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    Entries in Chess Informant (20)

    Wednesday
    Oct042017

    Informant 133: Back on Track

    I've been a big fan of the Chess Informant for years, especially in the hybrid form it has adopted in the past decade. But the last issue was pretty disappointing. Happily, the editors have reverted to the more positive trend, and I can enthusiastically recomment the current issue to serious club players (say, around 1800-1900) and up.

    The current issue covers the goings-on in the chess world from June through August of 2017, and as usual can be divided into broad parts: a traditional, proseless, component; and a newer, magazine-style component.

    The traditional component takes up most of the volume - all but 90 or so pages out of 332. At its heart is a collection of 200 games, (languagelessly) annotated (mostly) by the Informant staff of IMs and GMs. There are sections on combinations and endings (9 positions each), presentations of the best game and the best novelty from the preceding volume (the best novelty includes an ECO-style article updating the theory within that particular branch of the opening), a listing of the results from the FIDE events in the period covered by the volume, and a feature I always like: the mini-Informant devoted to a particular player.

    The honoree this time around is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and there are 30 of his best games from previous Informants (played from 2003 to 2016) reprised here, along with 11 of his best novelties, 33(!) of his best combinations/most excellent moves, and 12 of his best endings.

    Turning to the prose component, there are nine articles. It begins with a pair of articles on the big events in St. Louis, both (I think) by GM Aleksandar Colovic. (All of the columns are by GMs, so the title will be omitted in the remainder of the review.) The first covers the highlights of the Sinquefield Cup, and the second on the Rapid & Blitz event. Appropriately, Colovic doesn't go overboard in examining Garry Kasparov's games, but treats him as just another participant in terms of the game selection.

    One of my disappointments about the preceding issue was the absence of articles by traditional super-GMs; that has been fixed. Michael Adams is back, and to his credit he looks at some of his recent failures - some misplayed endings from a tournament in Shenzhen.

    The talented and rising Indian star Baskaran Adhiban looks at a pair of his recent games which were "inspired" in various ways by previous world champions Vasily Smyslov and Bobby Fischer.

    Another returnee is Emanuel Berg's "Mirroring" column, in which he starts from a particular opening position and first shows a nice game won by White, and then a nice game won by Black. The line in this variation comes from Chigorin's system in the Ruy Lopez.

    Spyridon Kapnisis has a look at the "flamboyant" 4.g4 in the Advance Caro-Kann (not "Advanced", contrary to what's written in the Informant, though to play either side of it well it certainly helps to be an advanced player). It's a very risky approach that doesn't score very well against 4...Be4 or especially 4...Bd7 (though it does fare well against 4...Bg6, which experienced Caro-Kann players avoid), but Kapnisis makes the case that White can fight for an advantage in every line, and maybe even achieve one against 4...Bd7.

    Two endgame columns ensue. The first is by Aleksandr Lenderman, who takes a deep look at the ending of a game he played with Simon Williams in London last year. (An exception to the usual Informant policy of sticking to the "official" time frame, but a worthy one.)

    The second endgame column (and the third overall, counting Adams' article) is from the well-known specialist Karsten Mueller, who turns his attention to the important topic of simplification.

    Finally, Jakov Geller covers the g3 Taimanov/Paulsen lines starting 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.g3 a6 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.0-0 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Bc5 in depth. The first chapter is on 10.Qd3, and chapter two starts with 10.Bf4 d6 and then further divides into 11.Qd3 and 11.Qd2.

    And that's it. For serious players over at least 1800, as mentioned above, it's a worthwhile purchase, and you can find ordering info here.

    Saturday
    Aug052017

    Informant 132: A Short Review

    Just when reviewing the latest issue of the Chess Informant was becoming formulaic, the team in Belgrade have once again made some fairly radical changes to this well-established periodical, now 51 years old. Some parts remain the same, but in the prose sections the changes are substantial. Let's deal with each in turn, starting with the parts displaying continuity.

    The historical heart remains in place: there are 200 games annotated with symbols but without natural language covering the relevant time period from late February to late May of 2017. This is how the Informant began back in 1966, except back then almost the entire periodical consisted of these languagelessly annotated games. Also remaining in place: sections for solving combinations (nine of them), endings (18!), studies (9), the best game of the preceding volume (Nepomniachtchi-Li Chao, from Sharjah), the best novelty of the preceding volume (Giri's 12.c6! against Harikrishna, from Wijk aan Zee), and tables for the FIDE events covered in this issue.

