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    Entries in Chess Informant (3)

    Sunday
    Dec012013

    Informant 118: A Short Review

    Chess Informant 118 (May-September 2013), reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    The Chess Informant franchise moves on, and the changes keep on coming. For many years the format was fixed: if you have one issue, you knew what the next 10 or 20 would be like. This has changed pretty radically over the past few years, and now the "incidentals" have taken over. The traditional heart of each issue was a collection of hundreds of games annotated in their distinctive language-less symbol set. For decades there were approximately 700 such games, frequently analyzed by one of the players (including many of the world's greatest players) and making up around 80-90% of the volume. In the present issue there are 202 games - most annotated by staffers rather than members of the world's elite, and they take up only 135 of the book's 335 pages.

    Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, and in any case the old model was probably unsustainable. There were always some minor features - sections on combinations and endings, most notably - but for a few years now there has been an ever-expanding collection of sections and articles featuring genuine prose, in English. Here's a summary of what's in this issue, along with a word about whether it's new or not.

    1. The Best Game of the Preceding Volume: This has been around for ages, but I'll reiterate my disappointment from my review of the previous issue) that only the winning game is given without the voting list for the other 19 games. The explanation is presumably that there isn't a list any longer; it is given as the "editor's pick". Fine: even in this case it would be nice to have a list of the other games they thought were in the running.

    2. The Most Important Theoretical Novelty of the Preceding Volume: The same general points apply.

    3. Garry's Choice: This is one of the relatively recent innovations made by the Informant people, and it's a good one. Generally Garry Kasparov discusses openings that are "near and dear" to his heart, but this time he examines what must be his least favorite openings in all of chess: the Berlin Defense. His focus is Caruana-Adams from Dortmund this year.

    4. Mihail Marin's "Old Wines In New Bottles": Another one of the recent excellent Informant innovations. This installment, like Kasparov's, is a bit upside down, as his examination of positional queen sacrifices (Kramnik-Andreikin from the World Cup is his lead game) fails to find a real predecessor in the distant past.

    5. Adrian Mikhalchishin, "Stand Up and Fight": This is his second appearance, and he examines two games in the line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Bc4, which he is willing to attribute to Schlechter or Fischer, but not Sozin.

    6. Alexander Moiseenko, "My Way": The "My Way" column already existed, but had a different author last time. Moiseenko won the European Championship, and presents three of his games from the first four rounds of the tournament.

    7. Sarunas Sulskis, "Interception": Second installment. He offers round-by-round highlights from the World Cup, won by Vladimir Kramnik.

    8. Rafael Leitao, "Bossa Nova": Second installment. The Brazilian GM looks at important opening ideas from the aforementioned World Cup.

    9. Alexander Ipatov, "Have No Fear": Second installment. Ipatov writes about a tournament he won in Cape Town, South Africa, featuring games played by him and runner-up Sergei Tiviakov.

    10. John Bartholomew, "Inspiring Moments": Also a repeat. Bartholomew writes about Wesley So's visit to Minneapolis, where he gave a simul and won a local tournament. A brief interview with So ensues.

    11. Emanuel Berg, "En Route". New. Berg recounts a series of tournaments he played in over the summer.

    12. Suat Atalik, "Uncensored". This new column, which fortunately doesn't seem to have had any need for censorship, takes an in-depth look at the European Women's Championship (with a brief article within an article by tournament winner Hoang Thanh Trang).

    13. CI Labs. "CI Labs" is their label for their theory sections, and there are three articles. Viktor Erdos looks at the 3.f3 d5 Gruenfeld, Danilo Milanovic has a look at the suddenly trendy Gruenfeld with 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h4, and then Ivan Ivanisevic and Milos Perunovic team up for a general theoretical report on the three Grand Prix tournaments this year, from Zug, Thessaloniki and Beijing.

    After the games come the sections on combinations, endings, problems and studies - the latter two commemorating the passing of greats who passed in the way in the last year. (Problems: Milan Velimirovic, Oscar Bonivento, Sergei Shedei, Tony Lewis and Christopher Reeves; Studies: Mario Matous.) Finally, there's the listing of (significant) FIDE events occurring during the period covered by the issue - this too is a mainstay of the periodical going back to its earliest days.

    The columns are generally good, though of the non-theoretical material I think only Kasparov's and Marin's contributions are nearly irreplaceable. It's not a bad deal for the money, either - and it's available on disc too, which would be my choice if I had to choose one way or the other.

    The one thing that I don't really understand though is what the Informant is currently "about". In the past it was a sort of yearbook, focusing on the games of the biggest players, with a strong secondary emphasis on theory. But I don't understand what it's up to now. Berg and Ipatov are strong players, but there are 100-200 other players around their strength who could be included. Why them? Bartholomew is a very good player and a fine writer, but he is considerably less prominent in the chess world than Berg and Ipatov. Atalik wrote a very good article on the European Women's Championship, but there were many tournaments featuring stronger players. Why this event? I must confess to disliking this "postmodern" format, and hope that it can find a focus that is successful and sustainable soon.

