Ruy Lopez-An introduction

| 12 | Opening Theory

First of all, this article is intended for novice players who may have heard of the ruy lopez opnening but haven't studied it and understand it. People who have studied it should not bother reading it. 

This is an introduction to the Spanish game or the Ruy Lopez. It was first developed by a spanish monk, in the late 15th century. It has been one of the most heavily analysed openings, and is still considered to be one of white's best ways to answer 1.e4 e5. The sequence of moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 signify the Ruy Lopez, which then can be transformed into many interesting variations, which will be mentioned later in the article and analysed in detail in future articles.

Most novice games usually involve the moves (after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6) 3.d4 (The Scotch Game) or 3.Bc4 (Italian Game). The move d4 so early in the game leads to an early simplification of the center and a loss of tension, resulting to more or less equal winning chances for both sides. The move Bc4 has a main goal to prevent the move d7-d5, but as we know from theory it paradoxically invites it as it is black's chance for early counterplay in the center.

Now to return to our point of interest, 3.Bb5 keeps the idea of playing d4 later in the game, maybe by playing c3 first, but with some significant differences from the openings mentioned above. Firstly, the bishop cannot be attacked by d7-d5, whose importance is not visible without further analysis. Secondly, if the d-pawn moves the knight on c6 becomes pinned in an attempt to undermine black's control of the squares e5 and d4.

Most of you will realize the most immediate potential threat. The knight on c6 defends the pawn on e5 which is attacked by the knight on f3. We are all familiar with the concept 'removing the defender'. Check the diagram below, to see a possible continuation, if white plays carelessly.









This is why white's plan here is first get his king to safety and then the attack onthe e-pawn becomes a real threat.

Let's take another closer look at another possible continuation.  After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 black plays 3...Nf6. A very good move, we know that the e-pawn is safe for know, so black with this move develops a piece, partially clears the way for black king-side castling and at the same time attacks white's e-pawn. Let's see what can happen if black plays carelessly. Let's say white decides not to defend the e-pawn either with Nc3 or d3, and he castles king-side. Check the diagram to see the tactical continuation white has in mind.







After 5.d4! white has an edge and a lot of threats in mind. If 5...exd4 6. Re1 is a strong move,  pinning the black knight. Black will lose time trying to defend the knight while white will slowly but steadily increase the tension. If black captures on d4 with the knight on c6 then white recaptures with his knight on f3, leaving black with more problems. If black does not capture, he has to deal with the issue of Re1, and dxe5, restoring the balance while dominating the center.

After 3.Bb5 black has the option of playing 3...d6 (Steinitz Variation) which is generally considered not the best move for black, as it is too passive. Check the next diagram to see a possible continuation after 3...d6.



The weird looking move 9. Bf1 has a sound explanation supporting it. Looking at the final position we see that black is running out of space for his pieces. We know that when lacking in space one is eager to exchange pieces to ease the tension. Hence, Bf1 accomplishes a lot as Black will have a hard time finding good squares for his pieces.











Now, why does black play 7...exd4 when his idea is to hold the center? That is because of a forcing continuation of moves which leaves white up a piece. It was analysed and published by Tarrasch.















Let's look at the variations: If 10...Rfxd8 (instead of Raxd8)




Now, white will win the exchange earlier as white threatens two pieces, the knight on e4 and the bishop in c5. The difference with the previous diagram is that there is no rook on the f-file, to prevent the capture of the knight by the f-pawn.












If 10....Raxd8 and after 14...Bc5+ white played 15. Kf1



So 10...Raxd8 is forced. If instead of 11....Bxe4, 11.....Nxe4 then 12 Nxc6 and white wins the exchange.
















Black has quite a few lines against the Ruy Lopez, which are distinguised in defensive and counterattacking lines. The defensive line is the Steinitz variation briefly looked at just now, and the deferred Steinitz variation, which has the in-between move 3...a6 Ba4 4.d4.

The counterattacking lines include the Berlin defence 3....Nf6 and the Morphy defence 3....a6 4.Ba4 Nf6.

Future articles will examine the Berlin and Morphy Defence in detail as they are black's most usual and best answers. Actually, we have seen Kramnik use the Berlin Defence against world champion Gary Kasparov and managing to contain him!! 

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