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    Entries in Chess Informant (17)

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    A Short Review of Informant 130

    Like the Star Trek franchise, the Super Bowl*, and various individuals born in the fantastic year of 1966, the Chess Informant is chugging away into its 51st year. The latest issue is #130, and the publishers in Serbia have continued their quirky habit of naming each issue. This one has the eyebrow-raising title, “Knocker-Up”, and while you might think this is because the volume is pregnant with ideas, it turns out that a “knocker-up” was essentially a human alarm clock. Will the Informant wake us up, metaphorically speaking?

    I think that's going a bit too far. Real transformation as a chess player comes when one is willing to do some hard work and engage in deliberate practice; looking for that next chess book, or magazine, video series, blog, app, coach or anything else won’t turn even the most talented player into a grandmaster without putting in some hard work. (That said, chess blogs, videos, and coaches can be helpful. *Ahem*.)

    Back to the Informant. For many years it came out twice a year and followed the same blueprint, but for years now it has come out quarterly and combines traditional elements with experiments. As always, it begins with a re-presentation of the best game and the most important novelty from the previous volume (Kovalenko-Korobov, Poikovsky 2016 and So-Aronian [9…Nf2] from St. Louis 2016, respectively).

    The next 145 pages or comprise a series of articles, beginning with the Magnus Carlsen-Sergey Karjakin World Championship match. Sam Shankland covers some match highlights, which is a mixed bag. He’s a very strong GM and a good writer, but because he was part of Carlsen’s extended team he is mum on the openings and was probably overly reticent in his observations.

    There's a great deal of coverage of the Baku Olympiad, and rightly so. Oddly, though, the American triumph isn't covered. Maybe that's because it was covered in the inaugural issue of the American Chess Magazine (ACM), but while the Chess Informant people publish both the Informant and the ACM coverage in one shouldn't preclude coverage in the other. Despite this omission, there Olympiad received approximately 90 pages of coverage in this issue, which is commendable.

    First, Andrei Volokitin, Ukraine’s top performer in the Olympiad (8½ out of 9 on board 5), deeply analyzes two of his games from Baku while presenting two further fragments of his play. Canadian star Eric Hansen then complements the preceding piece by showing his topsy-turvy loss to Volokitin.

    Michael Adams shows three of his games from Baku, beginning with his game vs. Luft Ali, a 166-move monster. After that his 70-mover against Le Quang Liem seems brisk by comparison, and his 39-move win over Wang Yue a miniature.

    Aleksandr Colovic (a GM, like all the other authors) looks at Carlsen’s games with “ordinary” grandmasters at Baku, showing two wins for the champ and two draws – most notably his very fortunate draw with David Smerdon.

    Sandro Mareco looks at some highlights of three Latin American teams in Baku: Peru, Paraguay, and his own team, Australia.

    Ivan Sokolov takes a look at the remarkable team from Iran. They were the 46th seeds but finished 16th, and other than their (for now) top board, Ehsan Ghaem Maghami, their other players had an average age of 15!

    Rafael Leitao looks at an interesting new idea for White in the 6.Bg5 Najdorf (against 6…Nbd7), and while the game he examines was also from Baku this article transitions into a portion of the book focused on openings.

    The next piece is by young Hungarian Benjamin Gledura, who presents an impressive victory over Daniele Vocatura with the amazing 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 Nh5!? – an idea clearly inspired by his countryman Andras Adorjan’s 3…e5 4.dxe5 Nh5. That crazy idea had its most famous outing in Kramnik-Leko, Tilburg 1998, and was somehow won by Black.

    Next is Emanuel Berg’s “Mirroring” column, in which he first presents an opening variation from White’s point of view before doing the same for Black. In this issue the line is the Topalov specialty 8…h5 against the English Attack in the Najdorf (6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 h5).

    Karsten Müller takes us to the final phase of the game – the ending – where he is a renowned specialist. He offers a survey of endings from the Olympiad, proceeding from pawn endgames to rook endgames and then to bishop vs. knight and rook vs. knight.

    From here the traditional Informant reasserts itself, and there are 200 well-annotated games with symbols but no (natural) language, followed by various indexes and sections with combinations and endings for solving. (Nine of each.) There is no section with studies for solving; a pity, in my view, but presumably the people have spoken and given it their thumbs-down. Or put differently, previous issues of the Informant served the role of knocker-up for the aesthetic and practical value of studies, but most readers decided to stay in bed.

    While that may not merit criticism, it does seem to me that the treatment of the World Championship could have been better, while the (non-) treatment of the U.S. performance in the Olympiad was a serious omission. Even so, there is much that is worthwhile in this issue, and it still a very reasonable purchase for serious players (I think the target audience is 2000+; maybe 1800+ for those willing to put in some elbow grease) and for fans who want to see a compendium of the best in chess from the last quarter of 2016. Ordering info is here, and if any of you are interested in Chess Informant swag they have t-shirts for sale as well.

