Ruy Lopez: the b5-pawn. Asset or Liability?

Feb 18, 2018, 3:59 PM |

I will attempt to explain  a few things about Ruy Lopez that usually confuse or puzzle novices.



It will be no exaggeration to say that this is probably the most important 1.e4 e5 opening and one of the most important in all opening theory.According to Pachman ,the 2 most important openings are Ruy Lopez and Queen's gambit.Either you agree or disagree with the great teacher , there is no denying that it is a very important opening that will help a novice understand chess much faster than any other.

     So what happens after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 ?

    Black , as expected from a rich opening like Ruy Lopez , has many ways to play.Any sensible move is possible , from the "passive" 3...d6 to the over-optimistic 3...f5 , there are no less than  8 sensible moves!The most popular always was 3...a6 and the last 30 years 3...Nf6(Berlin defense) has also become very popular in top level.The Berlin endgame is not the subject of this post.Afterall White can avoid it with 4.d3 leading to positions that more or less resemble Closed Ruy Lopez positions.

     The goal of this post is to explain some things that might seem highly controversial.Let's see the position that occurs in the main line.


    So this is the main position in Closed Ruy and you will get a position like this in almost half of the Ruy Lopez games.

    So far so good for Black.He has established a central pawn(e5) and has a space advantage on q-side.But in establishing the central pawn and maintaining it there with the help of ...b5 , Black has compomised the safety of his pawn structure.White is ready to play d4 and a4 attacking both these pawns that lead Black army for now.It is not an exaggeration to say that Black's fate is closely related to the fate of the b5-pawn.Often at least one of Black pieces (sometimes more) is tied down to the defense of this pawn(especially after white plays a4).And here we have a paradox:The Ruy Lopez is considered a solid opening for Black but it might actually be the most "unsolid" one.No other main opening exposes the black pawns in such  longterm attack!

     Let's see some examples:


A whole different set of problems for Black occurs if he tries to advance b-pawn.



Of course it would be unfair to leave you with the impression that b5 is all problems and nothing good.

b5 indeed gives Black q-side space advantage and often that's the only counterplay Black has.


   Overall , Ruy Lopez is a very rich opening and the early b5 is part of it's complexity.The b5-pawn pawn that gives Black space offers white a target and some interesting alternative ideas and plans.