    Friday
    Oct182013

    A Quick Review of Informant 117

    Chess Informant 117 (February-May 2013), reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    I thought that the changes had stabilized with Informant 116, but the newest issue of this classic publication is significantly different from its recent predecessors. Quite a few of the recent changes have been scrapped, and even some of the most long-lived features of the Informant have been eliminated as well. So let’s have a look.

    Let’s start with the outside of the book. When my copy came in the mail it seemed smaller than usual, and it is. The pages are slightly shorter and less wide (though a close look suggests it might be white space rather than content that was cut out), and there are 64 less of them in the new issue. Unfortunately, the price is the same for both - $40.98 for both issues 116 and 117 - so it isn't clear what is going on there.

    As has been the case for a very long time, the current issue starts by re-presenting the best game and the most important theoretical novelty of the previous publication. What is new and somewhat startling to me is that the voting statistics are gone. This seems to me a change for the worse. It was nice having a list of the 20 vote-getting games in each category, as other fine games and deep novelties deserve to be singled out for the reader’s pleasure and instruction.

    Next comes “Garry’s Choice”, which here as in general sees former World Champion Garry Kasparov focus on a contemporary game in which the opening strikes him as being especially fascinating. This time around, he takes a very close look at the remarkable Saemisch King’s Indian between Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk in the London Candidates earlier this year.

    After that GM Mihail Marin’s “Old Wine in New Bottles” column also returns, with the appropriate tag line “Every New Idea Is Actually a Well Forgotten One”. This time around he takes a look at “Spanish Knights” – knights on f3 and g3 (or f3 and e3) that can be used for attacking purposes. He dates the idea back to at least Adolf Anderssen in 1869, who used them on the way to a spectacular win against…I’ll let you research that or get the Informant to find out.

    Next up, a new column: “Stand Up and Fight”, by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin, who looks at the development and decline of various opening plans over the time period from 1974 to 2003.

    Next is “Have No Fear” by GM and 2012 World Junior Champion (and 2013 runner-up) Alexander Ipatov, who was profiled in an earlier issue of the Informant. This is another new column, and the subject matter is a series of rook endings from his games.

    Another new column: “Bossa Nova”, by GM Rafael Leitao, who takes a look at some of the interesting opening ideas – mostly Vladimir Kramnik’s – from the London Candidates’ tournament.

    “Interception” is yet another new column, this one by GM Sarunas Sulskis. In this issue he looks at some highlights from the European Individual Chess Championship from May of this year.

    Also looking at that event is a special edition of “CI Labs”, with GMs Ivan Ivanisevic and Miolos Perunovic presenting an overview of the theoretical developments from that tournament.

    Next is a short column by IM John Bartholomew called “Inspiring Moments”, which takes a quick look at some interesting moments from both the Men’s/Open and Women’s U.S. Championships.

    Continuing to span the globe, the Informant’s next contributor is African champion and GM Bassem Amin contributes a column called “My Way”, in which he recounts his adventures on the way to tying for first place in the Reykjavik Open in February.

    In previous issues there were many theoretical articles in the “CI Labs” section; this time there’s only one longish one (plus the earlier overview piece on the European Championship, mentioned above), by GM Andrey Sumets, on the Closed System against the Gruenfeld: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Be2.

    Finally, in the “Guest Column”, IM Andrew Martin’s look at a game between Fabiano Caruana and Peter Svidler (from the Tal Memorial, I think) is borrowed from the British Chess Magazine.

    Almost all of the foregoing columns are new. What’s gone from issue 116 is the “Top Three” column (commented games by three 2700+ rated players), “One Country” (commented games by four leading players from the profiled country) and most of the “CI Labs” articles. (Further excisions will be noted below.)

    At last, we come to the traditional heart of the publication: the games. As always, the games – 201 in all – are annotated using their characteristic languageless symbols. (This is both a great space-saver and was a boon back in the days before English had achieved its current status as the lingua franca.) Two brief comments: the number of commented games has shrunk over the years; a little surprisingly as the total number of games has exploded. Second, a large number of the annotations are done by a small group of individuals – probably staff members. I’m ambivalent about this. It isn’t ideal, but it’s understandable. They cut costs in this way, and many of the top players who used to annotate their games for the Informant have already annotated them for New in Chess and/or ChessBase. What difference does it make who annotates the game? Doesn’t the wise use of a computer level the playing field when it comes to post-game analysis? In some ways it might, but what gets lost is what the player was actually thinking during the game, both tactically and in terms of plans.

    After the games (and the player and annotator indexes) there are sections on combinations (nine puzzles), endings (nine), problems (six) and studies (nine), followed by a list of tournament results for the time period covered by this issue. Gone is the “excellent moves” section, which was of fairly recent vintage, and the “Best of Chess Informant” dedicated to a particular top player, which had been around for quite some time.

