While looking through Project Gutenberg I noticed that Capablanca's Chess Fundamentals is there (I believe that should mean it is in the Public Domain). I was also able to find Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti on line.

What other famous chess books are in the Public Domain and can be freely posted on a website? or how can I tell whether or not a book I own is in the public domain?

4 Answers 4


The International Chess Congress, St. Petersburg, 1909 is a classic by World Champion Emanuel Lasker was written in 1910 and is in the public domain.

[EDIT] ISBN: 1888690097, can be viewed online or downloaded in PDF at http://archive.org/details/internationalche00lask


You can find more books at the following sites:





  • 4
    I should mention I'm looking for titles of classic chess books that can be freely distributed, more than for websites with free books in them. However, I do appreciate the response
    – retrodanny
    Commented Dec 15, 2012 at 1:10

Tim Harding's The Kibitzer column on Chesscafe.com recently had an article about finding old chess books online. Basically he goes to Google Books and Forgotten Books, and searches for chess. See the article for details.

In the article, he says he's found the following old chess books this way, although whether they are available to you or not depends on your country:

  • The exploits and triumphs, in Europe, of Paul Morphy, by Morphy's late secretary (Edge). The English edition, with a slightly different title, is probably also available.
  • A Popular Introduction to the Study and Practice of Chess…by an Amateur (1851). This is an early manual that came out soon after Staunton's Handbook. The author was S. S. Boden, a leading contemporary of Bird and Morphy.
  • Chess Brilliants, One Hundred Games, selected by I. O. Howard Taylor of Norwich Chess Club (1869)
  • The Chess-Player's Annual for the Year 1856, edited by Charles Tomlinson (the only year that ever came out, but full of interesting material). Also his Amusements in Chess.
  • Staunton's Chess Praxis, and other books by him.
  • Several George Walker books, including Chess Studies (the first large published collection of actual play, over 1,000 games) and his Chess and Chess Players, still a good read, which includes the articles he wrote for Fraser's Magazine. Also his collection of Games Actually Played by Philidor should be available.
  • Horae Divanianae, by Elijah Williams (1852), a collection of 150 games played at the Grand Divan in the Strand.
  • Willard Fiske's The book of the first American chess congress is well worth obtaining.
  • The Principles of Chess in Theory & Practice by James Mason (1894); this is one I got from Forgotten Books.
  • Some early books on chess compositions are also available, for example A collection of two hundred chess problems, by Francis Healey (1862).

Edit: Now I see that this doesn't really answer your question. Perhaps see here on Wikipedia to see how long copyright in the book's author's country lasts, to find out whether a book is in the public domain.


In the US, you can date public domain for the most part by the date of "Steamboat Willie," the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. Any time it gets close to falling into public domain, Disney opens up Scrooge McDuck's vault and buys enough votes in Congress to prevent it. There's a small loophole that was closed in the 70's which says works which didn't have their term renewed (28 years) fall into the public domain, but it's dicey to figure out whether it applies.

Google is no authority for this. They basically announced with the opening of their Google Books site that they didn't care whether the book was copyrighted, they'd only take it down if the author reached for a lawyer. So if it's on Google, that means pretty much nothing at all about whether the book is still under copyright.

The most reliable date is 1928. Books before that are probably Public Domain. But no guarantees.

  • This doesn't answer the question at all.
    – SmallChess
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 0:53
  • 2
    If by that you mean "doesn't provide a specific list of titles", you're right. But "famous chess books" is a vague term (what's famous to me might be a book you've never heard of, and vice versa). I figured a better idea would be to give the asker a tool or two to use to make their own judgement for books they consider famous. with the implied caveat that almost nothing in copyright is certain anymore until a judge rules on it.
    – Arlen
    Commented Jun 9, 2015 at 18:49

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