Your weekend reading is here as we proudly present an interview with Grandmaster Alex Colovic.
Alex has written a considerable number of Chessable courses and there are more on the way.
We hope you enjoy this interview with Grandmaster Alex Colovic. If you do, why not try one of his Chessable courses?
All photographs in this post are © Alex Colovic
The Journey Begins
How did your chess journey begin?
In the usual way. My father taught me when I was six, I played my first official game
when I was nine. I won my first tournament, the junior championship of Skopje, when I
Did you have any particular chess heroes or role models to inspire you in the
Fischer. Hence the Sicilian Najdorf, which I play up to this day.
My father did the mammoth task to translate the Russian books we had at home
(like Nimzowitsch’s My System, Kotov’s two-volume work on Alekhine and Kak Stat
Grossmeisterom, Reti’s Modern Ideas in Chess and others) so I could read them (and
after I learned Russian I could read them in the original). So basically I obtained solid chess education and culture from all the best books. I guess I was lucky my father was a chess enthusiast (he played on the level of first category) and bought a lot of chess books. This helped tremendously in an absence of a coach.
Were any established players particularly helpful or kind when you broke
through to upper levels of chess?
No. When I see my chess path from today’s perspective I am constantly perplexed how isolated I have been, as if living in a bubble. As strange as it may sound, I never (literally!) worked with anybody, never had a coach, never even had an opportunity to have one.
I was never getting in touch with players who could or wanted to help me. I was also constantly missing the opportunities to play the strongest players, due to various random factors, like the whims of the pairing system.
When playing in Bastia in 2002 and I had the same number of points as Karpov, but then when the pairings came out I missed him by a single number – he was playing next to me instead of playing me!
These strange coincidences amaze me up to this day, as if I was cursed to do everything completely alone, with no help whatsoever and with no contact with the best players.
Alex Colovic – fully focused
How would you describe your style of play?
I guess it’s rather universal, though it obviously changed with time. I have always liked endgames, but in the last years the endgame has felt like a refuge from messy middlegames, which I have grown to dislike.
Shakespeare and Success
What is your most memorable success (so far!)?
I’ve been fortunate enough to win a few tournaments. I achieved my first GM norm in 1998, at a 14-player all-play-all where I was seeded somewhere near the bottom. I started with a loss with white, but then I went on to win seven games and draw the other five, to win the tournament and score the norm.
The secret was my reading of Shakespeare’s Complete Works during the tournament. I didn’t have a laptop with me and my hotel room was just basic, not even a TV in it, so in all the free time I was reading.
It was during my final year at University and during the tournament (which lasted for two weeks) and I read everything Shakespeare had ever written, even though for the exam I was supposed to read just a few plays and sonnets. I was in awe at how he used words and told the stories and felt inspired like never before.
Another great result I remember fondly was for the most points scored on Board 4 at the European Club Cup in 2015, held in my home city of Skopje. I played for Cheddleton and made 5.5 out of 7, finishing ahead of players like Adams, Wang Yue, Radjabov, Andreikin, Vachier-Lagrave and other great names.
Honour Amid Bitterness
Tell us a little about your experiences of representing your country at the
Representing my country has always been the highest honour. Alas, similarly to what I described above with the missing of the best opportunities for coaching and playing, I was also shunned from the national team for a disgracefully long time.
I was 31, an International Master with all thee Grandmaster norms and a rating of 2477 when I was finally invited to play, while in the previous years players of much lower rating and titles were a constant feature in the national team.
So there was a lot of bitterness about the national team, but then again the honour and joy I felt showed in my results. I was always among the best scorers, I never had a minus score and at my last Olympiad in Baku in 2016 I was by far the best player on the team with 7 points out of 10 games.
To give you an idea where the bitterness came from, after such a result the next year I wasn’t even invited to play at the European Team Championship.
Alex Colovic: Renowned Chess Coach
You are a renowned chess coach. What is about coaching that you enjoy?
I like coaching in team events the most.
When I prepare the whole team for a match I consider all the factors and I try to create a strategy for a given match. Then this strategy is executed by the openings and approaches on each individual board.
This complex preparation is something I thoroughly enjoy and my successes with the Macedonian Women National Team (the best result in the history of the country at the European Team Championship in 2017, finishing in the top 20 after starting as penultimate in the rankings at 31) and the Italian club Caissa Pentole Agnelli where I had the chance to coach players like Gunina, Paehtz, Khademalsharieh, Tsolakidou to name only the highest rated ones, have been quite an experience.
I’ve also had success on individual level, my student IM Marina Brunello won the gold medal on her board at the Batumi Olympiad while after a short period of work with International Master Francesco Sonis he became the European Champion Under 16.
Online elite chess events have been a major success over the Summer. Do
you embrace the new era of digital chess or are you eager for real-life, over-
the-board action to return?
Online chess is great fun, though probably less so for the players who play for tens
(hundreds) of thousands in prize money. Still, it’s not quite the same as chess –
how is a mouse slip or a disconnect connected to the game of chess? However, the
real game-changer were the shows during these events.