    Some bits are gone, however. For a long time, some super-GM has had a column: Kasparov, Morozevich, and Adams in particular. In this issue, the super-GMs are gone. This is not to say that a work is without value without a super-GM, of course, nor is it to insult the level of the contributors. Robert Markus has a FIDE rating of 2672, and both Ivan Ivanisevic and Milos Perunovic are also rated over 2600, so we're not talking about club players. Still, it was nice seeing the insights and reflections of some of the world's absolute best. Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" column is gone too, and so is Karsten Mueller's column on the endgame.

    So here's what's in this issue. There's a report on the extremely strong 2017 European Championship, with sections on games, attack, combinations, endings, and blunders. There's little prose here; it's more like a mini-Informant devoted to the tournament.

    The next chapter has more prose, as the aforementioned GM Markus tells of his difficulties in facing 1.e4, and describes how he came to choose Alekhine's Defense as his new repertoire choice. He then presents the repertoire, albeit with old-style symbolic annotations and without language.

    Ivanisevic then offers his thoughts on trying to "crack open" the Hedgehog, and presents some games based on an approach recommended to him by his fellow GM Branko Damljanovic.

    Perunovic looks at an anti-Sicilian line that used to be an occasional part of my own repertoire (I learned the line from Craig Chellstorp, a talented player who gave up the game at a fairly early age): 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 dxe5 5.Nxe5. White cannot prove a theoretical advantage, but the positions are fresh and unfamiliar enough to offer decent practical chances.

    Nikola Dukic looks at the "Banker Scandinavian" for Black, i.e. the 3...Qd8 line. It's solid, easy to play, and not the sort of variation where one must live in fear of a big novelty. Dukic used it against Magnus Carlsen in the 2014 Olympiad and had no problems from the opening, and later in the event Carlsen used it successfully against Fabiano Caruana.

    Switching to the trendier, or even avant-garde, IM Goran Arsovic has a look at the recent tries 6.a3 and 6.h4 against the Najdorf. Both moves have been used, successfully, by great players, so even if they are mainly good for surprise value, that shouldn't be underestimated.

    In Informant 130 Benjamin Gledura wrote about 3...Nh5 against the 3.f3 Anti-Gruenfeld, showing an impressive game he won with the black pieces. GM Danilo Milanovic offers his analysis of the line, concluding that with best play White may obtain a slight advantage. The lines are very intricate and the theory is developing apace, so one should not conclude that 3...Nh5 has been tamed.

    Next, Branko Tadic offers a survey of the 2017 Serbian Championship that's similar in format to the article on the European Championship mentioned above. This one has sections on games, the most important theoretical novelty, "storming initiative", attack, combinations, endings, and blunders.

    Just over to the west, Srdan Sale looks at the 2017 Croatian Championship. There are sections with the most important theoretical novelty, endings, selected games, and blunders.

    Finally, in a surprise move, one of the former Informant traditions has been restored with a "Best of Chess Informant" section on Wesley So. No fewer than 31 of his best games are given, along with seven of his best opening novelties, 24 "excellent moves and combinations", and six of his best endings. I think bringing this feature back is a good idea, even if it's not done in every issue.

    There is a remarkably small amount of text in this issue. In all the columns mentioned above, the authors offered some introductory remarks, but once actual chess moves were presented the subsequent commentary was only given in symbols. I'm not certain why they've made the change. Was it a one-off? Is it a cost-cutting measure to save paper? Are they attempting to win or improve their readership in countries without a significant number of English readers? Or perhaps they're outsourcing the language commentary to the American Chess Magazine and British Chess Magazine? I must confess that it makes the publication less attractive, though the Informant remains a valuable resource for serious players.

     

    Wednesday
    Jun072017

    Informant 131: A Short Review

    Another three months have gone by, so it's time for another edition of the Chess Informant. (See the long list of tags on the side for many more Informant reviews.) As regular readers of this blog are well aware by now, the Informant is a periodical that comes out quarterly, and has both an old-fashioned component and a newer component. The old-fashioned part is a hefty collection of well-analyzed games (200 is the number the publishers have settled on for the time being) annotated only without languageless symbols, and the newer part is a series of articles in English. There are also short sections dedicated to combinations, endings, and studies; and there's also a summary of tournament results from the previous quarter, along with a re-presentation of the best game and the best theoretical novelty from the preceding volume. All of this is standard, but as the studies section had been yanked from Informant 130 I'm pleased to see that it has been restored in this issue.

