The Ruy Lopez, also known as the Spanish Opening or Spanish Game, is one of the oldest and most classical of all opening systems in chess.
Throughout this article, we will look into the complex and versatile nature of the Ruy Lopez, discussing its theory, variations, history, suitability for beginners and intermediates, and its popularity at the grandmaster level.
Move Order of the Ruy Lopez
The initial move order for the Ruy Lopez is quite straightforward, beginning with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5.
This involves white controlling the center quickly with his pawn and knight and then applying pressure on the knight at c6, indirectly attacking the e5 pawn.
Black usually responds with 2…Nc6 to maintain symmetry, defend the e5 pawn, and prepare to castle.
Theory, Strategy and Purpose of the Ruy Lopez
As mentioned, the Ruy Lopez is a classic chess opening that begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5.
At this basic level, White’s third move attacks the knight defending the e5-pawn from the attack by the f3-knight.
While the apparent threat by white to win black’s e5-pawn with 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 might seem attractive, it is not as decisive as it appears.
Black can respond with 5…Qd4, a counter-attack that simultaneously targets the knight and e4-pawn, enabling Black to regain the lost material while maintaining a strong position.
White’s 3.Bb5 move remains advantageous as it enables the development of another piece, sets up a potential pin against Black’s king, and prepares the way for castling.
Since it doesn’t carry an immediate threat, Black has a wide range of possible responses.
Historically, the primary objective of White in the Ruy Lopez has been to disrupt Black’s pawn structure.
Any of Black’s pawn recaptures after the exchange on c6 leads to a compromised pawn structure, although it does confer the benefit of a bishop pair to Black.
In modern practice, however, White doesn’t always trade the bishop for the knight on c6.
If Black plays 3…a6, white often prefers to retreat the bishop to a4 (4.Ba4) instead of initiating the exchange.
The theory of the Ruy Lopez is extremely well-developed and perhaps the most extensive of all open games.
Many of its lines have been analyzed well beyond the 30th move.
Almost every move presents a multitude of reasonable alternatives, most of which have been studied in great depth.
The potential variations can be conveniently divided into two groups based on whether or not Black responds with 3…a6, the Morphy Defense.
Named after Paul Morphy (although he was not the originator of the line), the Morphy Defense lines are more commonly played in the modern era.
Variations where Black plays something other than 3…a6 are generally older and simpler but less common today.
Variations of the Ruy Lopez
There are numerous variations of the Ruy Lopez, each with their unique move sequences and tactical opportunities.
The main bifurcation is, however, between 3…a6 moves (Morphy Defense) and those that are not.
The Bird’s Defense, Old Steinitz Defense, Schliemann Defense, and Classical (Cordel) Defense are among the older lines of play.
On the other hand, the Berlin Defense is famous for its solidity, and its sub-variations such as the Mortimer Trap, Rio Gambit Deferred, Improved Steinitz Defense, and l’Hermet Variation can lead to rich middlegame positions.
The Modern Steinitz Defense and Morphy Defense represent robust responses from black.
Noteworthy too is the Russian Defense, an example of the Steinitz Defense Deferred, while traps like the Noah’s Ark Trap in the Closed Defense make for fascinating strategic twists.
Furthermore, the Closed Defense features sub-variations like the Worrall Attack, Averbakh Variation, Pilnik Variation, Zaitsev Variation, Smyslov Defense, Breyer Defense, and Chigorin Defense.
Let’s look at these in more detail:
Morphy Defense: 3…a6 in Ruy Lopez
In the Ruy Lopez, the most popular third move for Black is the Morphy Defense, which is characterized by 3…a6.
This move essentially forces White to make a crucial decision on the third move: whether to retreat the bishop or to exchange it for Black’s knight.
This is commonly referred to as “putting the question” to White’s bishop, a term attributed to the chess Grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch.
The primary idea behind 3…a6 is that after the common response 4.Ba4 by White, Black gains the opportunity to break any future pin on the queen’s knight by advancing the b-pawn with …b5.
However, White must be cautious to avoid the Noah’s Ark Trap, where Black traps White’s bishop on the b3 square with a sequence of pawn advances …a6, …b5, and …c4 on the queenside.
The move 3…a6 was first mentioned by Ercole del Rio in his 1750 treatise “Sopra il giuoco degli Scacchi, Osservazioni pratiche dell’anonimo Modenese” (On the game of Chess, practical Observations by an anonymous Modenese).
It gained widespread popularity after being employed by the legendary chess player Paul Morphy, after whom it is named.
Interestingly, Wilhelm Steinitz, another influential chess figure of the time, did not approve of the move.
In 1889, he wrote, “on principle this ought to be disadvantageous as it drives the bishop where it wants to go.” However, Steinitz’s view did not prevail.