    Full disclosure: I don’t work for Chess Informant, but I may end up doing some work for the American Chess Magazine, which they publish.

     

    * Technically, the Super Bowl started in 1967, in January, but it was the culmination of the 1966 NFL season.

    Wednesday
    Dec142016

    American Chess Magazine: Issue 1

    Chess in the United States is going swimmingly, with three players in the top eight in the world, the Olympic title, a host of talented juniors, two big chess hubs (New York City and St. Louis), universities that import GMs by the barrel-full, and super-sponsor Rex Sinquefield, for starters. Russia still has an overall edge based on their longer history and deeper infrastructure, while China and India will be hard to keep up with due to their population advantages, but the U.S. is clearly one of the world's chess super-powers and should remain there for the foreseeable future.

    One area of chess where it is most decidedly not a super-power, however, is in the realm of chess publishing. The best chess book publishers are in Europe, while the United States Chess Federation's magazine, Chess Life, is not up to the standard of a publication like New in Chess.

    This may be changing, however - thanks, ironically, to the Serbian juggernaut that is Chess Informant. They (particularly Josip Asik) are the publishers of a new and very impressive periodical called American Chess Magazine (henceforth ACM). This, like the Informant itself, is intended to be a quarterly, and the first issue, for fall-winter 2016/2017, is now in print.

    The issue is a monster. The pages are just short of A4 size - 8.3" x 11", the same as contemporary issues of New in Chess Magazine (NICM). Like NICM it is a full-color magazine, but where NICM has "only" 106 pages per issue, ACM weighs in at a hefty 152 pages. (To be fair, NICM comes out 8x/year, twice as often as ACM is going to - at least at this point.) The magazine looks nice, and more importantly, is packed with content; there is very little filler, nor are the pages littered with ads.

    You can find much more about the issue here, including a full table of contents and a short video preview that will offer a great overview of what you can expect from the magazine. The price is a bit high as magazines go - $29.95 for the first issue - but I would expect that price to go down somewhat as subscribers, and subsequently the number of advertisers and the amount they'll need to pay for ad space, both increase. The publication deserves a worldwide audience, as the overwhelming majority of the content is of general interest and not centered on the distinctively American chess scene.

    One more comparison with NICM, which has a cover price of $12.99 per issue. I counted up the number of games, game fragments, and other chess content in both magazines, and here are the results:

    NICM 2016, issue 7: 17 annotated games, three unannotated games, 14 annotated game fragments, three unannotated game fragments, one opening article, and nine tactics puzzles.

    ACM: Fall-Winter 2016/7: 26 annotated games (some very deeply), one unannotated game, 26 very lightly annotated games (near the end of the magazine, showing some highlights from relatively minor U.S. events), 25 annotated game fragments, an openings article by Baadur Jobava in which he looks at four different opening lines, an endgame column by Jonathan Speelman, 14 tactical puzzles and two compositions.

    Lest you think that ACM neglects NICM's strengths, like interviews, profiles, and recaps, it isn't so: ACM has done a fine job there, too. So I'd recommend giving ACM a try, at least if you're a fairly strong player - at least 1800 or so, or rapidly heading for that figure. (At least if you're buying it almost entirely for the high-level chess content. As with NICM, there is plenty of prose, too, so readers who want to enjoy it as a magazine and are content to browse the games primarily for pleasure should ignore the rating caveat offered two sentences ago.)

    Full disclosure: I was asked to join the editorial staff, and while I wasn't involved in any way with the first issue, it is quite possible that I will be involved in the near future. I think the review was objective and my enthusiasm is genuine and merited, but I'm not neutral here: I want the publication to succeed (provided that they continue to put out a good product).

    Thursday
    Nov102016

    A Short Review of Informant 129

    It's time for another Informant review, this time covering Informant 129, which offers a digest of the best of the chess from May through August of this year. Regular readers of this blog are probably pretty familiar with the drill by now and have a good idea of what this publication looks like, even if they've never seen one themselves. Nevertheless, there are always new topics and often new authors in each issue, and there are always new readers visiting this blog, so it's worthwhile going through the exercise once again.

    In the old days the Informant came out twice a year and included approximately 700 games per issue, most of them annotated by always with languageless symbols. Now it comes out four times a year and only 200 such games are published, but (a) the notes are (on average) much deeper and (b) the 200 games make up much less than half the book. (In this issue, they fill only 129 of the 319 pages.) There are also the puzzle sections - again a holdover from the old days, with nine combinations, nine endings, and nine endgame studies. The tournament results from the relevant time period are also given, and so too are the best game and the most important theoretical novelty from the previous volume.

