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!