The Ruy Lopez by GM Prasad and GM Panchanathan

| 40 | Opening Theory

It was nice to read your overwhelming responses to last week's Najdorf article. We could see plenty of opening requests, however we are writing only one article a week, and we will try to cover all our readers' interests eventually. Also having seen a highly attacking and tactical game last week, we decided to go with a calm and positional opening this time.

Today we will be discussing the Ruy Lopez opening. Just like the Sicilian, the Ruy Lopez is a huge ocean in itself with most of the top Grand Masters having tried it out on different occasions. Again, let us use a model game to take a look at some of the important ideas in the opening.


Here it is, the Ruy Lopez opening for white.  Other than white's direct threat of capturing the Knight on c6 and taking the e5 pawn, white in the long term decides to keep his bishop on the queen side. Notice that keeping the bishop on the queenside does not mean that it has nothing to do with the king side. White's light squared bishop is used along the a2-g8 diagonal as well as the b1-h7 diagonal defending against black's future f5 ideas.

One of the basic traits of this opening is the possibility to play on both sides of the board, particularly when the center gets closed.

This main move is played in order to reinforce the d4 square indirectly. White likes to maintain the tension after playing d4 without capturing on e5 or pushing d5 on several occasions. And without this move black always gets the annoying Bg4 which can compel white to commit in the center. However, 9.d4 Bg4 is also a popular choice by strong players in recent days.

This can be called one of the main positions in the Ruy Lopez as it branches out into several important variations from here. For example,
9...Nb8 - Breyer's defense
9...Na5 - Chigorin's defense
9...Bb7 - Zaitsev defense
9...Nd7 - Karpov defense
9...h6    - Smyslov defense

Now black's idea is to capture the Rook on a2 and challenge the 'a' file again with his other Rook. However, black has not internalized the magnitude of white's next move.

White's threat to capture the h6 or the f6 pawn after Ng4 and his further penetration through the 'a' file cannot be stopped. The beauty of this position is the way it has finished. Black is not even a pawn down when he resigns the game, yet he is thoroughly outplayed in all areas of the chess board and has a completely hopeless position.  We can see the contrasting finishes in this game and the game in our previous article where black was two pieces down when he initiated his mating attack! 

We hope our readers have gained a different perspective from this article.  We have heard several prejudices about the Ruy Lopez as a "boring" and "slow" opening. Though this is true to some extent we hope you can also understand the interesting complications inside these unassuming closed positions.

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