In Praise of Agadmator, the Best Chess Youtuber in the World

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In Praise of Agadmator, the Best Chess Youtuber in the World

“Hello everyone!”

These words, spoken in a bright Croatian accent, herald the start of every video by the YouTube chess guru Agadmator. If you’re one of the world’s hardcore chess neophytes who fell hard in the aftermath of The Queen’s Gambit (looking at myself here), the words are instantly recognizable. For me, today, hearing these words is akin to the mice who heard Pavlov’s bell, except that I know I’m going to get that sweet chess cheese every single time, because the ‘Mator (as I refer to him in my head) always delivers the goods. As a human being, he represents the first time I have been grateful for YouTube’s algorithm, and the chess videos that flood my homepage are a welcome refrain from the “Smirking Fascist OWNS Uppity Woman” genre that is usually so inescapable.

His real name is Antonio Radic, he’s got his own Wikipedia page, and his channel is closing in on a million subscribers and 400 million views. Even before the Queen’s Gambit boom, he was a celebrity in the chess world who was regularly mobbed by his admirers at events, and as the son of a FIDE Master, he’s a strong player in his own right. It’s not his play that distinguishes him, though; it’s the videos. The format is incredibly simple: he reviews one game per video. It can be current or historical, and the brown wood-colored board enjoys pride of place on the screen, with pictures of each player (or of a faceless hooded man, when no pictures are available) denoting the sides. Radic’s box is smaller, and he commentates from his living room, with a brown couch and often his dog in the background. The average video seems to run around 15 minutes, and he’s a marvel at releasing analysis of important games minutes after they conclude.

None of this, of course, quite gets at why he’s so good, and that’s a little harder to explain. There’s a glut of chess analysis on the internet, which is a treasure trove for new zealots like me, but Radic has mastered the art of explaining why each tactic is played, why certain lines weren’t pursued, and how the momentum of a good move can tilt an entire game. When it comes to the play of grandmasters, this is essentially explaining the inexplicable, since their play exists on another plane for beginners like me. Many is the analyst who will say something like, “obviously the pawn capturing the queen here would be a disaster,” when in fact it’s not obvious to many. Radic will spend minutes in a given video tracing hypothetical lines to show exactly why certain maneuvers were avoided. What’s really remarkable is that it all makes sense, and he does it fast. The concept of a 20-minute chess video seems oppressive, but here, there’s never a dull moment. His videos carry you along on a pleasing current, and if you’re not careful it’s easy to sacrifice two hours of your life on his channel. After all, who can resist knowing how Edmund Von Schlachterskeend humiliated Gunt Knurst with the Barrister’s Gambit in 1904? (Those details are made up, I think, but you get the point.)

Along with his rapid, pinpoint analysis, Radic has an appreciation both for the game and its history, and an allusive, almost literary sense of description. Each video comes with a quote (a recent example, from Siegbert Tarrasch: “Some part of every chess game is played blindfolded. The sight of the chessman frequently upsets one’s calculations), and a title along the lines of “Dubov Takes Carlsen into a DEEP DARK FOREST” or “Staring Death in the Face” or “The Only Man Kasparov Ever Feared.” Armed with an incredible bank of knowledge and a personal style with just the right mix of seriousness and humor (he can be hilariously dry, as in his description of making a tactical blunder against an international master: “my plan was to resign”), the videos take on a dramatic narrative of their own, and transform a complicated game into an irresistible story, set to the pleasing wooden plonking sounds that punctuate each move.

That, I think, is what makes Radic so special. He’s a writer, really, or at least a translator—he takes the stories that are inherent to each game and draws them out in ways that might have been inscrutable to someone like me. He not only sees the hidden theater in how these pieces conspire to defeat each other, but he’s a master at teasing it out into a compelling story. In doing so, he not only elucidates what’s happening in each match, but deepens his viewers’ appreciation for the genius of the top masters and the beauty of chess itself. Whether you consider the game art or war or competition, Radic makes the allegories bloom.

To step back from the romantic heights for a moment, it’s worth saying that his videos are also just really fun. If The Queen’s Gambit was the reason I made an account at chess.com and started learning about the game in greater depth than mastering which square the queen starts on, Agadmator is the reason I continued. He’s also a big part of the reason I’m taking lessons on the London System and the Caro-Kann on chess.com, the reason I’m following the Tata Steel Masters in the Netherlands, and the reason the game has assumed what my wife would argue is too prominent a place in my life. But if a side effect of Radic’s work is to foster an burgeoning addiction, he can be forgiven; insofar as the job of any content creator is to entertain and inform, he’s a massive success on both fronts, and he does it all with an artistry that might escape your attention at first glance. In that sense, his channel is a perfect reflection of chess itself, in all its poetic multitudes.


Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .

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