    By way of evaluation, briefly, starting with the non-theory columns: I'm a fan of Kasparov's, Marin's, and Mikhalchishin's columns, while I think the Bartholomew and BCM columns are dispensable. As with the axed "One Country" column, they seem primarily aimed at flattering the readerships of particular countries, but (a) I don't think that's going to work and (b) that's not what made the Informant great in the first place. Just the opposite: it was the universalizability of its symbolic notation that made it such a great resource for everyone around the world. I find the Informant less interesting, not more, when it recaps U.S. events that I followed live, saw covered in Chess Life, New in Chess and on various websites. What I would have expected from the Informant in the old days was to see the most interesting and important games from that tournament covered deeply - often by the players themselves - but that's not what the "Inspiring Moments" column is about. As for the BCM piece, Martin's analysis of the game he covered looks quite good, but the idea of reproducing a column from the British Chess Magazine seems more like a marketing gimmick than the Informant really staying true to its mission.

    I do like their theoretical columns, and think they are very useful and certainly in keeping with what they have been about for many years. No complaints there.

    My impression, which I hope is mistaken, is that they are struggling financially. That would account for the smaller size and fewer non-staff contributions. It's a good publication and I hope it succeeds, but it seems to me they need to stabilize things and stop jumping around from issue to issue. What they have now is pretty good (though $41 seems a bit pricy for this smaller version), with my own preference being for the elimination of the two columns mentioned above and the restoration of the voting for the best game and best novelty of the previous issue.

    Saturday
    May182013

    Informant 116: A Short Review

    It looks like the recent flurry of changes to the Informant have stopped for now, as the general structure of Informant 116 is essentially the same as that of Informant 115, which in turn followed the model from Informant 114. Following the links (just given) to my reviews of those periodicals may give a fuller picture of what these volumes contain; here I'll just offer some specifics about this particular volume and reiterate my usual conclusion.

    The current issue covers a five month period, from September 2012 through January of this year, and its essential core consists of 203 high-level, deeply annotated games (or game fragments - but partial games are comparatively few) from that time frame. The games are annotated using their rich symbol set, but without language. One of the major changes the past few years is that a large section of every Informant includes a considerable amount of content (in this case, roughly 120 pages) with English-language commentary and annotation. I'll elaborate on that in what follows.

    First, this issue sees the fourth installment of "Garry's Choice", in which he deeply annotates a game of his choosing in the Informant's time frame. Here he chooses an English Attack Najdorf, not only taking a careful look at the main game but also making reference to some of his games in that line and with relevantly similar motifs. As the games to which he makes reference are also included after the main game, with their original (languageless) annotations, it makes for a nice all-around lesson.

    Next up is Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles", in which he considers exchange sacrifices to remove outposts. An obvious concept, you might say, and in many cases you'd be right. That it's not always quite as simple as following the textbook recipe is seen in the final game of his article, in which Marin himself failed to defeat a "World Champion" (his term!) - Ponomariov - by forsaking such an opportunity. Twice! His closing words are instructive: "I come to the conclusion that sometimes knowing the classic examples is not enough: you have to remember them at the right moment, even in the most severe time trouble". Very true, but as it's not given to us to know before the start of a chess game what we need to remember (aside from opening preparation), it's worthwhile every now and then to review even those themes we think we've mastered, so that we'll have access to them when it really matters.

    After this come annotated games by Dmitry Jakovenko, Sergei Rublevsky and Ernesto Inarkiev. All three have been over 2700, and all three are currently over or near that lofty mark.

    Fourth is "One Country", which includes a game apiece from four players from the same country - Greece, in this case.

    The fifth section, "CI Labs", has eight theoretical articles, covering the following opening lines: the Sveshnikov Sicilian (the 5...e5 one, not 2.c3), the Fianchetto Variation vs. the Taimanov Sicilian, the line 6.Be3 e5 7.Nb3 Be6 8.h3 vs. the Najdorf Sicilian, the Scotch Four Knights, the Steinitz Deferred (Ruy Lopez), Morozevich's 11...g5 in the Slav with 6...Nbd7, the Petrosian Variation against the Queen's Indian and the Classical Nimzo-Indian line 4.Qc2 0-0 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6.

    "Rising Stars" showcases Dariusz Swiercz, who has the odd and impressive distinction of having first won the main World Junior Championship in 2011 (open to players under 20 years of age) and then coming back in 2012 to win the Under-18 championship! First he is profiled, and then he annotates two of his games.

    Finally, in what I assume is primarily an advertising arrangement, a column from the British Chess Magazine is also included. This issue's installment sees David Howell annotating Kramnik-Jones from London 2012.

    The other usual sections are included (combinations, excellent moves, endgames, studies, etc.), and the star of this issue's "mini-Informant" is Etienne Bacrot.

    That's what's there, and as usual I'm happy to recommend the volume. Even with the increasingly large sections including English text, it remains a periodical aimed at and most useful for stronger players - at least 1800-1900, in my opinion. If you're a reasonably ambitious player at or above that rating, it may not be an absolute must, but it is a good buy and worth your time - if you're not already swamped by all the other fine chess periodicals out there!