Today, the move 3…a6 is played in over 65 percent of all games that start with the Ruy Lopez, underscoring its strategic importance and popularity among chess players.
Morphy Defense: Alternatives to Closed Defense
Various alternatives to the Closed Defense include:
- 4.Bxc6 (Exchange Variation)
- 4.Ba4 4…b5 5.Bb3 Na5 (Norwegian Defense)
- 4…b5 5.Bb3 Bc5 (Graz Defense)
- 4…b5 5.Bb3 Bb7 (Caro Variation)
- 4…Bc5 (Classical Defense Deferred)
- 4…Nge7 (Cozio Defense Deferred)
- 4…g6 (Fianchetto Defense Deferred)
- 4…f5 (Schliemann Defense Deferred)
- 4…d6 (Modern Steinitz Defense)
- 4…Nf6 5.Nc3 (Ruy Lopez Four Knights Variation)
Let’s look at them in more detail:
Pilnik (Teichmann) Variation: 9.d3
Named after Hermann Pilnik and also known as the Teichmann Variation (after Richard Teichmann), this line continues with 9.d3.
The intention behind this move is to advance the pawn to d4 under more favorable circumstances.
While this plan appears to lose a tempo as compared to the immediate 9.d4, the tempo could be regained if White can omit h3, especially if Black plays …Bb7.
The usual sequence leading to this position through the Pilnik Variation is 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.Re1.
Yates and Bogoljubow Variation: 9.d4
White sometimes plays 9.d4 (Yates Variation), but 9.h3 is more common as 9.d4 Bg4 (Bogoljubow Variation) can be troublesome due to the pin of the white knight.
This variation is named after a game played between Capablanca and Efim Bogoljubow in London, 1922.
Chigorin Variation: 9.h3 Na5
The Chigorin Variation, named after Mikhail Chigorin, was once the primary defense to the Ruy Lopez.
In this variation, Black plays 9…Na5 to chase the white bishop from the a2–g8 diagonal and free the c-pawn for expansion on the queenside.
After 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4, Black’s classical follow-up is 11…Qc7, reinforcing e5 and placing the queen on the c-file, which may later become open after …cxd4.
This variation has declined in popularity due to the time Black must invest to bring the offside knight on a5 back into the game.
The Chigorin Variation is divided into four ECO classifications (C96, C97, C98, C99) depending on subsequent moves.
Breyer Variation: 9.h3 Nb8
Named after Gyula Breyer, this variation gained popularity in the 1960s, notably used by Boris Spassky.
The Breyer Variation is quite unique as it involves Black moving a developed piece (the knight on b8) back to its original square to facilitate other strategic ideas.
With 9…Nb8, Black plans to reroute the knight to d7, freeing up the c-pawn and providing support for e5.
If White chooses to reinforce the center with 10.d3, this leads to the ECO (Encyclopedia of Chess Openings) code C94.
The more frequently played move 10.d4 leads to ECO code C95.
The main line proceeds as follows: 10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.Bc2 Re8 13.Nf1 Bf8.
In this position, Black is pressuring the e4-pawn by threatening …exd4 which would reveal an attack on the pawn.
To counter this, White plays 14.Ng3. Black typically responds with 14…g6 to prevent the white knight from jumping to the f5 square.
White often aims for queenside action with 15.a4, while Black seeks counterplay in the center via 15…c5.
This prompts White to create tension in the center with 16.d5. The c4 square becomes an attractive outpost for Black after 16…c4.
White might aim for a kingside offensive with 17.Bg5, prompting Black to respond with 17…h6.
After the bishop retreats to e3 (18.Be3), Black often plays 18…Nc5. White might then continue with 19.Qd2, inducing 19…h5 from Black.
This series of maneuvers serves to weaken Black’s kingside, potentially paving the way for a future White attack.
Despite its initially passive appearance, the Breyer Variation provides Black with strategic opportunities to counterbalance White’s initiatives, making it a sophisticated and nuanced option within the Ruy Lopez.
Zaitsev Variation: 9.h3 Bb7
The Zaitsev Variation, also known as the Flohr–Zaitsev Variation, was a favorite of former World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov and was recommended by his coach, Igor Zaitsev.
This variation is considered one of the critical lines in the Ruy Lopez.
With 9…Bb7, Black plans to increase pressure on the e4 pawn.
After 10.d4, Black plays Re8, preparing for the bishop to move to f8 with 11…Bf8 after White plays 11.Nbd2.
This line can lead to extremely sharp and tactical battles.
However, one disadvantage of this line for Black, especially when seeking to win, is that White can force a draw through repetition of moves with 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3, requiring Black to deviate from the Zaitsev Variation if they wish to avoid this draw.
Given the highly tactical nature of the Zaitsev Variation and the need to have a great memory given the intricacies of it, it is not as frequently seen in high-level play today as it was during Karpov’s era.
