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Sharing ideas in chess publishing

On Facebook I shared a story from over 20 years ago. My friend Lars Møller Larsen, a Danish club player, suggested to me that there should be a book where every move in a game was explained. At the time we did not know about the Irving Chernev book and also, Yasser had a book on the way or already out with the same principle.
I had at the time written two books for Gambit and considered them my publisher (the books on the Panov and on the Sveshnikov, were published under license by Everyman). So, I suggested it as an idea to my publisher, Graham Burgess. The book eventually became Chess Move by Move by John Nunn, an ECF book of the year that Nunn thanked Burgess for inspiring.
Around the same time, I was fired by Gambit. Without knowing it. Because Byron Jacobs, also a commission editor for Everyman, had offered me a two book contract. Amusingly, I had to do the Stonewall Dutch, to be allowed to write Excelling at Chess (a title I disliked, but which Byron said was great and he was right). Excelling at Chess was my big breakthrough, even if not financially, but if you read it, you can still see that I believed only a few friends would read it, as long as you know it.
A year later, Everyman turned down a suggestion of a book on the Berlin, as they had a chapter on it by Glenn Flear. I asked Burgess if they were interested (now no longer commissioning books for others, but publishing under their own name). He said that I was fired because my English required to much editing and was this still a problem?
To me these two episodes put side by side are simply amusing. I did not deserve any credit for Lars’ idea, even if I did not tell Graham where it came from (who was Lars to him anyway). I am also grateful to Murray Chandler and by extension Graham and John for giving me a start in this business, even if they were not fully satisfied with my early books. Telling someone you had fired them a year after you didn’t, but at the same time opening the door to the idea of working with them again just sounds bad. It really isn’t.

Another story I shared was how I sent 20 or so exercises I had located by analysing games (my first ever exercise collection; later an obsession!) to Mark Dvoretsky, as he was always looking for new material.
He then published half of them in an article on e3e5 without mentioning my name and said that the training material had helped Inarkiev to win the 2005 Russian Higher League.
I asked him if Inarkiev really had used my training material in preparation? A hope of a bone of pride from the greatest trainer in the World. “No, he used the positions from my article”, was the answer.
Mark later praised my book Practical Chess Defence, as the “most difficult chess book yet – until my next one!”, which was Dvoretsky’s Analytical Manual, which Judit Polgar once said to me was so difficult it made no sense to her.
Mark allowed me to use his idea for a book on puzzles according to calculation skill and advised me on which chapters I should have in it. Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation is my best selling book.
I adored Mark and cried desperately when he died. I tried to go to Moscow for his Memorial Tournament, but failed to secure a visa. Life is complicated and people too.

Knowing who to share ideas with and who not to, and which ideas, is a difficult art. The best idea I ever had I shared with someone who have treated me exceptionally poorly subsequently. Others have shared ideas with me without expecting anything in return and received my gratitude and more. Ideas are a strange currency. After 23 years in chess publishing I do not know if we should share them with others, or keep them to ourselves. At least not from a commercial standpoint. From a moral standpoint I think it is an easy choice. Chess culture has benefited immensely from the exchange of ideas and the fact that the people with the best ideas are not always the best to carry them out.

At Quality Chess we do our best to be fair to our authors and to give people chances. We want to treat out customers with respect by producing good books. At the same time we acknowledge that many other people have good ideas and do good work and have many time recommended books from other publishers. When we founded Quality Chess, Byron Jacobs wished me best of luck and sent flowers to my wedding a month later. Mathias Wullenweber, founder of ChessBase, was “delighted” that we decided to create something new in chess, as the better experience chess players had of the game, the more they would buy products from all of us. I have always tried to be inspired by the behaviour I appreciated of all the people mentioned in this article to be a better person and publisher. Obviously, we have failed many times. What can you do but try to learn from it and do better in the future. Finding the balance between owning your victories and failures, to learn lessons and not hold on to grudges, guilt or other bad emotions is a tough one.

This year my biggest book A Matter of Endgame Technique, at 896 pages, will be published. My first book for Gambit/Everyman was 128 pages. Every page in the new book is better than every page in every book I wrote for Everyman. But were impossible without the support and guidance I received from people like Graham, Byron and Mark. I don’t know if it is my best book. I guess it is for other people to decide. But it is the book I wanted to write and I hope you will guys will like it.