    All told, those traditional features take up approximately half of the volume, and the other half (or slightly less - 143 pages) are like a very high-level magazine. All the remaining material is in English and authored by grandmasters, always including at least one super-GM - in this case Michael Adams. Here's a summary of the articles.

    First is Adams' review of this year's British Championship, which he won with the enormous score of 10/11. He analyzes four of his games from the tournament, from the last five rounds, in considerable detail.

    Next comes a review by GM Spiridon Kapnisis of the Bilbao Grand Prix, won by Magnus Carlsen. All ten of Carlsen's games are annotated!

    Third is a review by GM Aleksandar Colovic of Wesley So's victory in the Sinquefield Cup; eight of So's nine games are analyzed therein.

    The strong Indian GM S.P. Sethuraman recaps his victory in the Asian Continental Championship, culminating in a wild last-round win over the favored (and leading) Wei Yi in a game that features some mind-bending analysis.

    The next article looks at another continental championship, this one for the Americas, and was likewise written by the winner, Peruvian GM Emilio Cordova.

    After this the tournament summaries are left behind. GM Michael Roiz discusses fighting for the initiative ("at any cost!"), and while he is a very strong grandmaster his examples are all from other players' games.

    GM Rafael Leitao takes a look at some of the new trends in the London System against various Black setups, and as an aside I should say that this is a wonderful statement of the richness of our game. Until 2-3 years ago, if not sooner, the idea that a top-shelf periodical like the Informant could write about "new trends in the London System" sounded almost as implausible as a serious scientific summit on the flat earth theory. But here we are, and while I doubt that the London will ever become as rich as an opening like the Najdorf Sicilian or the main line Closed Ruy starting with 9.h3, it has become a legitimate opening in its own right for players who want to fight for an edge - at least against some plausible setups.

    GM Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" has been a constant since the Informant began its "magazine" section, and this time around he looks at some Modern Benoni games, past and present, highlighting the need for Black to play very precisely.

    GM Emanuel Berg's "Mirroring" column has been around a while, demonstrating first White's chances in a given opening line and then Black's. The subject in this issue is the Bayonet Variation against the King's Indian Defense.

    GM Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant's "Intuition" column looks at the endgame queen + g-pawn vs. queen; poignantly, she often refers to Mark Dvoretsky's work on this ending.

    Speaking of endgames and the recently, sadly departed, the final article is by endgame specialist Karsten Mueller, who takes a look at the endgame legacy of the great Viktor Korchnoi.

    As usual, I believe the issue offers excellent value for the money, and I can warmly recommend it to stronger players, say, 1900 and up. I think the average level of the commentators is a bit lower in this issue than in most of its immediate predecessors, but even so it's worth adding to the collection!

    More information, and samples, here.

    Saturday
    Jul232016

    A Short Review of Informant 128

    It's time for another review of the Chess Informant, because a new edition has been published. This long-running periodical goes back to the great year of 1966, and has morphed from a bare games collection, some of which were annotated with languageless symbols, into a combination of a yearbook and a magazine. About half of each issue nowadays follows the old formula of wordlessly annotated games - about 200 per issue - but the other half (or more than half) comprises a series of high-level articles written in English. Each issue bears a close resemblance to its predecessor, but the editors are constantly tinkering, trying new authors and new themes every time.

    Here's a summary of the contents of the 128th issue of Chess Informant. Let's start with the usual material. As mentioned above, there are 200 deeply annotated games, the overwhelming majority from (top) grandmaster practice. There are puzzle sections for combinations, endgames, and studies - nine of each. There are indexes, lists of the FIDE tournaments played in the relevant period (February-May of this year, 2016), and a re-presentation of the best game and the best novelty from the previous Informant. (The latter doesn't just give the game itself, but gives a small ECO-style summary of the theory of the line as a whole, revised to take the new novelty into account.)

    Now for the variable sections. The Candidates Tournament is understandably the centerpiece of the issue, and it begins with a long article by super-GM Ernesto Inarkiev. He spends several pages offering a sporting, conceptual analysis of Sergey Karjakin's triumph, and then illustrates the analysis with a very close look at Karjakin's games from the tournament.

    The next article is by GM Aleksandr Colovic, who offers a theoretical survey of the event. He goes through the tournament's contributions to the theory of the Slav, the Semi-Slav, the Queen's Indian, the English, the Ruy Lopez, and the Giuoco Piano.

    GM Sarunas Sulskis then turns his attention to the European Championship, focusing especially on its convincing winner, Ernesto Inarkiev. (Author of the first article in the publication, mentioned above.)

    Super-GM Michael Adams presents four of his games in the Ruy Lopez with an early d2-d3; two on the white side and two with the black pieces. Surprisingly, all four games were drawn, but all of the games were interesting and all - except for a short and fairly comfortable draw with Black against Jakovenko - all were full-blooded battles.

