You might think, given the decline in traditional print media, it’s a strange time to launch a new magazine. Bridge Magazine, the stablemate of CHESS, went digital a few years ago, and The Problemist, the magazine of the British Chess Problem Society, will be heading in the same direction at the start of next year.
But chess in the USA is, at least superficially, booming. They have three players, Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, near the top of the world rankings, several up and coming young stars such as Jeffery Xiong, Sam Sevian and Awonder Liang, and, thanks to Rex Sinquefield’s generous sponsorship, a major new chess centre in St Louis.
It is this that no doubt inspired the Serbian team behind Chess Informant, who have also recently taken over the British Chess Magazine, to launch the American Chess Magazine late last year. Josip Asik is credited as the editor-in-chief. This is a quarterly magazine with 152 large format glossy pages, which will set you back by $29.95, or, if you buy a copy from Chess & Bridge in Baker Street, £24.99.
You might think that magazines, unlike books, are, by their nature, ephemeral, so you might think that the price is a bit steep. You’d expect a pretty good product for your money, and that is exactly what you get. A quick glance behind the tagline ‘It’s cool to be smart’ reveals outstanding production values if you don’t mind the rather ‘bitty’ layout. This seems to be the modern style, but I don’t very much care for it myself. Why, for instance, does page 4 in the first issue give me the contents of pages 68 onwards, with the contents of the earlier pages on page 5? Lots of colour photographs – in fact I could imagine the amount of colour in the whole magazine along with the busy-ness of the layout inducing sensory overload in some readers. A starry list of contributors: Ivanchuk, Sokolov, Jobava, Harikrishna, Speelman, Shankland, Gulko and Krush amongst others in the first issue, while the second issue also includes the likes of Dominguez, Ehlvest, Seirawan and Hou Yifan.
You’ll also get reports from top tournaments, including many heavily annotated games, along with articles of more general interest. There is, understandably, a bias towards US chess. Much of Issue 1 is about the 2016 Olympiad while Issue 2 features Wesley So. But should you buy it? Will it help you improve your chess?
First of all, it’s aimed very much at the stronger player, say 1800 Elo/150 ECF and above. If you’re a lower rated player you might want to buy it out of interest, and you’ll probably enjoy reading it, but it probably won’t help you improve very much. The games are all a few months old so, if you’re an avid follower of grandmaster chess you’ll have seen many of them before. You might even have forgotten them as another couple of super GM tournaments will have taken place before you see them. If you subscribe to New in Chess you will also already have some of the games in print, and it’s that magazine which would seem to be the newcomer’s main rival.
It’s rather amusing to note that the report on Gibraltar in Issue 2 was written by Hou Yifan. Well, it’s not really a report, just one deeply annotated game (Nakamura-Lagarde). She makes no mention of her ill-judged (or ill-advised) last round protest, but an editorial box explains that she is well-known for her sporting conduct, and that her act ‘made a powerful impact on the chess public and provoked intense discussion about whether or not there is evidence of fixing pairings in chess’. No mention of the fact that the pairings were checked and reproduced by a number of impartial experts on pairing systems.
So if you’re looking for controversy or the latest news on chess politics this probably isn’t for you. Instead you get a relentlessly upbeat, positive view of chess, along with much adulation of Wesley So and other top US players.
If you’re American, especially if you’re rated, say, 1800+, you’ll certainly want to subscribe. If not, you might wonder how much value you’d be getting for your money. On the other hand, you may well think that you have a responsibility, as an inhabitant of Planet Chess, to support this excellent publication and help it succeed. There have been other excellent chess magazines over the years which have perhaps aimed too high and have folded after 2 or 3 issues.
It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this brash new kid on the block will have on the world of chess magazine publishing. Will we see major changes to its illustrious, if ageing, stablemate the British Chess Magazine? Will it have an effect on its market rival, New in Chess? You’ll find out here first.