Successful author Jan Markos - a portrait

by Stefan Liebig
4/16/2024 – Jan Markos is a Slovakian grandmaster and successful author. In addition to several books, he has now recorded a much acclaimed Fritztrainer course. Stefan Liebig spoke to the author and trainer about the secrets of effective chess training.

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Getting better by enjoying chess

Anyone who has seen the first two parts will be delighted: Three new ChessBase courses by Slovakian grandmaster Jan Markos will be released in May. They are the continuation of the "Middlegame Secrets" series - an impressive video series with an innovative teaching approach.

In the first two parts of his Middlegame Secrets, the trained theologian and philosopher explained the powers of the queen and the rooks in an engaging and sympathetic way. The aim of The Power of the Queen and The Potential of the Rook was "to present the pieces in all their beauty and to show the advantages and disadvantages of the heavy pieces". In the new episodes it is the turn of the king, the bishop and the knight.

Grandmaster of didactics

The 38-year-old father of two is an exceptional teacher. Two of the three chess books he has published have won prestigious awards in chess circles: "Under the Surface", published in 2018, was named "Book of the Year" by the English Chess Federation, and FIDE awarded the "Averbakh-Boleslavsky Award" to "The Secret Ingredient", published in 2021 together with his friend and Czech world-class player David Navara.

The only surprise in his series of publications is that his first book, "Beat the KID", published in 2008, is about the King's Indian. This is because he himself has been concentrating on his Sveshnikov Sicilian for decades and is anything but a fan of openings: "I have students around 2000 Elo who know more about openings than I do. But when they are out of the book they often don't know what to do next."

This is where his passion comes in. He wants to understand the game, to look behind the strategic finesse and tactical tricks in order to recognise patterns. As a theologian and philosopher, he apparently also wants to fathom the soul of chess. It's impressive, by the way, that he says he earns around two-thirds of his living from his humanities books as an author and corporate speaker and still managed to climb above the magical 2600 rating mark in 2014. However, he lacked the ambition and did not really enjoy studying openings, and his family, his humanities research and his many hobbies such as cooking, Japan and poetry were too important to him.

Secrets of the pieces

In vielen Schacholympiaden und Mannschaftseuropameisterschaften für sein Heimatland Slowakei erhielt er auf höchster Ebene die Gelegenheit, die Geheimnisse der Figuren zu ergründen. Dieses Wissen gibt er seit vielen Jahren an seine Schachschüler weiter. In den im Mai erscheinenden Folgen seiner Mittelspielreihe geht er auf die Einsatzmöglichkeiten von König, Läufer und Springer ein. Wer seine Bücher kennt, wird einiges Bekanntes entdecken und sich über weiterführende Inhalte zu diesen Themen freuen. Ziel des Autors ist die Steigerung des Spielverständnisses. Dazu tragen einfache Faustregeln und Ideen zum Einsatz der Figuren bei. Denn jede Figur sollte unter verschiedenen Aspekten betrachtet werden: Sie kann aktiv unsere Ziele umsetzen, sie kann verwundbar sein und Schutz benötigen und sie kann ein Störfaktor sein, der andere Figuren behindert. Insbesondere gibt Markos lehrreiche Empfehlungen, was zu machen ist, wenn man ratlos vor einer komplizierten Stellung sitzt und einem keine sinnvollen Züge in den Sinn kommen.

In many Chess Olympiads and European Team Championships for his home country Slovakia he had the opportunity to discover the secrets of the pieces at the highest level. He has been passing on this knowledge to chess students for many years. In the instalments of his Middlegame series to be published in May, he will discuss the characteristics of king, bishop and knight. Those familiar with his books will discover a number of familiar themes and will enjoy learning more about them. The author's aim is to increase understanding of the game. Simple rules of thumb and ideas on how to use the pieces help. Each piece should be considered from different angles: It can be active in achieving our goals, it can be vulnerable and in need of protection, and it can be a disruptive factor that hinders other pieces. In particular, Markos gives instructive advice on what to do when you find yourself in a complicated situation and can think of no sensible moves.

But what does the author actually think about the medium of video courses, which is still new compared to books?

"I love chess and I love books. But as a chess player, I'm naturally open to new approaches. Video courses have the advantage of receiving an authentic explanation and structure from the grandmaster. At the same time, you build up something like a personal relationship - at the end of a course, ideally a feeling of friendship has developed."

But Markos also points out the benefits of books:

"It's easier to browse and compare, and somehow as an author you feel like you're in the tradition of Nimzowitsch and other great chess authors."

He himself grew up with the chess books of his father, who was a strong player (Elo around 2000) and has particularly fond memories of books by Pachman, Kotov and Dvoretsky - as well as the book "The Test of Time" by Kasparov, which he won several times during his successful youth. This laid a good foundation - he won both the Slovakian Youth and Adult Championships and became European U16 Champion.

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Jan Markos - An interview with Johannes Fischer

Build up and use knowledge effectively

"Enjoy the game - you have to like it! - is Jan Markos' playing philosophy. He knows that many amateurs are ambitious but have little time due to family, work or other hobbies. This time should be used wisely and combined with as much fun as possible. If you enjoy learning, you will remember more. Video courses and live broadcasts of major events - at the time of the interview with Jan Markos, the Candidates Tournament was underway in Toronto - are ideal ways to combine entertainment and learning.

"But I think it's essential to spend a few euros and buy structured material. If you try to find it all online for free, you waste a lot of time and often end up with videos that have no content," recommends Markos, who ended his active career two years ago, to focus on quality. When using engines, however, he advises caution and to use your own thoughts, "because engines can't speak". Ideally, you should therefore analyse all your games in three steps: First alone, then with the coach and only finally together with the engine.

Finally, if you want to make the most of your training sessions in practice, Markos recommends his books with lots of tips on aspects such as nervousness, time problems, decision-making, etc.

Finally, a few tips from the Grandmaster on how to improve: When training, focus on annotated games, always take notes and look for patterns. In games, don't only switch to 110% when you're losing. And the most important tip: never lose your enjoyment of the game...  


Stefan Liebig, born in 1974, is a journalist and co-owner of a marketing agency. He now lives in Barterode near Göttingen. At the age of five, strange pieces on his neighbor's shelf aroused his curiosity. Since then, the game of chess has cast a spell over him. Flying high in the NRW youth league with his home club SV Bad Laasphe and several appearances in the second division team of Tempo Göttingen were highlights for the former youth South Westphalia champion.
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