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I should mention first that I have no tournament experience at all. Chess to me is an intellectual endeavor—while I still wish to play at the best level I can, it is possible that I could never play in a tournament in my life and still be pleased with my chess "career." As such, you should take these recommendations with a grain of salt. However, if you are like me—a relatively beginning chess player who wants a sound base of standard chess play—this should be a great start to your chess library.
The Right Way to Play Chess
D. Brine Pritchard, ©1950 - ISBN 1-58574-046-2
This classic book is widely considered the best introduction to the game of chess today. I found it to be a fantastic, albeit brief, introduction to the game. Its largest drawback is its relative lack of diagrams, but you should be playing through all of the games on a board of your own anyway, don't you think?
The Complete Idiot's Guide© to Chess
Patrick Wolff, ©1997 - ISBN 0-02-861736-3
In stark contrast to the first book, this book's strong point is its impressive number of diagrams. I would confidently say that it averages over 3 diagrams per page. The book clearly and enjoyably outlines the basics of chess, and includes some interesting sections, such as "How to Beat the !?%@&?>! Computer." It also has a great list of further reading at the end to point you onward.
How to Reassess Your Chess
Jeremy Silman, ©2010 - ISBN 9781890085131
This is perhaps the most important book I've read. A beginner's most difficult hurdle is to consistently choose moves that are productive. Most new players don't understand how to create a plan in chess, and are left to taking easily blocked one-move strikes at the opponent. This book lays out an understandable way to approach the game, through the imbalances created during the course of a match. It is incredibly well thought out and surprisingly easy to understand. A complete rewrite was done to update the 17-year-old 3rd Edition.
Two other (though older and denser) books along this vein are Think Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov and My System by Aron Nimzowitsch. Both authors are much more accomplished than Mr. Silman (an IM), but are also far less comprehendible at times. Still, both are classics worth having if you have the time.
The Art of Attack in Chess
Vladimir Vukovic, ©1993 - ISBN 1-85744-400-0
The Art of Defense in Chess
Andrew Soltis, ©1975 - ISBN 0-679-14108-1
These two books are the popular favorites for offensive and defensive strategy. Both are considered classics. The Art of Defense in Chess is written in descriptive notation.
Pawn Structure Chess
Andrew Soltis, ©1995 - ISBN 0-812-92529-7
This book attempts to explain how the pawn structure of the board controls the flow of pieces, and how to take advantage of this. It goes into standard pawn structures that arise from different book openings, and the best strategies for both sides. A great book by one of the best chess authors.