Chess interview – Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard in the Africa Chess News Updates group

The Whatsapp group Africa Chess News Updates Group recently hosted a very insighful Question and Answer session with renowned Chess Coach and Award-winning author Grandmaster Jacob Aargaard for a Question and Answer session.

Firstly who is GM Jacob Aagaard.

Here is the bio on his website:

Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard

I am a chess writer, trainer and publisher, living in Scotland. I used to be a decent player and won the 2007 British Championship and 2012 Scottish Championship, but these days I only play rarely and without ambition.  I am very proud of my chess books. I wrote a five volume series for Everyman from 2001-4, two and am working on the final volume of six series.

My books have generally been high level, technical books for players wanting to improve their game through serious work. Although my books are not always equally accessible, I have managed to win the four major awards for chess books: (Excelling at Chess, 2001), ECF (Attacking Manual 1+2, 2010), FIDE’s Boleslavsky Award (Attacking Manual 1+2, 2012) and the Association of Chess Professionals (Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation, 2013). I see this as my greatest professional achievement and although I know this does not make me the best chess writer, I am extremely proud to be the first to win all four.

Although I loved working with Byron Jacobs of Everyman, there came a time when I needed full control over the whole process and I co-founded Quality Chess. I have now worked together with GM John Shaw for over 10 years, where we have achieved a lot of the goals we set out to achieve and published roughly 100 books.

The last few years I have worked more and more as a coach. I have helped grandmasters from Asia, Europe, South and North America. It is very rewarding to share in passionate people’s journey toward better chess and I feel truly honoured that I have been allowed to do so. For a period I had the privilege to train the Danish elite, but the travelling become too much and I felt this strong urge to play one more Olympiad in 2014. 

I also run the Nigel Short Chess Society out of Fettes College, for school kids from all over Edinburgh.

And now for the transcript of the Q and A

Introduction by founder of group Douglas Mwale:
Family please let’s welcome the Danish born Scottish GM Jacob Aagaard who is also a trainer and writer with four major awards for chess books and the 2007 British chess champion.

I read somewhere that you are the only Chess writer in the world to win the four prestigious major awards for chess books: (Excelling at Chess, 2001), ECF (Attacking Manual 1+2, 2010), FIDE’s Boleslavsky Award (Attacking Manual 1+2, 2012) and the Association of Chess Professionals (Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation, 2013)Professionals (Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation, 2013). How did you balance writing such books with coaching and playing as well?


Yes, it is true that I am the only one to win all the awards. I have to say that we use this as a promotional tool to some extent. Dvoretsky could not win because he was a writer for Russell Ltd, which was running the contest. He won the other three and is of course the greatest chess writer we have ever had. But the difference between Mark and I is that I am a writer first, a chess coach second and a player third. He was a coach first, a player second and a writer third.

The writing always came first for me. The coaching followed and then started to influence my writing a lot. I like people and I like helping people, so it has become a natural part of what I do as well.

Last week I had a training camp with give GMs and an IM in my house here in Scotland. The first of its kind. It was really a lot of fun.

One of the training sessions in Scotland


I have recently purchased some quality chess books. Currently training using your Positional Play and Calculation books, and Yusupov’s stage 3 books in his course. Yes, they are helping me. I do notice improvement. I have been floating around 2100 and would like to hit 2300 hundred in say 2-3 years. With a working life I manage 60-90 mins with the books. I wanted to know what would be your advice for the best approach to take with the books mentioned and what other quality chess books do you suggest for a player at 2100 who wants to progress to 2300 in a couple of years?


Thank you for that question. The most important part in training is to be aware of what you are training and to do it with focus. In science they call it deliberate practice. It is easy to do training almost as an excuse; just go through the motions.Not surprisingly, this does not really work well. You have to be focused. 45 minutes of focused training is more effective than 90 minutes of low concentration


How can Quality Chess make its books cheaper for the African market? You can start with some select countries


Can I as; are Android devices common in Africa, as for example in India? I think it is like 96% of all phones in India run on Android. I will look into this.

Because this is the way we can do something. IOS prices are fixed around the World, but Android makes it possible to set different prices for different countries. So probably, this is the way we can do something. I will take it to John.

Forward Chess came to us with their idea: rather than for every company to have their own app, they would give everyone a good deal and we could focus on making books. It made great sense to me. We are happy with the work we do with Forward Chess.

I think it makes sense to do all countries at once. Starting something is usually what takes half the time.


Will you one day make an African tour like you did for Asia?


I would love to do an African tour. I first have to fully recover from the Asian tour! It took months to get physically in shape for it and I am still not fully recovered. Partly because I have not had time to recover.

Question/ Statement:

Welcome GM , really good to have you here . I want to thank you for brining hitherto books which where available in Russian only : case in point. Questions of Modern Theory : This kind of work levels at least the knowledge field . I cannot say more about your other work thank you .


Mr. Aagard if you can elaborate on the ‘focus’ element in training.


Thank you RM. First off, my name is spelled with two times aa. It gives a special sound in Danish. Ah ok. Mr. Aagaard then,like the a with a circle above it. Å. It is pronounced something like “oh God”.

Focus in training: When you are solving exercises, you need to clear you mind of everything else. It will be exhausting. You will need time to recover. And it will be really difficult in the beginning and you will lose concentration.

Concentration by the way is the word for removing anything unnecessary.  In tennis (which I love) the path to concentration is to focus on the ball. In chess the path goes through looking at the board without thinking. At least this is one path that I like If we were to experiment with a book on Android for Africa should it be Thinking Inside the Box just to see if there is any interest!?

