Monday, November 5, 2007

Chess Informant: a negative trend

It goes without saying that most serious chess players are regular readers of Chess Informant. The long-running Yugoslav publication founded by GM Aleksandr Matanovic (and known in Serbo-Croat as Sahovski Informator) will soon celebrate its 100th issue.

Chess Informant has been around for so long and has become so pervasive that it is now rather difficult to gauge its true impact on the chess world. Perhaps Garry Kasparov was closest to the mark when he characterised the players of his generation as “the Children of Informator.”

Against this backdrop it is not surprising that whenever Chess Informant is mentioned by chess book reviewers, it is uniformly praised. Here are some examples:

Chess Informant has a tremendous amount of interesting material to offer, whether for opening studies, or for general training purposes. I for one would not want to be without it. -- Carsten Hansen

The main games are still the heart of Informants; they are brilliant and/or essential to following the latest developments in hundreds of openings. It is indicative of their quality that Chess Informants are used by every titled player that I’ve met over the years, and by most other serious players. -- John Watson

I have to agree that Chess Informant is a great publication and, when used properly, has a positive influence on one's playing strength. But in this article I want to draw attention to a surprising negative trend that until recently has only nagged at the periphery of my awareness. When I sat down and did some serious background work, it practically jumped out at me.

Chess Informant is shrinking. Getting smaller. Publishing fewer games. And charging the same price for it all. Meanwhile, chess activity around the world is increasing, year by year.

What exactly is happening? The numbers tell the story. Here are the total number of pages and games for each year between 2001 and 2006. For comparison I have included the total number of games for each year published by The Week in Chess.

Year: 2001. Total pages: 1144. Total games: 1599. TWIC games: 63,296
Year: 2002. Total pages: 1088. Total games: 1516. TWIC games: 63,227
Year: 2003. Total pages: 1128. Total games: 1474. TWIC games: 74,649
Year: 2004. Total pages: 1176. Total games: 1518. TWIC games: 75,255
Year: 2005. Total pages: 1094. Total games: 1334. TWIC games: 80,827
Year: 2006. Total pages: 1022. Total games: 1287. TWIC games: 91,044

In other words, between 2001 and 2006 there was a 44% increase in the number of games reported in The Week in Chess. In the same period there was a 20% decrease in the number of games published in Chess Informant. If that isn't a negative trend, I don't know what is.

Back in the 1980s Chess Informant used to publish around 1400 games per year in two volumes. Starting in 1991, Informant began to publish three volumes per year. Here we are in the 21st century and Informant is now publishing fewer games in three volumes than it used to publish in two volumes!

I don't accept the argument that there has been an offsetting increase in the number of game fragments cited within the main games. These fragments are no more than a species of annotation. They don't alter the fact that Chess Informant is getting smaller.

It is up to Chess Informant's customers to decide how important this trend is to them. I have a complete set of Informants and do not intend to stop buying them. But I do wish the publishers would take note and respond to this trend in a positive way.


Ryan Emmett said...

Interesting point, well made. There seems no logical reason why there should be less games included, when more games are being played. Boo hiss!

Marc Hébert said...

Chess Informant : you are absolutely right!

Marc Hébert

Roman said...

I must admit, I have never used the informant as a regular source of chess information. But I have experienced the shift from lack of information to information overflow that happened in the last 15 years. Seems like TWIC can publish more and more games, but can one really absorb all that information on a regular basis? As long as the Informant keeps selecting the most important thousand games out of ALL games that are being played - they are probably doing a good job. Whether printed publication business will die in the near future - that's another question.

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National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.