    GM Mauricio Flores Rios covers the super-strong U.S. Championship, won by Fabiano Caruana ahead of Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So. He looks at no less than six of Caruana's games from the championship (including those against fellow super-GMs Nakamura and So) and one each by Nakamura and So. A little bonus: he covers So's spectacular win over Garry Kasparov from the Ultimate Blitz Challenge, held a few days after the Championship.

    GM Surya Ganguly covers his victory in the Bangkok Open, and then GM Ivan Sokolov recaps the Dubai Open. Both events were quite strong, so while the events were short on super-grandmasters there was a rich ore of content to mine, and the authors are successful in doing so.

    There was a world championship event during this period as well, and GM Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant recaps Hou Yifan's convincing victory over Mariya Muzychuk in their women's world championship match. Arakhamia-Grant also addresses Hou's frustration with FIDE's handling of the women's crown, and her (Hou's) intention not to participate in the next women's knockout world championship event this coming October.

    GM Evgeny Najer writes about the ridiculously strong Russian Team Championship (Kramnik, Grischuk, Karjakin, Svidler, Jakovenko, Dominguez, Nepomniachtchi, etc.), and GM Sergey Rublevsky presents one of his own games from that event.

    GM Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" column is generally placed much earlier in the issue, but the important thing is that it remains. This time he looks at the Sicilian Scheveningen structure, showing both contemporary play and echoes going back as far as the 1950s.

    Finally, GM Karsten Mueller's Endgame Strategy column looks at zugzwang within five kinds of endgame: pawn endgames, those with a minor piece against pawns, endings where one side has an extra exchange, same-colored bishop endings, and rook endings.

    In summary and conclusion, the book is a terrific resource for all serious players, especially for those rated over 2000, and diligent players over 1800 should get a lot out of it as well. Moreover, there's enough "talk" in the periodical that even somewhat lower-rated players can enjoy it as a summary of the events of the past few months. Highly recommended.

    Ordering info here.

    Friday
    Apr082016

    Informant 127: The 50th Anniversary

    Every year in our lifetimes will be the 50th anniversary of something or other. This year, 2016, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the "Star Trek" franchise, for example, and while the 50th Super Bowl takes place next year the 50th Super Bowl season begins this fall. Former FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman turned 50 in January, and there are some lesser known players who also reach the half-century mark this year. Tigran Petrosian successfully defended his world championship title against Boris Spassky back in 1966, and last but not least, it is also the golden anniversary of the Chess Informant.

    The latest issue is #127 - not exactly a nice, round number - and it exemplifies the blend of traditional Informant sections with newer material. To their credit, the editorial staff is willing to experiment and take risks in each issue, trying to improve it rather than resting on their laurels. Not every issue is as good as its immediate predecessor, but the general trend has been an upward one for some years now, and will likely continue in the right direction.

    Here's a synopsis of the contents of the present issue. First, the core elements are in place: 200 deeply languagelessly annotated games, nine combinations for solving and another nine endgames for solving (unfortunately, the solutions are given on the opposite page rather than overleaf; the publishers should waste a page if necessary to avoid the possibility of readers accidentally or semi-accidentally spotting the solutions). These are all taken from the period covered in the issue, which in this case is from November 2015-February 2016. The issue also begins, as usual, with the winner of the best game and best novelty prizes from the previous volume.

    Those features go back a very long time. More recent but still well-established features are a series of nine studies for solving along with GM Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" column. (This month he looks at the ability of the world's best players, well before Magnus Carlsen was a gleam in his parents' eyes - or in one case before his parents even existed - to persevere to the end, trying to wring out every chance to win a game.)

    Other recurring columnists are Pentala Harikrishna ("The New Romantics"), Emanuel Berg ("Mirroring"), and Karsten Mueller ("Endgame Strategy"). Harikrishna looks a pair of complicated games, one of which remained tense throughout while the other exploded into fireworks; Berg looks at a pair of games in the Portisch/Hook Variation of the Winawer (with ...Qa5-a4), one won by each side; and Mueller investigates 11 endgames from the London Chess Classic.

    Unfortunately, Alexander Morozevich did not write a column for this issue, but among the new columnists Sergei Rublevsky and Ivan Sokolov are strong players and fine analysts in their own right - though not of "Moro's" caliber. (Bring Moro back if you can, guys.) Rublevsky, a Candidate in 2007, writes about 4...Bb4+ against his beloved Scotch, and doesn't think White has much to worry about in that direction. Sokolov writes about the major open tournaments in Qatar and Gibraltar. It should be noted that tournament reports are a common feature in the newest issues of the Informant, giving the periodical a bit of a magazine-like flavor.

