Ruy Lopez. Exchange Variation

Jan 20, 2016, 6:12 AM |

When we play the same opening both as White and as Black, there inevitably will occur positions which you will play both as White and as Black. Since as White upon 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 I am not very fond of the Exchange variation (although I play it as Black, because I am fond of 3. ... a6, and I am fond of the line 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.0-0 Bg4 6.h3 h5) - so after 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 there must be a number of positions which will occur both in my white and in my black games Smile.

So, the initial position of Ruy Lopez. The usual question here during a game might be for Black - "To play 3. ... a6 or something else?" If we count the number of games where Black plays 3. ... a6 and where he plays "something else" - there will be significantly many more of those with 3. ... a6 than with "something else". It does not mean though, that after 3. ... a6 White has but to resign, or that after "something else" Black has to resign Smile. That is all the matter of taste. But indeed, the early a7-a6 is logical - to clarify at once intentions of the white bishop. In case of 3. ... a6 4.Ba4 (it is impossible to prove that 4.Bxc6 is weaker than 4.Ba4, though), Black will have in future b7-b5, and that will do not a bad favor for Black. In any case, statistics of 4.Ba4 is to some degree more favorable for White than statistics of 4.Bxc6, and the bishop retreat to a4 is indeed significantly much more popular.

3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6

The initial position of Exchange variation.

The idea of White is to create pawn majority on the king-side, while Black gets the pair of bishops. It happens not so seldom, though, that White carries out his idea of exchange on c6 at some point later, not immediately after 3. ... a6 (the so-called Exchange Deferred variation).

After 4.Bxc6, besides the usual 4. ... dc, sometimes 4. ... bc!? is played (Alekhine tried this way, too).

3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 bc

This might be not bad for a blitz game, since in case of White's accurate play Black does not achieve much, although Black gets the "b"-file for the rook and the chance (in case of White's neglectful play) to create the strong pawn center, even if White's idea of creating the pawn majority in the king-side fails.

After 4. ... bc, the e5-pawn is attacked, but it is not the best idea for White to take it at once: 5.Nxe5 Qe7 6.d4 d6 (6. ... f6 is quite playable, too) 7.Nxc6 Qxe4+. There are two ways for White which are better than immediate capture on e5, the most logical (and the most popular) is castling: 5.0-0 (now Black has to think of e5) 5. ... d6 (more or less acceptable is 5. ... Qf6, too) 6.d4, and both after 6. ... ed and 6. ... Nf6, White's position is to be preferred.

3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc

This is the "normal" position of Exchange variation, where Black has his pair of bishops and White his the possibility of creating the pawn majority in the king-side. White has about a dozen of ways to play here Smile, and they do not differ much in actual strength.

The first question here might be - is it forbidden for White to eat the e5-pawn?

Not dangerous for White, but not much good of that (otherwise probably there would be no exchange variation here).

5. ... Qd4 (no great need to play 5. ... Qe7 or 5. ... Qh4).

3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.Nxe5 Qd4

In this position, in my games I faced 6.Qh5, 6.Nf3 and 6.Ng4, and there are also 6.Nd3 and 6.f4.

6.Qh5 looks sharp, but it may cause problems for White - 6. ... g6 (6. ... Qxe4+ 7.Kd1 Be6 is playable, too, whereas after 6. ... Nh6 7.Nc3 White's position is better) 7.Qg5 - and here, instead of timid 7. ... f6 8.Nf3 Qxe4+ 9.Qe3, Black should not be afraid to play 7. ... Qxe4+ 8.Qe3 Qxg2. Instead of 7.Qg5, White may also try 7.c3, but Black has a good choice between 7. ... Qxe4+ (this in a way reminds the above line with 7.Qg5 Qxe4+), and 7. ... Qd6, with not very pleasant position for White, although White may have some compensation for the knight.

Black gets a good position in case of 6.Nd3 - the knight on d3 looks awkward - 6. ... Qxe4+ 7.Qe2 Qxe2+ 8.Kxe2, for example 8. ... Nf6 9.Re1 Bd6 10.Kf1 Be6.

No great way for White is 6.f4, since in case of 6. ... Qxe4+ 7.Qe2 Qxc2 the discovered check does not do any good for White in view of the threat Qc2xc1+ (and Qc1xh1), and 8.Nc3 Be7 is quite good for Black.

In a way playable for White can be 6.Ng4, for the last half-year in my OTB games I faced this move at least three times - 6. ... Qxe4+ 7.Ne3 - White is lucky to have his g2-pawn protected by the knight. I like the idea of 7. ... Be6 and 0-0-0 here, but Black's choice of good ways here is wider.

The normal way for White after 5. ... Qd4 is 6.Nf3.

3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.Nxe5 Qd4 6.Nf3 Qxe4+

Here 7.Kf1 does not do much good for White, for example, 7. ... Bg4 (or Bf5) 8.d3 0-0-0.