Nevertheless, it remains a respected and critical line in the Ruy Lopez.
In one of the most famous chess videos on YouTube involving Kasparov’s calculations toward the end of his defeat of Kasparov (involving a famous queen sacrifice), they were playing in the Zaitsev Variation:
Karpov Variation: 9.h3 Nd7
The Karpov Variation, marked by the move 9…Nd7, was utilized by Anatoly Karpov in the 1990 World Chess Championship.
Despite its solid structure, it is considered slightly passive.
It can be confusing as it shares the name “Chigorin Variation” with another line (9…Na5), though the latter is more commonly associated with Chigorin.
This defense is also named after Paul Keres, thus known as the Keres Variation.
Kholmov Variation: 9.h3 Be6
The Kholmov Variation, characterized by 9…Be6, was popular in the 1980s but is less common at the master level today.
The main line proceeds 10.d4 Bxb3 11.axb3 (11.Qxb3 is another option) exd4 12.cxd4 d5 13.e5 Ne4 14.Nc3 f5 15.exf6 Bxf6 16.Nxe4 dxe4 17.Rxe4 Qd5 18.Rg4.
In this line, it has been demonstrated that White’s extra pawn holds more value than Black’s more active and coordinated pieces.
Smyslov Variation: 9.h3 h6
The Smyslov Variation, designated by the move 9…h6, shares a similar plan with the Zaitsev Variation.
By playing 9…h6, Black prepares to move 10…Re8 and 11…Bf8 without the worry of 10.Ng5.
However, the tempo loss with 9…h6 gives White enough time to complete the Nbd2–f1–g3 maneuver, and the pawn move can potentially weaken Black’s kingside.
The Zaitsev can be considered an improved Smyslov where Black tries to save a tempo by omitting …h6. This variation is also notable for being used by Garry Kasparov in a loss against the Deep Blue chess computer in their 1997 match.
Smyslov Variation: 9.h3 Qd7
Another variation associated with Vasily Smyslov involves the move 9…Qd7.
Despite sharing the same name, it is distinctly different from the 9…h6 Smyslov Variation.
In this variation, Black’s queen move allows for the possibility of queenside expansion and can also help in reinforcing the d6 pawn.
Keres Variation: 9.h3 a5
The Keres Variation, 9…a5, launches a queen-side attack by black.
This is typically countered by 10.d4 or 10.a4, and keeps a positional advantage for white.
The Lombardy Variation is named after the well-known second of Bobby Fischer at the 1972 World Chess Championship, William Lombardy.
It’s characterized by the line:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Na5 (Chigorin Variation) 10. Bc2 c6
Black Defenses & Moves Outside 3…a6
Of the non-3…a6 moves, the Berlin Defense and Schliemann Defense are the most popular today, followed by the Classical Defense.
- 3…Nge7 (Cozio Defense)
- 3…g6 (Smyslov or Fianchetto Defense)
- 3…Nd4 (Bird’s Defense)
- 3…d6 (Steinitz Defense)
- 3…f5!? (Schliemann Defense)
- 3…Bc5 (Classical or Cordel Defense)
- 3…Nf6 (Berlin Defense)
Let’s look at these in more detail:
Cozio Defense: 3…Nge7
The Cozio Defense, characterized by the move 3…Nge7, is not very popular.
This defense is solid but tends to be passive, and less explored compared to other Ruy Lopez defenses.
It is less commonly used by top-level players, but has been employed with success occasionally by grandmaster Bent Larsen.
Smyslov Defense: 3…g6
The Smyslov Defense, also known as the Fianchetto Defense, Barnes Defense, or Pillsbury Defense, is indicated by 3…g6.
This is a quieter positional system and has been sporadically employed by grandmasters Vasily Smyslov and Boris Spassky.
It is less frequently played in recent times, primarily due to the discovery of an advantageous line for White involving 4.d4 exd4 5.Bg5.
Bird’s Defense: 3…Nd4
Bird’s Defense, signified by 3…Nd4, is less common in modern play.
It can give White an advantage with careful play.
This defense was explored by Henry Bird in the late 19th century.
Despite it not being regularly adopted by strong masters in recent times, it can still be an occasional surprise weapon.
Steinitz Defense: 3…d6
The Steinitz Defense, also known as the Old Steinitz Defense, is represented by the move 3…d6.
This defense is solid but passive and slightly cramped.
The Old Steinitz Defense has been used by defensive specialists like world champions Emanuel Lasker and José Capablanca, but its passivity has led to it falling out of favor for more active defenses.
Schliemann Defense: 3…f5
The Schliemann Defense, also known as the Schliemann–Jaenisch Gambit, is characterized by the move 3…f5.
It’s a sharp and aggressive line where Black aims for a kingside attack, often at the cost of one or two pawns.
