"You should write a book", he said.
It was December 2018 and Josip Asik, Dusan Krunic and I were sitting in one of the restaurants in Skopje waiting for our food to arrive. Then Josip spoke. I still wonder if I would have suggested that if the food had arrived a moment earlier.
Josip and Dusan are my dear friends. Our cooperation began many years ago when I was asked to write for the Sahovski Informator (Chess InformantAnd after that, for British Chess Magazine. Then they moved to conquer America by revamping the American Chess Magazine and that's how the concept of the book came about.
The idea was to write about America's best players born at the turn of the century. These players grew and flourished thanks to the continued and generous support of the world's greatest chess patron, Rex Sinquefield, and the Saint Louis Chess Club. His success changed the scene of American chess, set new standards and propelled the country as the promised land for new talent.
As we discussed the idea of the book, now with a good meal, I remembered that I had always liked to analyze the styles and preferences of the players as Botvinnik did in his preparations. When his secret notebooks were published, I was fascinated by how he managed to extract precise characteristics based on concrete examples. In fact, Botvinnik also called these analyses "characteristics". Here is an example of what I thought about the game of Tal before the match in 1960 (my translation from the Russian book "Botvinnik - Tal, Return Match"): "The general tendency - to gain positional advantage through a live game rather than long maneuver".
Has Botvinnik's form of analysis become a lost art? Now I had a chance to do it myself. By the time dessert arrived, we had agreed on the concept. A few days later, I realized with horror the enormity of the task he had given me. It took me a year and a half to complete the analytical work.
To write the proper "specifications", I had to go through hundreds of games of each player. I wanted to know what they liked and disliked, how they reacted in different situations, what their preferred way of playing was, how they handled themselves. During the first scan, I went through the items relatively quickly, noting the print on each. This is what Botvinnik did when analyzing Bronstein's game before his match in 1951. I kept scanning until the moment I felt I had "understood" the player. Then I went back to the items that were most relevant for their "features" and analyzed them in depth.
The main difficulty was that sometimes the initial impression of a game-based "feature" was not exactly what I thought, as deeper analysis uncovered details that changed the image. In such cases, I had to discard those examples and look for others, or conclude that the "characteristic" was not clear enough to be part of the player's profile.
Most of the players in this book turned 20 in 2020. I intended to analyze their styles when they were still junior and therefore the last games I consulted were from early 2020.
I was absorbed in Botvinnik's analysis, but no one writes like that today. In the words of Toni Morrison: "If there's a book you want to read, but it's not written yet, you should write it".
That's how this book was born.
~ Alex Colovic
Skopje, 9 March 2021