Aleksandar Matanovic, Whose Publishing Company Changed Chess, Dies at 93

Aleksandar Matanovic, Whose Publishing Company Changed Chess, Dies at 93

Aleksandar Matanovic, a Serbian grandmaster who co-founded Chess Informant, a publishing company that revolutionized how players learned and studied the game, died on Aug. 9 in Belgrade. He was 93 and the world’s oldest living grandmaster.

His death was announced by the International Chess Federation, the game’s governing body.

Mr. Matanovic (pronounced ma-TAHN-o-vich) learned how to play chess when he was 6, using pieces his sister had fashioned out of clay. Largely self-taught, he fell in love with the game and, by the time he was 18, was his country’s junior champion. A few years later, he was a grandmaster.

Mr. Matanovic founded Chess Informant in 1966 with Aleksandar Bozic, another grandmaster, and Milivoje Molerovic, an international master (the rank below grandmaster).

The purpose of the company was to publish books of recent games by top players, often with their own annotations. Mr. Matanovic functioned as the company’s senior editor, helping to select which games were included. They picked games that were exciting but that also had new or surprising opening sequences of moves, thus advancing the collective understanding of chess.

The company has sold more than 4.5 million chess books to date, according to Vitomir Bozic, the son of Aleksandar Bozic and the current general manager of the Informant.

Garry Kasparov, who reigned as world chess champion from 1985 to 2000 and who was born two years before Chess Informant began publishing, once said of his generation of players, “We are all children of Informant.”

In the 100th Informant, published in April 2008, Mr. Matanovic looked back, noting how Informant became the “Chess Bible.”

Before Informants were published, it was difficult to find up-to-date information about games and tournaments. Once the books began to appear — two a year until 1990, three a year until 2011, four a year since 2012 — they became an essential reference for all serious chess players, even nonprofessionals.

For decades before the internet, it was common for players to travel to competitions lugging several Informants, and to see them feverishly studying the books between rounds. (Some players allocated more space in their suitcase for Informants than for changes of clothing and would have to wear the same outfit at a tournament for days.)

Chess Informant also created a system for annotating and classifying games — notably the openings, which had previously been known only by their names. In a five-volume series called the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings, first published from 1974 to 1979, Informant grouped the openings together by letters and numbers, which made it easier to search for information about specific ones.

The annotation system also used a series of symbols, including a plus sign to indicate that one player was in check, and an arrow pointing to the right meaning that one player had a strong initiative for an attack. In an email, Mr. Bozic, the general manager, described Mr. Matanovic as “the brain” behind the annotation system.

Almost all chess books now use some or all of the opening classifications and annotations created by Informant.

Aleksandar Matanovic was born on May 23, 1930, in Belgrade, which was then the capital of Yugoslavia. His father died when he was young, and he learned to play chess at the age of 6 from his older sister, who made a set from modeling clay because they did not have pieces.

In 1944, after the Allies bombed German-occupied Belgrade, the family fled to Ostruznica, a village on the banks of the Sava river. There, on the beach, people played chess; Mr. Matanovic said he discovered that he was better than everyone else, which persuaded him to stick with the game. After World War II ended, he began competing regularly; by 1948, he was Yugoslavia’s junior champion.

He became an international master in 1951, and four years later he was awarded the title of grandmaster by the International Chess Federation.

He won the Yugoslavian national championship three times (1962, tied for first; 1969; and 1978, again tied for first). He also finished runner-up four times, in 1951, 1956, 1959 and 1967.

The results were formidable — at the time that Mr. Matanovic was competing, Yugoslavia was among the world’s strongest chess-playing countries. From 1954 to 1978, he was part of 11 Yugoslavian national teams in the biannual Chess Olympiads. His teams won five silver and four bronze medals, with Mr. Matanovic personally taking home four medals, including one gold, for his performances.

He also enjoyed success in individual international competitions, winning or tying for first in five tournaments and placing second in two others.

Over the course of his career, he beat some of the world’s best players, including the world champions Mikhail Tal and Tigran Petrosian.

Mr. Matanovic met his future wife, Vesna Kostrencic, in Zagreb, and they were together for 74 years. She survives him. His survivors also include his son, Aleksandar; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Though the internet has made Informants and the chess encyclopedias less essential, they continue to be popular, and the company has branched out and now publishes other types of chess books. The 157th volume of Informant, which is now also sold on DVD, will be released in September.

Speaking to the Serbian newspaper Politika in May, Mr. Matanovic recalled that a Serbian economist told him in the 1970s, “The two products we export the most are berries and Chess Informant.”