aphasia frontotemporal dementia.

The notion of a bestselling chess author might sound unlikely. But Mr. Silman’s books have long dominated Amazon’s list of bestselling chess books, and many personal chess libraries contain at least one of his titles. He wrote more than a dozen books, several of which he revised and updated multiple times. He also co-wrote a half-dozen more.


Feldman, who in 1990 founded Silman-James Press, the company that now publishes some of Mr. Silman’s top-selling books, with James Fox, said that to date his “The Complete Book of Chess Strategy,” published in 2004, has sold more than 170,000 copies; “The Amateur’s Mind, 2nd Edition” (2000) more than 90,000; “Silman’s Complete Endgame Course” (2007) more than 87,000; and “How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th Edition” (2011) more than 73,000. The first edition of “How to Reassess Your Chess” was published in 1986, and the total sales of the first three editions were about 85,000.

In total, Feldman said, Mr. Silman’s books have sold more than a half-million copies in the United States, and several of his most popular books have been translated into French and German.

Mr. Silman’s books have been sought out both for his writing style, which is conversational and colloquial, and for his practical advice on how to cut down on errors in thinking and planning — the most difficult part of the game to master.

In writing “The Amateur’s Mind,” Mr. Silman had his students talk about what they were thinking as they played. He then analyzed their mistakes and used that information to come up with explanations and correctives that all players can use.


“The heart of my system of training,” he wrote, “is based on an understanding of the dynamic and static differences (known as imbalances) that exist in every position.”

Mr. Silman was a celebrity in the chess world. During tournaments in Los Angeles, near where he lived, Mr. Silman would often be invited to give lectures that were “standing room only,” said Dr. Anthony Saidy, a friend who, like Mr. Silman, is an international master (the level below grandmaster).

“He became a pillar of the chess-teaching world,” Saidy said.

Mr. Silman was almost entirely self-taught, as both a writer and a player.

He was born Aug. 28, 1954, in Del Rio, Texas, the oldest of three children of Ivor and Joyce (Davies) Silman. Because his father was in the military, the family moved around. They lived in northern France until Jeremy was 5 or 6, then moved to Michigan for a year. They eventually settled in San Diego, where Jeremy attended high school.

When he was 12, he learned to play chess from a classmate who did not have anyone to play with and beat Jeremy rather easily. That annoyed Jeremy, Feldman said: “He was very competitive.”

He began reading chess books and playing in local tournaments. Chess soon became his full-time passion.

When he was set to graduate from high school, he was called into his guidance counselor’s office and asked where he wanted to attend college. “Moscow University,” he replied, because most of the best chess players were in the Soviet Union and he wanted to learn from them. Told that this was not possible, he decided to join the Army.


Feldman said that he lasted less than three months before petitioning to be released. He was discharged in 1973 and headed to San Francisco, because there were good chess players there whom he knew and who could teach him. He moved in with John Grefe, who would become the United States’ co-champion later that year.

Mr. Silman had a robust social life in the 1970s and early ’80s, suffused with episodes of drugs and sex. In 2013, he published “Autobiography of a Goat,” a fantasy book set in San Francisco that drew liberally from his own experiences.

According to Feldman, he lived for about a year in both London and Chicago and also spent time in Seattle. He finally settled in Los Angeles, where he worked at a publication called Players Chess News.

He met Feldman in 1988 and two months later asked her to marry him. She was unsure, she recalled, because the life of a chess player can be unstable, so she said she would only marry him if he fulfilled the requirements to become an international master.

At that time, Mr. Silman needed one more elite performance, called a norm, to earn his title. He returned to the West Coast, played in a tournament, fulfilled the requirements, and he and Feldman married soon after.


In addition to Feldman, Mr. Silman is survived by two younger sisters, Tracy and Rachel. Feldman said that Mr. Silman was not close to his family because they never really understood his choice of profession and were not very supportive.

Mr. Silman had notable successes as a player, winning or tying for first in the American Open (with Saidy, among others); the National Open; and, in 1981, the United States Open. But as his writing career progressed, he played less and less.

Mr. Silman’s books continue to sell well. Feldman said that “The Complete Book of Chess Strategy” had already sold more than 12,000 copies this year and that “How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th Edition,” has average yearly sales of about 5,000 copies. She said 6,000 additional copies of “Silman’s Complete Endgame Course” were just delivered to the Silman-James warehouse because the book had sold out.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.