Jeremy Silman (1954-2023)

by Stefan Löffler
9/27/2023 – Jeremy Silman (1954-2023) got hooked on chess after the Bobby Fischer boom, discovered his writing talent, and went on to get paid handsomely for chess lessons. Last Thursday, the Californian bestselling author died after a long illness. Stefan Löffler sent us an obituary. | Photos:

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


America’s chess teacher

“Never boring”. These two words are enough for John Donaldson to characterise Jeremy Silman. They had known each other since 1981. Silman had moved to San Francisco from Texas when he was 19. It was It was the early seventiesand the time of demonstrations against the Vietnam War, drugs, free love — and Bobby Fischer, who was fighting the Soviets in Reykjavík. America discovered chess. Silman showed talent, became a National Master in a short time, won his first cash prizes, gave chess lessons, made friends.

An important meeting place at the end of the seventies were the Opens in Lone Pine, which was a seven-hour drive east of San Francisco. It was there that Jon Tisdall met Silman. “I always enjoyed his company, but I haven't had the pleasure nearly often enough”. Tisdall moved to Norway, Silman to Los Angeles. Two decades later, both wrote books that changed how chess is taught: personally, honestly, with a dash of irony. While Tisdall’s Improve Your Chess Now was critically acclaimed and sold well, Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess and The Amateur’s Mind were eye-openers.

Jeremy Silman with Judit Polgar and Yasser Seirawan

He did not orientate himself on the games of the grandmasters but on those of his chess students. Why hadn’t anyone written before about why we blunder, how to avoid it, and how to understand a position from the imbalances? Later, Alex Yermolinsky and Jonathan Rowson refined the genre, but that was already aimed at more sophisticated players.

His wife, Gwen Feldman, founded the publishing house Silman-James Press in Los Angeles in 1990 with a partner named James Fox. He mainly published film books. Now chess was added under the imprint Siles. Further bestsellers followed with Silman’s Complete Endgame Course and The Complete Book of Chess Strategy. The four titles mentioned above alone sold well over half a million copies and were translated many times.

Jeremy Silman with the Polgar sisters

In his late forties, Silman stopped playing tournaments and could choose who he still gave lessons to. One of the requests came from the Persian Gulf. A sheikh had him flown to Abu Dhabi. If you only counted the time spent together at the chessboard, he came up with an hourly rate of over a thousand dollars, he told me when I visited him in 2006. It was a highly entertaining afternoon, but not an interview, and I didn't take notes. With Gwen, he lived in a mansion in the east of Hollywood. The décor was not dominated by film memorabilia, as I had expected, but by Asiatics. Their mutual interest culminated in Asian films and in Japan, where they later lived for some time.

Apart from his lauded textbooks, Silman wrote some classic opening works and helped Pal Benkö with his memoirs.

Pal Benkö, Jeremy Silman and Ron Gross

Silman was brought in as a consultant for the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Those who saw the chess scene and did not find it coherent can read in his contribution to The Leaky Cauldron how he had planned it and what was made of it.

In Silman’s Chess Odyssey, published in 2022, he shared personal memories, mixed with portraits of players he met or admired. He also wrote hundreds of columns for When he stopped doing that three years ago to devote himself to other things in life, friends suspected he was not doing well. He died on September 21 after a long illness, the US Chess Federation announced on Twitter: “He was truly America’s chess teacher”.


Stefan Löffler writes the Friday chess column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and succeeds Arno Nickel as editor of the Chess Calendar. For ChessBase the International Master reports from his adopted country Portugal.