    Along those lines, GM Aleksandar Colovic (I'll henceforth scrap the "GM", as all the articles are by grandmasters) writes about the quasi-rapid/quasi-classical tournament in Zurich (won by Hikaru Nakamura) while S. P. Sethuraman and Basssem Amin take a last look or two at the World Cup.

    One final column, before turning to those devoted exclusively to opening theory, is Dragan Solak's article on the king. Rather than uncritically embracing the conventional wisdom about king safety, he notes and informally categorizes different sorts of kings (the "ghost" king, the "chicken" king, the "explorer" king, and so on). The idea is that the king can often take care of itself and occasionally achieve offensive aims, even in situations where one wouldn't expect it.

    Turning to the openings, Vassilios Kotronias's 80-part series on the 2.c3 Sicilian ended in the last issue, and he's probably in a sanatorium somewhere recovering his strength. (Like Morozevich, I hope he will be compelled to return to work very soon!) This time around, there are four articles. Aleksander Delchev writes on the "Snake English" (if you hadn't come across that label before, it applies to 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nb6 6.e3), Spyridon Kapnisis writes on the Scandinavian (more specifically, the line beginning 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Be2 Nc6 5.d4 0-0-0 6.Be3), Milos Pavlovic writes on the main line Marshall (from its beginning[!], after 11.Rxe5 c6), and Aleksandr Mista explores the 5.Qb3 Gruenfeld (more specifically: 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0-0 7.e4 Nc6 8.Be2 e5 9.d5 Nd4 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Qxd4 c6).

    As usual, I recommend it to any and all serious players rated 2000 and up, and wouldn't want to discourage players who are somewhat lower-rated and willing to work from picking up a copy. Below 1800, though, it's probably too tough to be worth it. As usual, I like what I've seen so far, but do think that the issue would be improved by keeping at least one super-GM involved (they had Kasparov for a time and then Morozevich). It would probably help sales, but more than that, it's great to see how a really top player thinks about the game when he's willing to really dig deep and say something substantive to the general public.

    One other, very minor criticism: the cover art looks like a propaganda poster from the bad old Soviet Union (or worse). Hopefully the proud, buff standard bearer won't remain there throughout this, their jubilee year!

    More, including ordering information, here (print/CD) and here (download).

    Sunday
    Dec132015

    Informant 126: Focus on the World Cup

    Another three months have gone by, so it's time for another issue of the Chess Informant. The current issue, #126, hot off the press, covers events from September-November of 2015, and the text portions rightly place a heavy emphasis on the World Cup (won by Sergei Karjakin in a dramatic final over Peter Svidler, in case anyone has forgotten; both players thereby qualified for next year's Candidates' tournament). As usual, I'll offer an overview of the issue.

    We'll begin with a review of the standard, old-school features: a big chunk of games (201, the seemingly official quantity nowadays) which are presented in the Informant's traditional way, with symbols and without natural language. (That said, that number is slightly misleading, in that quite a few of the games are repetitions/"translations" of games given in the text-based sections. There's a good news/bad news aspect to that. The good news (if you've purchased a digital version of the Informant) is that those games can be easily incorporated into your database programs, which is very convenient. The bad news, obviously enough, is that there's some duplication in what you've paid for. There are also the standard sections on combinations, endgames and studies (with nine of each), plus a re-presentation of the best game and the best novelty from the previous issue.

    Now to the text-based material, which comprises more than half of the volume - 180 pages out of 348. Once upon a time it seemed like a gimmicky change to the Informant, but now it's a major strength of the volume. As noted above, the current issue focuses on the World Cup, but not everything relates to that event.

    First, there's Alexander Morozevich's "Midnight in Moscow" column, which takes a look at the ...a6 vs. a4 pawn advances in Benoni structures and asks who benefits from their insertion. Morozevich shows one of his many creative ideas with the black pieces, and shows how it has developed over the past several years.

    Next, Pentala Harikrishna ("The New Romantics") looks at four games (one from the World Cup) in which imaginative calculation was the necessary ingredient in a player's winning a won game.

    Ernesto Inarkiev asks the question, "How many games should a chess professional play in a period of one year?", and after briefly surveying old thoughts and recent data concludes that there is no one sensible conclusion to be drawn. He recently played in four back-to-back events (five if you distinguish the World Rapid and the World Blitz championships) in a 29 day period, starting with - you guessed it - the World Cup. Despite the fatiguing schedule, Inarkiev's results did his rating no harm, and overall he even seemed to benefit from the daily grind which kept him in form.

    Next is Mihail Marin's very well-received column, "Old Wine in New Bottles". There may be no "wine" that's older in chess than the weakness of f7 (or f2), and it can be found in vintages as recent as the World Cup final between Svidler and Karjakin. Marin shows three games where tactics involving f7 and/or f2 come into play, and shows some classic examples as well, plus another game from 2015 that could have become a classic.