Grandmaster Preparation – Thinking Inside the Box by Jacob Aagaard, Improvement chess book by Quality


You mention many times in your books about SEEING the position and let the thinking take a back seat sometimes.   


Yes, LOOKING AT THE POSITION instead of listening to the interpretations of it going on in your head is important.

When we see a chess board, we often do not see it as it is, but as a mirror, that shows us all the chess that is inside ourselves. When we stop the stream of consciousness presented to us by our intuition. By slowing down and looking at the board we are able to see additional ideas. This is very tough.

I train with my strongest students doing this all the time. And they are around top 50 in the World.

Our brains are created to find food, run away from tigers and to think about the next generation. Everything beyond this is not natural, but an artificial extension. We need to reprogramme ourselves and take control of our brain, if we want to do anything advanced well. We can do this through repetitive actions or we can take a more conscious approach. Both work and both have validity. I personally like to use all options on the table. I will not go into cheating.


What advice do you have for chess players and Chess Engines? When should players consult Engines and how? And how do you use an engine yourself? From the opening, middlegame, endgame? Sometimes super GMs are easily criticised by very weak players armed with engines during games.


Not my area of expertise and I hope something that has received more attention that it deserves                        

About how to use an engine.  Let me find a position.

This is a position from the training camp we just held. The white player had analysed his game and found out that this is what he should have played. In this position he gave the computer move 1.Kg2 as winning. Notice that Black is threatening …Qxe2! and …Ng4+                        

This Kg2 move is a computer move. And he stopped his analysis there.                        

It is correct, but it gives him no additional understanding of the position.

Why is it the right move? His notes sent to me did not reflect this. He just pressed the spacebar and accepted the finding without understanding why. In the process he entirely failed to become a better chess player to understand the game deeper. I wondered What about 1…Rxc1, Looks very natural                        

White seemingly has no good recapture. I asked the engine It said 2.hxg6 Rxe1 3.Bh5!!.

A double rook sacrifice and a completely new pattern of attack

Black cannot take the bishop because of Qh7 and Qxf7 mate
So he must play 3…Rf8
When White has 4.g7 Nh7

5.Qxh7! Kxh7 6.gxf8=Q

Black cannot avoid mate.
Checks on f7 and f6 and then a bishop check.
I learned something from this game because I asked questions of the engine.
This is very important.

And I want to stress this for everyone who wants to improve; analyse your games extensively. Understand them in a human way. It is the best way to interact with your own thought process. Solving exercises is important too; but analysing your games is the number one job for anyone who wants to improve. Yet many decide to take other and longer paths forward.


Whats training routine can you recommend for upcoming terms of number of daily puzzles , numbers of games to analyse, etc


About a training routine. This is so individual that it makes no sense coming with recommendations. I once told an IM that I had great success with doing hours of exercise before the games. He tried it and said he felt sleepy while playing.


What makes sense is to focus on focusing. What are you wanting to get out of your training session? To focus on calculation maybe. If that is the case, then pay attention to what you are doing, as well as doing it. Anything you want to change. Is your concentration getting better. Is there anything that makes it easier for you to motivate (we all struggle).

A point about this, They say where there is will there is a way this is not my experience. I believe that where there is a way, will will come. I want to become a better guitar player. After finding a better instructor, my efforts have improved a lot. Why? Because I can see how I can do it.


One challenge that many of our promising chess players in Africa have is access to regular tournaments with GMs. Any ideas on how we can better collaborate over the internet with stronger players and coaches like yourself?


The first thing is obviously to ask and then to respect privacy when people say yes. For example; I was hesitant joining this group, because it gives my private phone number. But I decided to take the chance and say yes, hoping that people understand that if they want to talk to me, ask on which we look at all the time.


GM Aagaard, what books would you recommend for all chess players to read?


I recommend my books, obviously ?

The best training books for amateurs are the Yusupov series, now in 10 volumes. Unfortunately not available on Forward Chess. We do not have the digital rights.

I like a lot of books.                        

Let me recommend a few, with links.

Positional Decision Making in Chess by Boris Gelfand, Improvement chess book by Quality              

On this page you can also find a two hour lecture I did with Boris, on YouTube.                        Chess Structures – A Grandmaster Guide by Mauricio Flores Rios, Improvement chess book by Quality                   

Learn from the Legends 3rd edition (hardcover) by Mihail Marin, Improvement chess book by Quality                 

Chess Lessons by Vladimir Popov, Improvement chess book by Quality                        


Pump Up Your Rating by Axel Smith, Improvement chess book by Quality

We have published many good books, but these are the five most popular ones; not written by me. There are a lot of good books by other publishers of course. I like game collections where the players annotate their own games.I like the books by Rowson, Dvoretsky, Nunn, Kasparov, Kotov, Keres, Tal, Botvinnik                        

All the classics                        

And I like to eat                        

So I will go and have lunch before picking up my daugthers from school                        

Thank you very much for this kind invitation. I will be back another time if I did not manage to singlehandedly bore everyone so much that the group will be closed ?                        

And of course if I am invited. I am very honoured by this invitation and want to remind you all that if you have more questions, then is the place to go.                        

Other comments from group:

Thank you so much Grandmaster for your time and generosity in sharing experience and insight.       We cant wait to have you again GM.

GM Jacob Aagaard: I have talked to GM John Shaw, the managing director of Quality Chess. This was awesome                      

We will indeed put Thinking Inside the Box for sale in Africa at a more reasonable price. We publish books so they can be read, after all.                        


















Bruce Mubayiwa

I am the founder and editor of Africa Chess Net. I have been playing chess for over 25 years and love writing about the game. Our goal is simple, to get more people playing chess in Africa! The game of chess is not only absorbing but a great deal of fun.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: