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.