    Swedish GM Emanuel Berg ("Mirroring") continues his thematic columns in which he looks at an opening variation from both perspectives, showing first a white success in the line followed by one for Black. (At least from a theoretical standpoint; the results need not be 1-0 and 0-1.) The variation in question this time is the increasingly popular Ruy variation 6.d3, starring a pair of games from the World Cup.

    Karsten Mueller ("Endgame Strategy") looks at 12 endings (from the World Cup and the World Rapid Championship) with various material distributions; it's more a survey than a thematic column.

    From here on out it's all about the World Cup. Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, Alexander Ipatov, Bassem Amin, Rafael Leitao, S.P. Sethuraman, Sam Shankland, and Sandro Mareco all look at their highlights (and sometimes their lowlights) from the event; and Leitao also looked at games from other matches that caught his eye. Michael Roiz looks at several especially tactical games from others' matches, and Sarunas Sulskis also looked at some very complicated battles featuring some of the top players.

    In sum, another winning issue - highly recommended.

    (Ordering information here.)

    Wednesday
    Oct212015

    Informant's "Paramount" Chess Database

    In part because of the market dominance of their database program, ChessBase also has the best-known database as well. The next edition of their MegaDatabase will have approximately 68,500 annotated games. That's a good deal, obviously, especially if one thinks about how many books one would need to buy to get the same number of annotated games. (And never mind trying to replay all those games on a board - your hands will probably fall off by the time you reach the halfway point.)

    So it's a good deal, but an even better deal, at least or especially if you also own a generic large database to go with it, is the new "Paramount Chess Database" from the Chess Informant. It includes all the games from the main section of the Chess Informant from the very first issue all the way through Informant 123, which came out earlier this year. In all, there are almost 114,000 games and game fragments (about 70,000 of the former and 44,000 of the latter; the game fragments start from move 1 and generally cut off once the theoretical significance is finished).

    It isn't just the total number of annotated games that counts, however. In Mega there are 59 games annotated by Garry Kasparov; in Paramount, 630. Mega has 268 games annotated by Viswanathan Anand, while Paramount has 507. Vladimir Kramnik? 64 vs, 442. There are only ten games annotated by Bobby Fischer in the Paramount database, but guess what? That's ten more than you'll find in Mega. In fairness to Mega, they win the Magnus Carlsen sweepstakes 24-0, as in recent years fewer top players annotate their games for the Informant. That's not to say that current games aren't well annotated - they are - but more of it is being done by staff grandmasters, while they have elite players writing articles for them instead. There aren't any articles in the Paramount database, but as an historical record of the best chess since 1965 it's almost certainly the best resource you'll find.

    Continuing the count, how about 372 games annotated by Mikhail Tal (none in Mega), 17 games by Boris Spassky (two in Mega), 510 by Tigran Petrosian (the world champion, not his living grandmaster namesake; there are three in Mega), 29 to 0 for Mikhail Botvinnik, 55 to 5 for Veselin Topalov, etc.

    It's a fine resource, but do remember that the annotations are given with the Informant's languageless symbols. It is a rich "language" in its own right, but lower-rated and less experienced players might find it a little forbidding at first. The Informant has generally been aimed at strong club players and up, so while I think players under 1800 can find this product useful as well, it is to players at and above that rating that I would offer my (hearty) recommendation.

    The price is $199; a fair chunk of change, but very reasonable for what you're getting. (Think of how many books you'd need to buy to get your paws on 114,000 games.) To my mind it's a very good deal for serious players, fans of chess history and for correspondence players, so if you're in those categories you have my recommendation.

    More info at the link above (reiterated here), including a nice video that gives you a tour of the product.

    Friday
    Oct022015

    Informant 125: Another Winner

    I've been pretty enthused about the Chess Informant series for some time now, so while I'm obviously going to be at least slightly biased in favor of the current edition, my track record of praise for the publication offers some reason to trust me on another positive review. (Note, however, that my earliest reviews weren't very positive; they were more like laments. But the good people at CI have righted the ship, modernizing the publication while keeping the heart of its original mission intact.)

    The current issue, covering May through August of this year, has the usual standbys. There are a couple of hundred games deeply annotated with their well-known languageless symbols (an example is my game with Ipatov, shown here a couple of days ago), there's the best game and the best novelty from the previous volume, nine combinations, nine endgames and nine studies to test the reader, plus tournament tables from the major FIDE events from the relevant three-month period. That is the old-style material, all languagelessly presented.

    The new Informants all contain a huge percentage of annotated material, consisting of more than half of the book's 352 pages. So here's a rundown of the "readable" material, which is still very dense with analysis.

    Alexander Morozevich has a look at the Rubinstein French, and does his best to bury it by means of some exceptionally sharp lines. Anyone who believes that 3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 in the French ought to be punished will enjoy this material, and if you play this with Black you had better get to work figuring out what to do about it!

    After that there is a lot of material on the Sinquefield Cup. After Aleksandar Colovic offers a brief write-up of the event itself, focusing on its winner, Levon Aronian, there are four deep, chess-related articles on the tournament. Sarunas Sulskis' column looks at three games by Hikaru Nakamura, who tied for second with Magnus Carlsen. He examines his poor loss to Aronian, his gritty draw with Carlsen and his long, grinding victory against Alexander Grischuk.

    Michael Roiz focuses on the "wild complications" that arose from some of the ostensibly solid openings chosen in the event. He features the games Topalov-Nakamura, So-Aronian, So-Nakamura and Carlsen-So.

    Pentala Harikrishna also focuses on the openings, in particular those taking a more romantic, swashbuckling turn - or at least a turn towards the avant-garde. The spotlight shines on Carlsen-Topalov, and then at last the focus leaves the Sinquefield Cup for a moment to examine three games played in other events.

    Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" column also starts with a look at a game from St. Louis before turning to other games, both contemporary (including a second game from St. Louis) and from the past. The theme of his column every month is that chess ideas seen in today's games can be seen in the past, too - the players of yesteryear were not always babes in the woods compared with today's geniuses.

    For variety (of a sort), Marcelo Flores Rios turns away from the Sinquefield Cup and turns his attention instead to the Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, which featured 9 of the 10 players from St. Louis. Carlsen had a poor tournament there, starting with just half a point out of his first four games (you may remember that the trouble started when he lost on time to Veselin Topalov in a winning position), made a bit of a comeback, going +2 over the next four rounds before losing to the bottom seed, his countryman Jon Ludwig Hammer. Flores Rios deeply analyzes all nine(!) of Carlsen's games from that event!

    The next column is Ivan Sokolov's, and he presents four "Chinese Dragons" - referring not to the line of the Dragon with ...Rb8 but to four of China's top players: Li Chao, Wei Yi, Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi (in order of his presentation), presenting multiple games by each.

    Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant's column is "David Against Goliath", and as you'd expect she investigates a number of significant upsets from the past several months, all showing the player rated at least 230 points lower than his opponent pulling out the win. (I note with a "Rats!" that my game could have been among them, had I played a bit more accurately at a couple of moments. Of course, there were also some moments when the game could have turned into a standard dog-bites-man item.)

    Emanuel Berg takes a look at a couple of Makagonov (5.h3) King's Indians, the first won by White, the second by Black.

    Endgame guru Karsten Mueller takes a look at rook vs. bishop endings, beginning with pawnless cases and gradually increasing the number of pawns on both sides.

    In the previous issue of the Informant the late Walter Browne had a couple of his games published in the main body of the publication, with the languageless symbolic annotations. As a tribute to Browne, they have republished those games with Browne's original, text-based commentary.

    Finally, noted theoretician Vassilios Kotronias's monster series on the Alapin Sicilian (i.e. 2.c3, but sometimes it's 3.c3 via a transposition) is up to part 7 and chapter 20, and offers 16 dense pages on the line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.Bc4. The whole series has been written from Black's perspective, but I can't imagine that a serious Alapin player wouldn't benefit greatly from Kotronias' work as well.

    So that's the summary, and all that's left is the recommendation: if you're over 2000 you might want it, if you're over 2200 and still a serious tournament competitor it's likely that you'll want it. Others should only consider (on practical grounds) it if they're ambitious (and not too far below 2000) or if they are serious correspondence players. Anyway, to any of you who might be interested in it and fall under the categories just listed, I highly recommend Informant 125.

    Tuesday
    Sep292015

    Slipping Past the Guards at the Chess Informant

    Yes, folks, it's come to this. In the latest edition of the Chess Informant, to be published any day now, the game Magnus Carlsen-Levon Aronian from the Norway Chess tournament is followed by an even more interesting game, albeit one featuring a significantly lower-rated player, who also served as the annotator:


    Sunday
    Jun282015

    Informant 124: Another Fine Issue

    The good folks in Serbia have produced another excellent issue of the Chess Informant, and perhaps the best news is that it seems to be a consistent product as well: one pretty much knows what to expect again when buying and receiving the latest issue.

    Informant 124, which covers the goings on in the chess world from February through May of this year, is labeled the "Veni Vidi Vici" issue, and while I get the historic allusion to Julius Caesar I have no idea what this hast to do with the book's contents. For that matter, I don't understand what any of these code names are supposed to signify. Informant 123 was the "Hawaiian" edition, 122 was "Mechanics", 121 "Midnight Sun" and on it goes for a few more issues into the past. I don't see an explanation for this anywhere, but as this is pretty much the only complaint I have - and it's more a curiosity than anything else - it's good news for those of you thinking of getting a copy.