The line is considered to be risky but a good practical weapon.
Classical Defense: 3…Bc5
The Classical Defense, or Cordel Defense, is denoted by the move 3…Bc5.
This defense, one of the oldest in response to the Ruy Lopez, is occasionally played by grandmasters like Boris Spassky and Boris Gulko.
The most common reply by White is 4.c3, which can lead to sharp or solid play depending on Black’s response.
Berlin Defense: 3…Nf6
The Berlin Defense, indicated by 3…Nf6, has a reputation for solidity and often leading to draws, hence its nickname “the Berlin Wall”.
Since Vladimir Kramnik used it successfully in his World Chess Championship match against Garry Kasparov in 2000, it has experienced a significant resurgence, with even players known for dynamic play adopting it.
Its solid nature makes it a favorite choice for players looking to avoid excessive risk while playing Black.
The l’Hermet Variation is a line of the Berlin Defense in the Ruy Lopez. It arises after the following moves:
- e4 e5
- Nf3 Nc6
- Bb5 Nf6
- O-O Nxe4
- d4 Nd6
- Bxc6 dxc6
- dxe5 Nf5
The l’Hermet Variation is named after the French chess player Victor l’Hermet.
This variation is a key line of the Berlin Defense and was extensively used in the World Chess Championship 2000 between Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.
In this variation, Black willingly gives up the right to castle and enters an endgame, but in return gets the pair of bishops which can prove to be a powerful force in the open positions that arise.
Also, despite the king’s position, it’s not easy for White to exploit because the position is relatively closed and Black’s king can often find safety on the queenside.
White is considered to have a small advantage because of better pawn structure (Black has a pawn island more than White) and Black’s awkwardly placed king.
However, it’s not easy for White to make progress because opening up the game could allow Black’s bishop pair to become very powerful.
This line is also known for its drawish tendencies, because of the symmetrical pawn structure and the reduced material which often leads to drawn endgames.
This characteristic is what gave it the nickname “Berlin Wall”.
However, it’s a line that requires precise play from both sides and a deep understanding of endgame principles.
Ruy Lopez Opening: Berlin, l’Hermet Variation – Black Wins
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qe2 Nd4 9. Nxd4 Qxd4 10. h3 Be6 11. Rd1 Qc5 12. Nc3 Be7 13. Qe4 a5 14. Be3 Qb4 15. Bd4 a4 16. a3 Qc4 17. b3 axb3 18. cxb3 Qa6 19. b4 O-O-O 20. Ne2 Rd7 21. Bb2 Rhd8 22. Rxd7 Rxd7 23. Nd4 Qc4 24. Rc1 Qa2 25. Qc2 Bg5 26. Rd1 g6 27. Qa4 Kb8 28. Nxe6 Rxd1+ 29. Qxd1 fxe6 30. Qd4 Qb1+ 31. Kh2 b6 32. Bc3 Qc2 33. a4 Qxa4 34. Qg4 Qb3 35. Qxg5 Qxc3 36. Qf6 Qc4 37. g3 b5 38. h4 Kb7 39. Qf7 c5 40. Qxh7 cxb4 41. Qxg6 b3 42. h5 Qd4 43. Kg2 Qd5+ 44. Kh2 Qf3 45. h6 Qxf2+ 46. Kh3 Qc2 47. Qxe6 b2 48. Qd5+ Kb6 49. Qf3 b1=Q 50. Qf6+ Kb7 51. Qf3+ c6 52. Qf7+ Kb6 53. Kh4 Qe1 54. Qe6 Qe3 55. Kh5 Qxg3 56. Qg4 Qxe5+ 57. Qg5 Qeh2+ 58. Kg4 Qe4+ 59. Qf4
The Mortimer Trap is a tactical sequence that can occur within the Berlin Defense of the Ruy Lopez.
It arises after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Be7 7.Bf1 Nxe5 8.Rxe5 0-0 9.d4 Bf6 10.Re1 Re8.
Now, if White unwittingly plays 11.c3, Black springs the trap with 11…Nf5, and if 12.Rxe8+ Qxe8, the knight is immune from capture because of the threat …Qe1, which would force White to interpose the queen or bishop, losing material.
Rio Gambit Deferred
The Rio Gambit Deferred is a less common, but interesting variation within the Berlin Defense of the Ruy Lopez.
It can be seen after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Ne4.
Here, Black breaks with the standard Berlin Defense move order, deferring the usual development of their light-square bishop in favor of offering a pawn gambit.
If White accepts with 5.d4, Black may opt for a quick kingside development with 5…Be7, leading to an imbalanced and tactical game.
Berlin, Improved Steinitz Defense
The Ruy López Opening: Berlin, Improved Steinitz Defense is a solid, but less frequently seen variation of the Berlin Defense.
This defense begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 d6.