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  1. Ander
    January 17th, 2022 at 17:37 | #1

    Egocentric stuff, Jacob. Somehow there is this assumption that you are this outstanding chess author in everything you write, but it isn’t true. You are just one chess author, among hundreds of others. But no more than that. Some good books, some very boring. I bet many prefer your earlier books over a new 800+ page endgame book, sorry but it sounds just so redundant (given the masterpieces by Mueller and many others). Turn down the Ego level from 11 to, say, 6, or 7? On the 0-10 scale.

  2. The Doctor
    January 17th, 2022 at 22:33 | #2

    I think Jacob is simply proud of what he has achieved and is very passionate about what he does.

    Jacobs recent works have been critically acclaimed and have won awards to reflect this. So just one chess author amongst others is a little demeaning, its like saying Roger Federer is one tennis player amongst hundreds of others.

  3. Cowe
    January 18th, 2022 at 08:43 | #3

    The Doctor :
    […]its like saying Roger Federer is one tennis player amongst hundreds of others.

    or Novax Djokovic.

  4. Benjamin Fitch
    January 18th, 2022 at 17:39 | #4

    The subject of the post is sharing ideas in chess publishing. The content not only matches the title but covers an interesting and not-often-covered topic. In mentioning his own books, the author is simply speaking from his own experience. (Direct experience is generally the best source of information.) And in saying, for example, that his latest book is better than his earlier ones, his point isn’t to say how great it is but to point out (in the following sentence) the importance of collaboration and help from others over the course of many years.

  5. Andrew Brett
    January 18th, 2022 at 18:12 | #5

    Looking forward to this endgame epic – almost on Lord of the Rings scale ! We should buy you a drink or two !!!! Any idea on the price?

  6. AA
    January 19th, 2022 at 09:54 | #6

    …I fail to see why QC publish huge books. Are 900 pages prove better than 300?
    In general, I believe that one can reasonably cover any subject in the world – any subject – by 250 to 400 pages. Einstein’s theory of relativity, the climate crisis, Churchil’s biography… Besides, it is difficult to hold such books, thus it is not reader-friendly.
    Jacob, you are an excellent author, no argument. But take a model example from the great novelist Stephan Zweig, who wrote in his autobiography that he first puts everything on paper – text, ideas, points – everything, and then works every day to erase sentences and even complete passages, leaving just what is absolutely necessary.
    Greetings from Israel and good health for all.

  7. January 19th, 2022 at 15:31 | #7

    Touching post Jacob, excited for the book! (to the extent its possible for me to be excited for a 900 page endgame book 🙂 )

  8. Benjamin Fitch
    January 19th, 2022 at 16:55 | #8

    I don’t complain when a restaurant gives me twice as much good food for the same price as another restaurant; I take the rest home and enjoy it at another time.

  9. JB
    January 19th, 2022 at 19:49 | #9

    Benjamin Fitch :
    I don’t complain when a restaurant gives me twice as much good food for the same price as another restaurant; I take the rest home and enjoy it at another time.

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. More power to your wrist Jacob. I’ve always thought you need a beta tester who isn’t at the IM or GM level ie not your fellow editors to give feedback where club players need extra explanation or need examples more at their level and give it a final polish but can’t doubt the quality of the base material…it’s not called Quality Chess for nothing. I’m glad your proud of your new tome Jacob you should be and it’s already on my buy list but may need to go to the gym in preparation for picking it up to read 🤣

  10. Cowe
    January 20th, 2022 at 07:56 | #10

    More in line with AA here, but I’m the kind of guy who loves to read and used to bring books at tournaments in the ancient times. @Jacob: what is your aim toward the reader with this masterpiece of yours:
    – present an encyclopedic view sorted by material (e.g. how to draw a bunch of recurring drawn rook or bishop endgames) ?
    – show through examples how a starting endgame can be driven to its logical conclusion by means of “endgame technique” bits ? and/or show deceiving endgames needing more than technique?
    – make a complete course (lessons, questions, exercises) strengthening readers’ technical patterns and helping her sorting out decisions in the endgame? …

  11. John Johnson
    January 20th, 2022 at 11:52 | #11

    Sorry complaining about more content makes no sense to me either!!

  12. Thomas
    January 20th, 2022 at 13:57 | #12

    @AA, @Crowe – maybe a Scrap of paper would do, if books are too big?
    Just that single hint that makes you win all your games by force?
    Good luck finding it.

  13. Cowe
    January 20th, 2022 at 14:37 | #13

    Please chill out.
    I have some books but none that big, even on fairly technical topics. But right now I’m more interested in content over form.

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