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.