I had the honour to be invited twice to comment during the Chessable Masters together with legends like Peter Svidler and Yasser Seirawan and I have to admit I enjoyed it immensely.
This is probably because I prefer to be part of the show than an observer of it. With all
this being said, I long for the moment OTB chess returns, simply because I miss
playing chess myself. I don’t play online, so I miss the full immersion in the chess
world during a proper tournament.
Alex Colovic – or Fabiano Caruana…?
Working with Chessable
How did you become involved with Chessable?
There is this story that I always mess up and David (Kramaley) always keeps
correcting me about it, yet I keep forgetting the correct version. So I’ll go again with
Back in 2016 David noticed my blog (www.alexcolovic.com) and asked me whether I wanted to create a course for his platform. He explained what the platform was about and I decided to give it a go.
So I created one of the first courses on Chessable, the Simplest Scandinavian, a most basic repertoire with only a few lines and a verbal explanation of the plans. This made me the first Grandmaster on the platform!
Then as it started to expand I created the three-volume repertoire based on the Queen’s Gambit and that one is still a best-seller. When the videos became integrated on the platform I travelled to Swindon, to David’s place, to record the videos for the Queen’s Gambit trilogy.
As time passed I met a lot of people who are working for or with Chessable and I can only say that with the enthusiasm and the personal qualities of everyone involved the sky is the limit for Chessable!
Range of Chessable Courses
Tell us a little about your range of Chessable courses.
I have concentrated on openings from the black side. Starting with the above-mentioned Simplest Scandinavian, followed up with the Queen’s Gambit trilogy, the complete repertoire based on the Sicilian Najdorf (including all the Anti-Sicilians) and the Lifetime Repertoire based on the Chebanenko Slav you can notice that I have focused on a solid approach from the black side.
Even in the Najdorf I emphasised understanding and a positional approach. I think this is very important for amateurs and club players as the feeling of safety and confidence in their knowledge helps them obtain good positions after the opening and this in turn helps them obtain better results in practice.
On average, how long does it take you to write a Chessable course?
The standards on Chessable are being raised constantly and this demands a very
scrupulous analysis from the author. Depending on the opening that is being analysed the amount of time needed to prepare the course varies, but as an example the Chebanenko took me more than two months.
Are you ever concerned that you are revealing too much about your own
favourite lines in your courses, this making it easier for your opponents to
prepare for you?
Not really, because I hope my opponents don’t check my Chessable courses. Jokes aside, fortunately my preparation has always been on a very high level and this often means that I can modify it according to circumstances. An additional aspect of good preparation is having more than one line prepared in almost any critical position, so I think that for the time being I’m safe.
What else you have in the Chessable pipeline?
This is the first time I reveal it, but I’m finishing my work on the Lifetime Repertoire
based on the Queen’s Gambit Declined. As for future projects, there have been
certain ideas that are not connected to openings, but they need to be discussed in
Work, Ambition and Advice
Do you still have the time and desire to work on your own game?
Desire – definitely, time – definitely not.
What ambitions do you have, as a player?
My main ambition has always been to improve. There are so many things in chess
that I don’t do well, so I am always eager to understand better and learn. Then,
when I think I have understood and learned something I want to show it in my
games. This circle of learning has been my driving force since the beginning.
Club players always want to improve their game. What advice would you offer to them?
I’ve written a lot about this, as there are many aspects of chess improvement.
Here I’d like to share a perhaps less well-known one. The concept is as follows. Chess
games are won with ability.
Therefore improving ability (the actual processes that lead to the decision to make a certain move) will improve results.
Logically, improving the decision-making process will improve results. Every player has
his/her own set of skills that make him/her better in certain type of play and positions. Every player also prefers to play the positions where he/she is good at and where he/she feels comfortable, making his/her decision-making processes better in those positions.
So following your feeling of comfort and “playing by feeling” rather than playing what “should” be played is a good way to enjoy chess more and obtain better results with it. This applies to openings, types of positions, style of play, everything.
How do you cope with the pain of defeat?
By cursing a lot.
Do you have a favourite game of your own?
From recent history, I quite like how I beat Grandmaster Rambaldi with black in the Porto Mannu tournament in 2018. I was very sick during the game, but I managed to play on a very high level.
Francesco Rambaldi – Alex Colovic
Porto Mannu, 2018
Black to play
25 …f5! won a pawn and Black won on fine positional style (0-1, 50).
The full score of the game is on Alex’s website.
How about a favourite game from history?
There are a lot, it’s impossible to choose one. Just to spur your curiosity, check Kline-Capablanca, New York, 1913. It’s incredible what lies underneath the surface of that game…
And finally, which aspect of your chess life gives you the most satisfaction (writer, player coach, other…)
All of them. I simply like chess and everything it encompasses.
Thank you very much, Grandmaster Alex Colovic!
The other interviews in our popular series are here: