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.