    While the short sections and especially the 200 games are valuable, even critical parts of each issue, there is nothing requiring further elaboration about any of them. If you've seen a prior issue of the Informant, you'll know what you're getting from them in this issue as well. So let's summarize the articles in this issue:

    There are 14 articles in all, each written by a grandmaster. And often especially impressive grandmasters at that, including six players currently in the top 100, three of whom are rated over 2700: Yu Yangyi (2750), Michael Adams (2736), and Bu Xiangzhi (2712). To specifics:

    Sarunas Sulskis profiles Wesley So, the #2 player in the world and the hottest player in the chess world since last summer. Sulskis looks at a couple of So's games from Wijk aan Zee, along with three others played in 2016.

    Farrukh Amonatov looks at one of the most important, though not one of the most interesting, events of the first part of the year: the Grand Prix tournament in Sharjah. The tournament finished in a three-way tie for first between Alexander Grischuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Amonatov looks at two wins from each of the winners, and an additional three games besides.

    Up-and-coming Indian GM Baskaran Adhiban had a strong performance in the top group at Wijk aan Zee, and he takes a close look at his wild game with tournament winner So. The game was an exciting draw in a King's Gambit, and Adhiban was one of the few players in that event to enjoy winning chances against So.

    Emilio Cordova - who was in the top 100 when he wrote his article - covers Vladislav Fedoseev's triumph in the Aeroflot Open (which enables him - Fedoseev - to play in Dortmund later this year). Fedoseev has a fresh style that isn't overly influenced by the computer, in Cordova's opinion, and in the games Cordova shows that judgment is vindicated.

    Bu Xiangzhi presents five games from the Chinese League, a very strong competition that is somewhat underappreciated in the West. (In part, I think, because chess fans fail to notice league events in general, as they're less likely to receive live media coverage.)

    Mykhaylo Oleksiyenko is also just shy of the world's top 100, and his article is on Hikaru Nakamura's ability to bounce back from defeat as seen in this past December's London Chess Classic. He shows a couple of Nakamura's losses in the event, before moving on to his impressive (though not quite perfect) win against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

    Chinese super-GM Yu Yangyi's article is called "Strategies for Trapping the Enemy King", and he demonstrates his prowess as an attacker with a pair of his victories from the first part of the year: one from Gibraltar and one from the Aeroflot Open.

    English super-GM Michael Adams was also a participant in Gibraltar, and he presents five games from that tournament, including especially three of his own.

    More Gibraltar: Chinese GM Ju Wenjun was the top female player in Gibraltar, defeating Hou Yifan, among others, and becoming the fifth woman in chess history to surpass the 2600 mark. She presents her win - with Black - against Hou.

    Last year's Olympiad has been over for some time now, but such a rich event is an almost inexhaustible source of high-quality material. Surya Ganguly takes a look at the game Caruana-Eljanov, which was a critical game from the match that wound up determining the winner. (That was the U.S. team, for those who might have forgotten, on nail-bitingly close tiebreaks over Ukraine.)

    Eduardas Rozentalis also presents a single game in his column, taking a deep look at Andreikin's great win over Aronian from this year's Wijk aan Zee tournament.

    Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant digs into some of the most interesting games from the women's section of last year's Olympiad, including Hou Yifan's startling loss to the Latvian Minister of Finance!

    Aleksandar Colovic has a interesting and easy to apply article called "Opening Approaches in Doha" - Doha being the site of the rapid & blitz world championships late last year.

    Finally, Paraguayan GM Axel Bachmann is an up-and-comer in his own right, under 30 years of age and breaking into the top 100. But there's young and then there's young. He lost a game last October to 11-year-old Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu in the final round of the Isle of Man tournament. He bounced back well, and shows three important victories from subsequent tournaments that he won.

    This wasn't the most spectacular issue of the Informant, and it was a little surprising to have only one article on openings, and a relatively informal (though certainly interesting) one at that. Still, even an "ordinary" issue of the Informant is a worthwhile purchase for serious players. So if you're over 1900 and/or an ambitious player, I recommend purchasing a copy from your favorite outlet.

    Website info here.

    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.