15 February 2015

The New Informants

Long a publication that crosses language barriers, in recent years Chess Informant has been expanding its front sections with articles written in English. These changes began with opening theory and expanded into articles on many topics.

Informant 110 offered a new feature called CI Labs with five articles concerned with new trends in the openings. Each article contained a short introduction in English. CI Labs expanded to six articles in the next issue, which also added two other articles. "Chess History" by Harald Fietz celebrates the centenary of Jose R. Capablanca's entry into the world elite. Anna Burtasova's "Women and Chess" marked the 50th birthday of Maia Chiburdanidze, five-time world champion.

CI Labs peaked at ten articles with Informant 113 and that issue also included the first "Garry's Choice" column, which ran through Informant 118. In these columns, Garry Kasparov offered his analysis of recent Grandmaster games. The number of articles continued to grow as did their breadth and depth. With Informant 119, the company added download versions customized for the ChessBase database software. Because I use ChessBase daily, this feature puts Informants in easier reach.

The new content is outstanding. While Informant has long been a periodical that was indispensable to professional players, some average players found it intimidating. Many of the new articles aim at the average tournament player.

Mihail Marin's column, "Old Wine in New Bottles," has proven illuminating. In Informant 119 (the Viking edition), he explored rook endings. Viswanathan Anand missed a draw in a difficult rook ending in his World Championship match with Magnus Carlsen. Most chess enthusiasts know that, but still may find Marin's analysis illuminating. In the same article, he points out a hidden resource in the well-known game Capablanca -- Tartakower, New York 1924. Marin poetically notes that the reputed author of the aphorism, "all rook endings are drawn," missed a drawing opportunity in his most famous loss.

In Informant 122, Marin examines the role of memory in chess through an exploration of the double bishop sacrifice. He works his way back through time, beginning with recent play by a teammate and working towards Emanuel Lasker's famous game against Johann Bauer (1889). The importance of pattern recognition in chess training is brought home for ambitious players and chess teachers working with all levels of students.

There are also compelling columns by Alexander Morozevich, Ivan Sokolov, Karsten Mueller, Wesley So, and an ever changing cast of Grandmasters. These columns are suitable for chess enthusiasts across a wide range of skill levels.

Informants have long had versions compatible with ChessBase, but not all commentary translated well. The image below shows Informant 75/156 in Chess Informant Expert (left) and ChessBase (right). The intended text "with the idea of 17...Rac8, 17...Qa1" is almost unreadable in ChessBase. (readers may click on the image for better viewing).

Side-by-side CI Expert and ChessBase
In the latest versions created especially for ChessBase, such commentary reads perfectly. Below is some text from "Midnight in Moscow: Avoiding the Saemisch by a Less Traveled Road" by Alexander Morozevich. "With the idea" is spelled out, and the figurine algebraic displays correctly.

Informant 122 in ChessBase
I have been a fan of Chess Informants for nearly two decades. My first issue in late 1996 or early 1997 was Informant 64 and it quickly paid dividends in a nice win in a correspondence game (see "Playing by the Book"). In the early years of this century, I started buying electronic editions of Informants and reading them in Chess Informant Reader (CIR). Later, the company came out with Chess Informant Expert, which offered editing and publishing functions not available in CIR. CI Expert also offered a more pleasing interface with options for different color combinations.

CI Expert offers functionality not available in ChessBase. For example, from the electronic edition of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, it is possible to jump to reference games in the relevant issue of Informant, as I demonstrated in this YouTube video.

Despite the advantages of reading Informants in their proprietary software, or in print, I welcome these new ChessBase versions. Designing Chess Informant publications specifically for ChessBase software makes Informants more accessible.

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