    As I've reviewed every Informant since 111 on this blog, regular readers already know the basics of this periodical even if they haven't purchased one for themselves. The historic core of this periodical is a big helping of games deeply annotated with languageless symbols but without any text, and that is the case here as well. As is standard nowadays, there are 200 such games (with an index of players but, alas, not annotators; most of the work is done by [very competent] staffers), plus nine combinations, nine endgame puzzles, nine endgame studies (plus the study of the year for 2013, with a short accompanying text), summaries of the tournaments, the presentation of the best game of the previous volume (Caruana-Carlsen from Wijk aan Zee this year) and the best novelty of the preceding volume (Ivanchuk's 15.a4 from his game with Vachier-Lagrave, also from Wijk aan Zee). The latter is followed by an updated ECO style page of the relevant theory.

    Now time for the "new" style material, all in English and comprising 185 pages, well more than half the volume. This is what makes distinguishes the contemporary Informant from your parents' version, and makes it a worthwhile buy for serious players.

    First, Alexander Morozevich takes a very close look at the Taimanov line recently sported by Dutch superstar Anish Giri. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qf3!? Giri has been playing the provocative 7...Ne5 8.Qg3 h5!?, with decent results. Morozevich discusses the logic of the move and its pros and cons before launching into a deep exploration of 9.Nf5 and 9.0-0-0. His coverage of this is more thorough than anything I've seen from several other sources, including some specially dedicated to the Taimanov and to giving "special", inside information. This blows them all away.

    Second, Pentala Harikrishna's "The New Romantics" looks at some games by the openings mavericks Richard Rapport, Baadur Jobava, Vadim Zvjaginsev and David Navara. The first game, between Rapport and Ahmed Adly, is romanticism on steroids at the beginning: 1.b3 a5 2.e4 a4 3.b4 e6 4.Bb2 d5 5.a3 dxe4 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.g4 c5 8.b5 h6 9.Bg2 Ra5 and so on. Crazy chess!

    Next, three different authors, Sarunas Sulskis, Rafael Leitao (both veterans of the "new" Informant) and Michael Roiz (a newcomer) dig into the action from the Grand Prix finale in Khanty-Mansiysk. Sulskis looks at "strategic highlights", Leitao examines the best opening ideas and Roiz looks at sacrifices from the event.

    After this, it's Mihail Marin's column, "Old Wine in New Bottles". This goes back to the start of the "new" Informant, and its continuation is deserved. This time he takes a look at some new tries in the old-fashioned, direct approach in the Giuoco Piano with 5.d4. In particular, he examines Nakamura-Giri, where the American met 5...exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ with 7.Nbd2 (rather than the boring 7.Bd2 or the fun but probably just bad 7.Nc3), and also has a look at Jobava's pet line starting with 6.e5. But there's much more besides, including some interesting material with 5.d3.

    Next, Mauricio Flores Rios (author of a terrific recent book on pawn structures) has a column called "Patterns", but contrary to what the title might suggest the subject of his column is Hikaru Nakamura and the run of great play that has pushed him over 2800. He looks at five of his games plus one ending, the latter supplemented by a similar and similarly instructive ending between Carlsen and Caruana (won by the latter).

    Next, Ivan Sokolov looks at some highlights from the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir with a heavy emphasis on the games of the winner, one Magnus Carlsen.

    Emanuel Berg has a look at a pair of Dragon Sicilians, one won by White and the second by Black; both feature the Yugoslav Attack.

    Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant takes a look back at the Women's World Championship, won by Mariya Muzychuk.

    Dragan Solak takes a happy look back at his victory in the Dubai Open, which he calls his career-best win.

    Then it's time for a familiar name, but a new one to the stable of Informant authors. Karsten Mueller, reknowned as an endgame specialist, has indeed scored an endgame column with this publication. His inaugural piece is called "The Two Faces of Opposite Coloured Bishops", and shows the drawish "face" when it is purely the bishops (in addition to the kings and pawns) that remain on the board and the anything but drawish "face" that can arise when there are further pieces on the board and the strong side has some sort of attack or initiative.

    Finally, Vassilios Kotronias has part 300 six in his incredibly detailed series on the 2.c3 Sicilian from Black's standpoint; he has practically written a book on this over the past few issues of the Informant. This time around his attention is drawn to the line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4.

    And that's it! As I've said before, it's not a periodical for lower-rated club players, but anyone rated over 2000 with a bit of ambition or a willingness to put in some elbow grease will be well-served by this volume. If you're really ambitious, then maybe 1800 or 1900 is enough to make it worthwhile. (But I feel more comfortable saying 2000 and up.) If you're in the target audience, it's definitely worth your while.

    More info from the publisher's website, here.