This move order varies slightly from the more traditional Berlin Defense by delaying the movement of the knight on f6, instead choosing to solidify the center with d6.
This is sometimes referred to as an “improved” version of the Steinitz Defense, as it combines the solid setup of the Steinitz with the more modern ideas of the Berlin Defense, leading to a rich and complex middlegame.
Other 3rd Moves for Black in the Ruy Lopez
Other third moves for black in the Ruy Lopez include:
- 3…Bb4 (Alapin Defense)
- 3…Qf6 (Gunderam Variation)
- 3…f6 (Nuremberg Defense)
- 3…Qe7 (Vinogradov Variation)
- 3…Na5 (Pollock’s Defense)
- 3…g5 (Brentano Defense)
- 3…b6? (Rotary Defense or Albany Defense)
- 3…d5? (Sawyer’s Gambit or Spanish Countergambit)
- 3…Be7 (Lucena Defense)
- 3…a5 (Bulgarian Variation)
- 3…f5 (Jaenisch Gambit)
- 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 Nf6 6.Qe2 (Jaenisch, Dyckhoff, Tartakower Variation)
3…Bb4 (Alapin Defense)
The Alapin Defense sees Black immediately challenging White’s knight on c3 with 3…Bb4.
The intention is to double White’s pawns after an eventual …Bxc3, creating structural weaknesses that Black can target later.
3…Qf6 (Gunderam Variation)
The Gunderam Variation is a more unusual response.
After 3…Qf6, Black directly defends the threatened e5 pawn and sets up possible tactical complications related to the semi-open f-file.
However, it is generally considered unsound because it interferes with the development of Black’s kingside knight and bishop.
3…f6 (Nuremberg Defense)
In the Nuremberg Defense, Black chooses to support the e5 pawn with 3…f6.
This can lead to a solid, if somewhat passive position for Black, as the move does not contribute to piece development and can potentially weaken the kingside.
3…Qe7 (Vinogradov Variation)
The Vinogradov Variation, 3…Qe7, is an unconventional third move for Black that aims to support the e5 pawn while preparing to castle queenside.
However, this approach can be risky as it leaves the king in the center for an extended period of time and neglects the development of the minor pieces.
3…Na5 (Pollock’s Defense)
In Pollock’s Defense, 3…Na5, Black opts for a hypermodern approach.
The idea is to remove the bishop from b5 and potentially redeploy the knight to a more effective square.
It’s an unusual move, and it can lead to unconventional positions.
3…g5 (Brentano Defense)
The Brentano Defense, 3…g5, is a very aggressive option for Black, aiming to undermine White’s central control while also preparing for kingside expansion.
This is a risky choice, as it can expose Black’s kingside to attack.
3…b6? (Rotary Defense or Albany Defense)
In the Rotary Defense or Albany Defense, Black plays 3…b6, preparing to fianchetto the queen’s bishop.
This is generally considered a dubious move, as it neglects the defense of the e5 pawn and does little for Black’s development.
3…d5? (Sawyer’s Gambit or Spanish Countergambit)
Sawyer’s Gambit or Spanish Countergambit with 3…d5 is a highly aggressive, gambit-style response, aiming to challenge White’s center directly.
The move is generally considered unsound due to the vulnerabilities it creates in Black’s position.
3…Be7 (Lucena Defense)
The Lucena Defense, 3…Be7, aims for a solid setup and rapid development of Black’s pieces.
By defending the e5 pawn indirectly, Black plans to develop the kingside knight to f6 without allowing a disruptive Ng5 by White.
3…a5 (Bulgarian Variation)
The Bulgarian Variation, 3…a5, is a less common choice that aims to prevent White from expanding on the queenside with b2-b4.
However, it doesn’t directly address the central tension or contribute to piece development, leaving it less popular than other options.
3…f5 (Jaenisch Gambit)
Attacks the e4 pawn and challenges white’s central control.
Evaluation of the Ruy Lopez
The Ruy Lopez is generally evaluated at around +0.20 to +0.40 for white.
Theory & Continuation Lines of the Ruy Lopez
Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Ruy Lopez starting move order 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 that you would see at the highest level of play.
Modern chess engines really like the Berlin Defense, 3…Nf6:
3… Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Rxe5+ Be7 8. Bf1 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. Bf4 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. c3 d5 14. Bd3 Be6 15. Nd2 Qd7 16. Qb1 g6 17. a4 Be7 18. Nf3 Bd6 19. Be5
3… Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Rxe5+ Be7 8. Bf1 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. Bf4 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. c3 d5 14. Nd2 Bf5 15. h3 c6 16. a4 a5 17. Qd1 Nd6 18. Nf3 Be4 19. Ne5 Bxe5 20. Bxe5
3… Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Rxe5+ Be7 8. Bf1 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. c3 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. Bf4 d5 14. Bd3 a5 15. Nd2 g6 16. h3 a4 17. Nf3 Nd6 18. g4 a3 19. b3
3… Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Rxe5+ Be7 8. Bf1 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. c3 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. Bf4 d5 14. Nd2 Bf5 15. a4 a5 16. Qd1 Bg5 17. Bxg5 Qxg5 18. Nf3 Qd8 19. Qb3 Rb8 20. Ne5 c6 21. Bd3 Nd6 22. Bxf5 Nxf5 23. h3
3… Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Rxe5+ Be7 8. Bf1 O-O 9. d4 Ne8 10. c4 Bf6 11. Re1 d5 12. cxd5 Qxd5 13. Be3 Be6 14. Nc3 Qa5 15. a3 Nd6 16. b4 Qf5 17. Bd3 Qg4 18. Qc2 Qh4 19. b5 Rfe8 20. h3 Bc4 21. Bxc4
3… Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Nxe5 7. Rxe5+ Be7 8. Bf1 O-O 9. d4 Ne8 10. d5 Bc5 11. Re1 d6 12. Be3 Bxe3 13. Rxe3 Nf6 14. Nc3 Re8 15. Rxe8+ Nxe8 16. Qd2 h6 17. Re1 Bd7 18. Bd3 Qf6 19. h3 a5 20. b3 Qh4 21. Ne4 b6 22. Nc3 Nf6
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Bc5 6. c3 b5 7. Bc2 d6 8. h3 Bb6 9. a4 Bb7 10. d4 exd4 11. cxd4 Nb4 12. Re1 O-O 13. a5 Ba7 14. Bg5
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3 Be7 10. Re1 O-O 11. Nd4 Nxd4 12. cxd4 Bb4 13. Nd2 c5 14. Nxe4 dxe4 15. Rxe4
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3 Bc5 10. Qd3 O-O 11. Be3 Na5 12. Nbd2 Bxe3 13. Qxe3 Nxd2 14. Nxd2 Nc4 15. Bxc4 dxc4 16. f4 Qd3 17. Qf2 Rad8 18. Nf3 Qd5 19. h3 c5 20. Rfe1 a5 21. Nh4
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Be3 Bc5 10. Qd3 O-O 11. c3 Na5 12. Nbd2 Bxe3 13. Qxe3 Nxd2 14. Nxd2 Nc4 15. Nxc4 bxc4 16. Bc2 Qb8 17. b3 Qb6 18. Qxb6 cxb6 19. bxc4 Rfc8 20. cxd5 Bxd5 21. Rfd1 Rc5
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Be3 Be7 10. c3 Qd7 11. Re1 O-O 12. Bc2 Bf5 13. Nd4 Nxd4 14. cxd4 Rfd8 15. f3 Ng5 16. Nd2 Bxc2 17. Qxc2 Ne6
4. Ba4 Nf6 5. d3 Bc5 6. O-O b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4 Bb7 9. axb5 axb5 10. Rxa8 Bxa8 11. h3 h6 12. Nc3 b4 13. Nd5 Na5 14. Nxe5 Nxb3
What is the best reply to the Ruy Lopez as black?
3…Nf6 (Berlin Defense) is considered the best overall at minimizing white’s advantage.
3…a6 (Morphy Defense) is considered the second-best.
History of the Ruy Lopez
The Ruy Lopez is named after the 16th-century Spanish bishop Ruy López de Segura, who published one of the first comprehensive books on chess in 1561.
It has been a critical opening for over 500 years, and its longevity can be attributed to its strategic depth and resilience against various defensive systems.
Is the Ruy Lopez Good for Beginners or Intermediates?
The Ruy Lopez is suitable for both beginners and intermediates due to its emphasis on key chess principles such as center control, piece development, and king safety.
It’s an excellent way to develop a deep understanding of the game’s nuances.
However, the large number of complex variations can make it a challenging study for beginners.
How Often Is the Ruy Lopez Played at the Grandmaster Level?
The Ruy Lopez remains a staple at the grandmaster and World Championship level due to its inherent balance between tactical and strategic themes.
It was famously used by former World Champions like Emanuel Lasker, José Capablanca, and Bobby Fischer, and it continues to be a favorite of modern grandmasters today.
Open Ruy Lopez vs. Closed Ruy Lopez
In the Ruy Lopez, the “Open” and “Closed” systems refer to specific lines that have different strategies and characteristics.
Here is a detailed comparison:
Open Ruy Lopez
The Open Ruy Lopez begins with the moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4.
In the Open Ruy Lopez, Black decides to challenge White’s control of the center early on, specifically the e4 pawn.
After 5. O-O, Black captures the pawn on e4, which leads to an “open” game, meaning that the position can become tactical and complicated early on.
In this variation, Black’s plan is to hold onto the pawn if possible, but often the central pawn structure is disrupted, leading to imbalances that both sides can exploit.
