Ruy Lopez - Berlin Defense

Dec 13, 2012, 4:04 PM |

This is the starting position of the Ruy Lopez, that everyone knows.

I was playing black in this game, and after 3... Nf6; we reach the Berlin Defense. White could already grab a pawn, now or at the next move, after Bxc6 and Nxe5, but as any decent player knows, that is good only for Black. An example variation is given below:
Black got the pawn back, has the bishops pair, that in this position is an advantage, White can't castle anymore and is behind in development. While Black can rapidly develop his dark squared bishop, castle and is ready to bring a rook on one of the open files.
In the actual game White played better, MickyD, my opponent, chose a very solid line. He consolidated the center playing d3 and only then he castled. Of course is possible for White to castle immediately at move four, offering an exchange of the central pawns, which Black of course can turn down. For example:
But let's look at the actual game. After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 play continued 4.d3 Bc5 5.O-O Nd4
Is Black crazy? Why did he move his Knight twice? Isn't that against the rules? Well, turns out that this variation is often played at GM level. I don't know the deep strategy behind this move but i think that here Black does this move for two reasons:
1)  depriving the b5 bishop of his target and maybe forcing White to displace it
3) freeing the c pawn so that he can play c6 (harassing the bishop if it didn't move) followed by d5.
In this position usually White takes the Knight on d4 because after Black retakes with the bishop White will be able to gain some time by exploiting the somewhat exposed position of the Black bishop. Another option is Ba4 which is probably inferior. I'll give an example of what could happen after 6.Nxd4
White instead played 6.Be3. I think after this move Black has equalized. It's not wrong of course but it seems to pose less problems to Black. Also, because of inaccurate play by White, later in the game the bishop on e3 will prove to be tactically vulnerable. But that is not the fault of 6.Be3 which is fine although probably the piece is not developed to it's best square.
It's important to stop and look at the position at move 16.
In the position above Black is winning. Why?
a) full pawn center
b) space advantage
c) advantage in development
How is it possible that Black has an advantage in development if White has brought out four pieces against Black's four. Well, development it's not only about how many pieces have left the first rank, but it's also about how this pieces can work together and how much they can help to achieve something on the board. White pieces are somewhat misplaced, especially the knight on g5, and this leaves White tactically vulnerable. Look carefully and you'll notice that:
a) the e3 bishop is the only defender of the g5 knight
b) after an exchange on e3 the g1-a7 is potentially weak. For example white can't take on e3 with his f pawn in the hope of getting back some presence in the center because the pawn would be en prise.
c) Black has also the option of exchanging on b3 and a white knight on b3 (after the exchange) does not look good.
So having said that it's obvious that Black must have some move to increase his advantage. I didn't like giving away my d4 Knight for the bishop on b3 so, being aware of the tactical features of the position, i decided to highlight white's problem on e3. And the game continued:
Hope this short analysis can help MickyD, who was expecting some advice from me. I'm not a master but if i can be helpful to another player the better.
Hope you other guys can take something from this game as well.