By Davide Nastasio
320 pages, 2016
I was interested in this publication because it is the magazine the pros have used since 1966. In that time there weren’t so many tournaments as today, and this was the only way one could discover novelties in the opening, and prepare against opponents.
Kasparov was quoted as saying, “We are all children of the Chess Informant.”
But of course, the greatest player of all time, Fischer, also read the Chess Informant.
Today, I think Chessbase Magazine is the best under the sun, because it comes with two formats: one is the normal Chessbase magazine (published every 2 months) with about 2500 Top GM games, and the other is the Extra Chessbase Magazine (published every other month) with 25, 000 to 30,000 games from tournaments all over the world.
Still, I was curious to see how the Chess Informant evolved over time, and what they had to offer today.
The graphics are really nice, and there are many top GMs as contributors. Being a tournament player, my interest was to see if this product could add something to my chess knowledge, or if it would just be way over my head. I decided to conduct an experiment and read one issue, the most recently published.
Once opened, there are 11 articles/columns written by different GMs. One of my favorites, GM Marin, writes about the Benoni. I’ll discuss some of them.
The first article I looked for was written by Michael Adams, a 2700+ player who is quite famous. He provided commentary on four of his games at the British Chess Championship in Bournemouth, 2016. The British Championship is an open format, so I was particularly interested in games between Adams and weaker players (by 200-300 points). Brown vs. Adams satisfied such curiosity. The comments within the game are interesting; however, my Chessbase Megabase 2017 is clearly more updated than Michael Adams’ commentary. At a certain point he mentions a game from 2010 with a certain continuation, which for him is critical. In Megabase we can see as a reference all the games played with that move from 2010 to 2016, for a total of 68 games. Now, if I had played such an opening (it was a Scotch) I would surely need to watch more than 1 game from 2010, and I’d like to see the latest games to avoid surprises in a tournament. The annotated games by Adams, however, were appealing.
The second article I looked at was from GM Mueller, known worldwide to be an expert in endgames. He wrote many books on endgames, and an entire series of Chessbase DVDs on the endgame.
This article treats Korchnoi, a master of endgame technique. The article is divided in three parts:
Part A: the right exchange, 5 games.
Part B: Rook endgames, 5 games.
Part C: knight endings, 2 games.
I must say, I loved this section because in today’s chess world, with faster time controls, we do need to study endgames and improve our endgame calculation technique. However, Chess Informant is not taking advantage of the training annotations, which Chessbase 14 (and previous versions) can allow. The article would become more interactive, since the reader could try to guess the right move and get feedback if the wrong move is made.
Here I’d like to share the position of the first endgame, because it is a really nice endgame. The solution is not a flashy tactic, but we need to understand what to do, which is simplify and enter into the right pawn and king endgame.
We are at move 82, White to move. Try to guess the right way to win this endgame.
This is the original game for those who want to know how it ended, and check their homework:
One opening article, written by GM Leitao, also stirred my interest. I must admit I like the photographs and graphics. This article is comprised of three chapters which treat three different possibilities that Black has to fight in the London system. Maybe in the next issue, GM Leitao will cover more options that Black can use to fight White, giving White a complete repertoire.
The three chapters have a total of 31 games to illustrate Black’s choices. I’ve perused many of the games, and what I find annoying for the amateur like me is the use of symbols for evaluating the position. Here is an image of what they look like, with relative explanation:
The problem for me is that when one uses the symbol for “White is slightly better,” what is the basis for such an evaluation? Pawn structure? Passive position of enemy pieces? Because an objective evaluation of the position doesn’t really exist for humans as it does for computers, since programmers all write following similar parameters. For humans, I’m sure that if we present a position to 100 players of different levels, we will obtain many different evaluations.
Here is an example coming from the above mentioned article. The position comes from the game Nisipeanu vs. Cornette, 2016. This is a variation of how the game could have continued:
White just played 14.cxb6, and here the line stops with an informant symbol as evaluation. I will not tell you what the evaluation was right away. But let’s mention some elements of the game: Could the evaluation be better for Black because the White king is stuck in the center (which is quite unsafe), while Black’s king is safe and he possesses the bishop pair, giving him a formidable attack weapon? Or could White be better because he has a passed pawn in B6, a queenside majority, and control of B8?
GM Leitao evaluated the position as slightly better for White, but as I said, we don’t know why. Now the point is that GM Leitao doesn’t write for other professionals, because the “pros” don’t need to read his article to learn the London system. Generally, pros have a coach, and work on the opening in ways an amateur can’t. Most chess magazines and books are written for amateurs, which compose 99% of the chess world (out of 7 billion human beings, we have just a little over 1,100 GMs, while there are millions of amateurs). Consequently, it would be wiser if authors like Leitao would explain their evaluations with words which would give us an indication of where the advantage lies. This would help the reader to understand in which direction to play, or how to form a plan. By comparison, I always have in mind the Chessbase DVDs which are also made by GMs, but the GM explains the evaluation not through a symbol, or a cryptic “White is better,” but by pointing out how it is better, and why.
Just to be sure, since in today’s world our silicon enemies are clearly more objective in evaluating the position, I let Stockfish run for about 1 hour on the position above mentioned. It went about 18 moves (not plies) deep, which means this was move 13. The engine reached move 31, and the evaluation was =0.06, which is equal, not slightly better, for White.
Another problem was the selection of games used by GM Leitao. Many didn’t have annotations, and some were quick draws like the following one:
Honestly, I don’t understand the teaching value of showing a 17-move drawn game.
In this issue there are 270 games, some annotated very lightly, some deeply. They are also divided for ECO codes, so one can find immediately the games played with the openings he practices. However, 270 games is quite a small sample, and doesn’t really cover all the openings.
Another disappointment was the section relating to the training material. Chess Informant is sold in two different formats. The obvious and classical one is on paper, but one can order it both on paper and in electronic format. The electronic format is made for Chessbase 12, 13, 14 or whichever version one has. The Chessbase reader also works, and PGN for all other kind of Chess Database programs running both under Microsoft Windows, or Android, and IOS.
I have it on paper and in CBV (Chessbase) and PGN (Portable Game Notation) formats, because it is easier for working/reference when I travel to have the electronic file.
In the Combination section, one can see an example of the positions:
But once you click on the image of the first diagram, it just shows the solution. If the publishers had done their homework, the reader could work on the position answering training questions and receiving feedback, like in Chessbase Magazine.
Here is an example which shows the position as given in the Chess Informant:
And here with the added training question, which took me less than 1 minute to add, and make interactive:
Notice that in Chessbase one can also add a voice recording to ask questions for training, and the student will listen the questions once he opens the training position.
I repeat, unfortunately such simple work hasn’t been done, and would have made the publication quite useful at training level.
The volume ends with the section “Tournaments,” which is made up of the crosstable results from different tournaments, the best game of the previous volume, and the most important theoretical novelties (28 games).
In conclusion, I found this publication better suited for stronger players, maybe around 2200. While the graphics and pictures were captivating, the content did not use the latest technological opportunities for teaching and training. I believe I will not subscribe, and continue instead with Chessbase Magazine, which is more interactive and better suited for my training needs.