How I Started Playing the Spanish

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I have a peculiar story to offer on how I picked up the Spanish as my new main White opening.

I used to play the Scotch Gambit, with 5. e5. It served me very well, and took me to about 1800, but at some point, I started to dislike my positions. My opponents knew more and more theory and I felt I was being way too committal in my opening play. At last, I thought I should give some other opening a try. First, I wanted to venture into the Vienna with g3. Now, a lot of my openings feature g3 or g6, so I was thinking I could brush up my understanding of the fianchetto by adding a the Vienna Mieses variation into my repertoire. But this didn’t last for long, as I found Vienna Mieses a bit dull, especially as I play similar structures as Black in the Three Knights defence – as Black, it is very thrilling to defend g6, but as White it felt I could perhaps aim for some more. Of course my initial decision employing the Vienna had to do with the typical “I don’t want to learn loads of theory so I pick a sideline” approach.

So after some more thinking, I thought that I shouldn’t pick a quick fix, but a ‘friend-for-life’ opening. And of course my thoughts wandered towards the Spanish – the ‘one’ for the e4 player, as many grandmasters suggest. But how to start off by learning such a colossal opening? After doing some online research and asking a couple of friends to explain some of the ideas in the Spanish, it did start to see a lot of work. Now, I don’t have anything against work, but there are a lot of different views concerning the necessity of openings for the sub 2000 player. And I too agree that opening training should be done in a very careful fashion lest one finds oneself studying nothing but openings.  But then an unexpected find left me no doubt about picking up the Spanish opening.

After deciding that I should at least try learning the Spanish, I took to acquiring some reference books. So far, I had mostly used an Estonian book from 1962 to get to know openings that are new to me – a book by Nei and Rozenfeld “Avangute teooria” (“Opening Theory”). I have added a picture of the book as I find its design very appealing.

Now, Nei’s and Rozenfeld’s book offers a good, compact presentation of the Spanish opening and overall it’s a great, informative book written in the golden era of dynamic chess. But as I have an antiquarian bookstore that occasionally sells chess books right next to where I live, I thought I would go and have a look. Luckily, there were some new chess books on sale (technically old books, but new for me as I hadn’t looked into them before), and one of them was Paul Keres’s “Spanisch bis Französisch” (1969) (“From the Spanish to the French”) and as it cost 6 euros, I decided to buy it. I also bought some more Soviet-time chess books, as I have an inkling that I should buy those before they become deficit, though right know there are still fairly many of them available. I will probably write a post about those books soon, as I believe the English speaking chess community is be fairly unfamiliar with them. Also, they might provide some interest to chess book collectors. They are perfectly fine books for training too. So I went home with my books.

Upon arriving home, naturally, I started going through the books right away, focusing on the book by Keres in greater detail. The first thing  I noticed was that there was some writing on one of the pages in front:

The dedication is for the winner of the “12th radio-simultaneous”, by Jüri Randviir, Tallinn, 28th May 1970. Now I knew who Jüri Randviir was – he is a well-known chess player and author here in Estonia. However, I had no clue what a “radio-simultaneous” was. Luckily I have a friend, also an Estonian chess player, who I thought might know what it meant. So I asked Jüri Eintalu and he replied that “Jüri Randviir gave simultaneous tournaments on the radio. He was mailed moves that he sorted out and replied to on a radio-show.” My friend also added that he would sometimes fell asleep with the radio on, going “Berta two takes on Caesar three” through his sleep. So, after having realized I had got my hands on some peculiar piece of Estonian chess history, I proceeded to look further. On the next page, I found this:

The signature down below belongs to Iivo Nei, an Estonian chess legend. Iivo Nei has done a lot for Estonian chess – not only was he a great player, but he has also written books, organized tournaments, been involved in chess coaching etc. He even had a chess TV-show called “Chess School” which they aired during the Soviet times. The beginning melody sounded like this: IIVO NEI CHESS SCHOOL

And honestly, I thought that the scribbling besides Paul Keres was just the result of trying out the pen! However, at some point I started thinking logically – who would randomly scribble on such a book? Well, turns out, it was Paul Keres! For making sure the signature was legit, I did some research on the internet and found confirmation.

So, long story short – without having realized it, I had bought a signed book by Jüri Randviir, Iivo Nei and Paul Keres. Surely this was a sign that I should take up the Spanish as White, and perhaps use some better lines in the French as White. The book itself is, of course top quality. Also, as I have been thinking about brushing up on my German, the book is fitting for that purpose too. Now, after having played the Spanish as White for more than a month, I find it fascinating and I am very satisfied with it.

NB! I will be writing some theoretical posts about the Spanish opening as well. Therefore, this post can be regarded as an introduction to my upcoming series of posts on how to start with the Spanish.

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