Friday, April 7, 2017

Chess Informant

I have a few issues of Chess Informant, a periodical published in Belgrad, which is constructed like a large-format paperback book -- a rather high-quality book, or at least it was as recently as 1995, when Chess Informant 65 was published, the most recent issue I have. In 1995 the pages were still sewn together in signatures, instead of just glued to the spine, which is far more common for paperbacks, and cheaper, and much less sturdy. I have not heard anything about the quality of construction decreasing since the 1990's. Chess Informant 1 was published in 1966. At first 2 issues a year were published, then 3, and now they're publishing 4 issues a year.

(Yes, the name Chess Informant is somewhat comical, and was even stranger to English-speaking ears coming from the Soviet bloc back during the Cold War. I have no doubt that it unnecessarily raised the blood pressure of more than one FBI agent who was not familiar with the world of chess. A better translation would no doubt have been something like Chess Information. But it's far and away the most prominent publication of its type, and the name has stuck. They're not going to change the English translation now.)

What it is, is a collection of those of the most recent top-level Grandmaster chess games which the editors have deemed to be the best. These are presented with commentary, sometimes by one of the game's players, sometimes by some other Grandmaster. The games and the commentary are all presented without words: The editors of Chess Informant were among the first to devise non-lingual signs for chess pieces, moves, and evaluation by commentators. Near the front of each volume all of these signs are explained in various languages. They're all easily understandable, even to someone like me. The number of languages has increased as times has gone by. Until recently, the name of the periodical has appeared in each one of those languages on the cover. I haven't been able to find a picture of the very first Chess Informant. But I believe this is Chess Informant 2,

and it is presented in 6 languages. The name of publication in the editor's native Serbo-Croation is in large white letters running vertically from the bottom to the top; and to the left of that, the title is translated in smaller script into Russian, English, German, French and Spanish. In the 10th issue, published in 1971, Italian and Swedish were added. Chinese was added in the 23rd issue in 1977, and the 25th issue, from 1978, has the same assortment of languages. I can't see numbers 26 through 37, but number 38 from 1984 has Arabic. The 125th issue, from 2015, is the newest one I've been able to see a photo of which still lists all the languages on the cover in this manner, and it still has the same languages as #38 in 1984: Serbo-Croation, Russian, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Chinese and Arabic. Not a bad international reach. Here's Chess Informant 95 from 2005, displaying those 10 languages on its cover:

And all of the chess in all of the volumes is at a level far above my head. I've studied 1 of these games, game 120 from Chess Informant 20, Kovács L -- Benkő, Debrecen 1975, Going through all of the moves and all of commentary over and over, and I don't understand what happened. It's a short game, checkmate by Black on the 26th move, and there's a diagram of the position after White's 22nd move. Both the shortness and the diagram encouraged me to choose this game to study. I'm convinced by now that I have moved all the pieces as recorded. But I'm not sure about very much at all beyond that. As usual, much of the commentary explains what would've happened if different moves had been made at this or that point. But there is no commentary at several points where I cannot understand why the game's moves were made. Presumably, when there is no commentary, the commentator assumes that it is obvious to the reader why the game move was made. (Not that the existing commentary leaves me unmystified.)

Anyway, that's 1 game out of 724 games in Chess Informant 20. Chess Informant passed 100,000 games presented some years ago, and I think it's safe to say that I would not be able even remotely understand a single one of them.

PS, 8 April 2017: Finally found a picture of the very first issue of Chess Informant!

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