It can lead to a dynamic and aggressive game.
It’s often considered slightly riskier for Black, as it’s a more committal choice – the pawn structure and piece activity can become very asymmetrical.
Closed Ruy Lopez
The Closed Ruy Lopez begins with the moves: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7.
In the Closed Ruy Lopez, Black does not immediately challenge White’s control of the center.
Instead, Black continues developing pieces with the move 5… Be7, maintaining a solid pawn structure and delaying the pawn confrontation in the center.
The Closed Ruy Lopez typically leads to a “closed” game, where the pawn structure is more stable, leading to a slower, more strategic battle.
The position can often stay relatively balanced for a longer time, and the game often revolves around long-term plans and piece maneuvering rather than early tactical skirmishes.
There are numerous sub-variations within both the Open and Closed Ruy Lopez, as we’ve covered above, each with their own unique ideas and tactics.
Regardless of the variation chosen, understanding the underlying principles and common themes of the Ruy Lopez is crucial for effectively navigating this complex opening.
FAQs – Ruy Lopez
1. What is the Ruy Lopez opening in chess and why is it popular?
The Ruy Lopez is a classic opening in chess that begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5.
It is named after the 16th-century Spanish bishop Ruy López de Segura who made a comprehensive study of this opening.
It’s popular because it allows both white and black to develop their pieces naturally and aim for a long strategic game.
2. How does the Bird’s Defense variation in Ruy Lopez work?
Bird’s Defense arises after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4.
It’s considered slightly dubious because Black’s second knight move does not contribute to development and allows White to gain a tempo after 4.Nxd4 exd4.
3. What is the Old Steinitz Defense in the Ruy Lopez?
The Old Steinitz Defense is a more defensive variation of the Ruy Lopez that begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6.
This variation, named after Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official World Chess Champion, involves black developing the dark-squared bishop before opting for a kingside knight development.
4. How is the Schliemann Defense in Ruy Lopez different from other defenses?
The Schliemann Defense is one of the more aggressive defenses in the Ruy Lopez and starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 f5.
This early pawn move challenges white’s central control and can lead to sharp tactical battles, but it also weakens black’s kingside, so it requires careful play.
5. What is the Berlin Defense and its key variations in the Ruy Lopez?
The Berlin Defense is a solid, defensive variation of the Ruy Lopez that starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6.
It has several key variations including the Mortimer Trap, Rio Gambit Deferred, Improved Steinitz Defense, and l’Hermet Variation.
This defense gained popularity after Vladimir Kramnik used it successfully against Garry Kasparov in their World Chess Championship match in 2000.
6. How does the Exchange Variation in the Ruy Lopez change the game?
The Exchange Variation begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6. Here, white captures on c6 early, aiming to disrupt black’s pawn structure.
The game often becomes less tactical and more positional as white can look to exploit the doubled pawns in the endgame.
7. What traps should I be aware of in the Ruy Lopez?
Some common traps in the Ruy Lopez include the Noah’s Ark Trap which can occur in the Closed Defense, and the Mortimer Trap, which occurs in the Berlin Defense.
Awareness of these traps can help you seize opportunities if your opponent makes a mistake.
8. Can you explain the Morphy Defense in the Ruy Lopez?
The Morphy Defense begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6.
Named after the 19th-century chess prodigy Paul Morphy, this is the most common defense to the Ruy Lopez.
Black’s third move, a6, prepares to drive away the white bishop and gain a tempo.
9. What is the Russian Defense in the Ruy Lopez?
The Russian Defense, also known as the Modern Steinitz Defense, begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6.
It offers a solid setup for Black and can transpose into various other defenses.
10. Can you explain the Open and Closed Defenses in the Ruy Lopez?
The Open Defense starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Nxe4, with black challenging the center early.
It can lead to sharp and highly tactical games. Key variations include the Tarrasch Defense, Howell Attack, and Classical Defense.
The Closed Defense starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7, which allows black to maintain a solid pawn structure and play for a long, strategic game.
Some key variations include the Averbakh, Marshall Counterattack, Pilnik, Zaitsev, Smyslov, Breyer, and Chigorin Defenses.
11. What is the Exchange Variation Doubly Deferred (DERLD) in the Ruy Lopez?
The Exchange Variation Doubly Deferred (DERLD) is a subset of the Closed Defense in Ruy Lopez.
It begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Bxc6.
In this variation, white waits until the sixth move to capture on c6, hence the term “doubly deferred”.
12. What is the Ruy Lopez Worrall Attack?
The Worrall Attack is a variation of the Ruy Lopez that begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Qe2.
Here, instead of the more common move 6.Re1, white opts to move the queen to e2.
This allows white to quickly connect the rooks while maintaining a strong center.
13. Can you describe the Marshall Counterattack in the Ruy Lopez?
The Marshall Counterattack is a very sharp line of the Ruy Lopez which begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 d5.
Here, black sacrifices a pawn early on for quick development and attacking opportunities.
It’s one of the most aggressive defenses against the Ruy Lopez.
14. What are the main ideas behind the Closed Variations in the Ruy Lopez?
Closed variations of the Ruy Lopez typically arise after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7.
This offers a solid setup for black, aiming for a long, strategic game. Different Closed Defenses allow black to maneuver the knight, such as Averbakh, Pilnik, Zaitsev, Smyslov, Breyer, and Chigorin Defenses, each with its own specific strategies and ideas.
15. What are some of the strategies used in the Closed Chigorin Defense of the Ruy Lopez?
The Closed Chigorin Defense starts with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Na5.
In this variation, black’s strategy is to put pressure on the center and the white bishop on b3 by moving the knight to a5, preparing to support the d5 push with c5. It’s an active and aggressive setup for black.
16. What are some other third moves for white in the Ruy Lopez?
Here are some less common third moves for Black in the Ruy Lopez defense.
Please note that some of these moves may not be considered optimal and are used more for surprise or shock value rather than for establishing a strong position.
- 3…Bb4 (Alapin Defense): In this variation, Black develops their bishop to b4 with the idea of doubling White’s pawns if they decide to capture the knight on c6. The play usually continues with 4.O-O Nge7, planning to castle quickly and control the center.
- 3…Qf6 (Gunderam Variation): This move defends the knight on c6 and threatens Qg6 to attack the pawn on e4. However, it’s considered somewhat dubious as the queen is developed prematurely and can become a target for White’s pieces.
- 3…f6 (Nuremberg Defense): This move aims to support the central pawn on e5 but weakens Black’s king’s side and doesn’t help in piece development. It’s generally not considered a strong move.
- 3…Qe7 (Vinogradov Variation): This variation aims to support the e5 pawn while preparing to play d6 and Nbd7. It’s a bit passive and leaves the queen potentially exposed to attacks.
- 3…Na5 (Pollock’s Defense): Black moves the knight away to attack the bishop and aim to double White’s pawns if they capture on c6. It’s a bit awkward and isn’t considered a strong move due to lack of control in the center.
- 3…g5 (Brentano Defense): This is a very aggressive attempt to disrupt White’s plan of controlling the center. However, it severely weakens Black’s kingside and is considered dubious.
- 3…b6? (Rotary Defense or Albany Defense): This move prepares to fianchetto the bishop on b7 to challenge White’s central control, but it is slow and leaves Black’s center weak and underdeveloped.
- 3…d5? (Sawyer’s Gambit or Spanish Countergambit): Black attempts to challenge White’s center immediately. However, this move is considered dubious as it loses a pawn without a clear compensation.
- 3…Be7 (Lucena Defense): Named after one of the ancient authors of a manual on chess, this defense aims to reinforce the pawn on e5 and prepare for quick kingside castling. It’s a solid move, but not as aggressive as some other options.
- 3…a5 (Bulgarian Variation): This move prevents White from expanding on the queenside with b4, but it weakens b5 and doesn’t contribute much to the control of the center. It’s rarely used in high-level play.
17. What’s the reason behind Bb5 in Ruy Lopez if the bishop is just going to get kicked out by a6 and b5?
The Ruy Lopez opening with 3.Bb5 is a classic and deeply strategic choice in chess.
The move might seem counterintuitive, especially when Black responds with …a6 and …b5, seemingly gaining tempo by kicking the bishop back.
However, there are profound reasons behind this:
- Optimal Bishop Placement: Bishops are long-range pieces. By placing the bishop on b5 and then retreating it to b3 after …a6 and …b5, White ensures that the bishop is less vulnerable. On b3, it’s further away from potential threats, yet it still exerts pressure on the center and the f7 pawn. This position also means that Black’s d7-d5 pawn break won’t gain a tempo by attacking the bishop, and a future …Na5 won’t easily trade off White’s valuable light-squared bishop since it can safely retreat to c2.
- Queenside Play: The pawn move …b5 by Black can be seen as a “hook.” This pawn can become a target for White’s queenside operations. A common plan for White is to play a2-a4, aiming to provoke weaknesses on Black’s queenside. By doing so, White can open up the a-file, creating opportunities for the rooks and other pieces to infiltrate Black’s position.
So, the Ruy Lopez’s Bb5 move sets the stage for intricate positional play, offering White various strategic plans while posing complex challenges for Black.
The Ruy Lopez or the Spanish Opening is a rich, strategic opening system that offers a wide range of tactical opportunities and deep positional play.
Its fundamental principles and immense variety make it a valuable part of any chess player’s repertoire, from beginners to grandmasters.