Better is 7.Qe2, with a bit better position for Black, for example, 7. ... Bf5 8.Qxe4 Bxe4 9.d3 Bxf3 0-0-0, or 7. ... Qxe2+ 8.Kxe2 Bf5 9.d3 0-0-0, but there are also other ways for Black besides the idea of Bf5 and 0-0-0.

A rare move which I faced twice just recently in my blitz games - 5.c3.

3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.c5 Qd3

They were both with 5. ... Qd3, and in one of them there happened 6.Nxe5? Qxe4+ 7.Qe2 Qxg2. Of course, better is 6.Qe2, and after 6. ... Qxe2+ (there is an extravagant 6. ... Qc2!? - not sure) 7.Kxe2, and besides the natural 7. ... f67. ... Bd6, and 7. ... Bg4, Black has also 7. ... f5!?

Another rare way of White is 5.b3 - with intention to create pressure on e5, which can be encountered with Ng8-f6, with the idea of Bf8-d6 and Qd8-e7.

Sometimes opponents play 5.h3, with no great desire to let the black bishop come to g4. I like the idea of Ng8-e7-g6 here - the knight on g6 might try to get to f4 in future (after h2-h3 it does not look very safe for White to cover f4 by means of g2-g3).

The four ways of White in the Exchange variation which are more popular than those mentioned above are: 5.d3, 5.d4, 5.Nc3, and 5.0-0.


3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.d3

A good way (although it may look harmless) - White opens the diagonal for his bishop, protects e4 (the threat Nf3xe5 may become real), and is ready to encounter 5. ... Bg4 with 6.h3 and aggressive g2-g4 in case of 6. ... Bh5 (before 0-0, that looks quite good for White).

Black has at least five acceptable ways to go on here, for example the plan connected with queen-side castle: 5. ... Qd6 (protecting e5), Be6, and 0-0-0. In case Black would not like to care about Nf3-g5 (trying to trade the knight for the black bishop on e6), Black may think of f7-f6. There is another interesting queen move - 5. ... Qf6 which might deserve attention.

Black may also think of 5. ... Bc5 (not a bad diagonal for the bishop) since in this case it's not very advisable for White to take on e5 now - 6.Nxe5 Qd4 7.Ng4 Bxg4 8.Qxg4 Qxf2+ 9.Kd1 Nf6, and not good for White is 10.Qxg7 Rg8), for example - 6.0-0 f6 7.Nc3 Ne7.

Another way for Black is 5. ... Bd6, with possible idea of Ng8-e7 and 0-0.

Immediate 5. ... f6 might be also the part of the plan connected with Qd6, Be6 and 0-0-0.

Although 5. ... Bg4 is quite playable, 6.h3 Bxf3 (6. ... Bh5 7.g4 Bg6 8.Nxe5) 7.Qxf3 is not quite what I would like to play as Black here.


3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.d4

There is a line called Alekhine variation: 5.d4 ed (5. ... Bg4 is worse for Black) 6.Qxd4 (6.Nxd4 c5 is worse for White) 6. ... Qxd4 7.Nxd4 Bd7, planning 0-0-0 - with slightly better position for Black. Along with 7. ... Bd7, after 7.Nxd4, there are at least five other ways which are good for Black (7. ... Bd6, 7. ... c5, 7. ... Nf6, 7. ... Bb4, 7. ... Bg4).

Instead of 6.Qxd4, White may try a gambit idea connected with c2-c3 (it does not seem to give much for White, though) - 6.0-0 c5 7.c3, or 6.c3 (6. ... d3!)


3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dc 5.Nc3

This is called Keres variation. Black has at least seven acceptible ways here.

5. ... f6 - this looks reliable (and is the most popular). White may decide for quiet 6.d3 (Romanovsky variation) with possible 6. ... Be6 followed with Qd7 and possibly 0-0-0.

5.d3 f6 6.Nxe5 is not dangerous for Black - 6. ... fe 7.Qh5+ Kd7 8.Qxe5 Qf6 (or 8. ... Nf6), or 7.Qh5+ Ke7 8.Qxe5+ Kf7.

White has also (5.Nc3 f6) 6.0-0, with the possible way for Black connected with 6. ... Bc5, Ne7 etc.

Besides 5. ... f6, Black has other ways, for example 5. ... Bb4!? - 6.Nxe5 (6.0-0 Bg4) 6. ... Qg5 7.Nf3 Qxg2 8.Rg1 Qh3 (but with possible draw after Rg3 Qh5 Rg5 Qh3 Rg3). Black can also protect e5 by means of 5. ... Bd6, 5. ... Qd6, or 5. ... Bg4.

There is an interesting 5.(Nc3) Bc5, with the idea of 6.(Nxe5) Bxf2+ (6. ... Qd4?! 7.Nd3!) 7.Kxf2 Qd4+ 8.Ke1 Qxe5 9.d4 Qd6 or 6.(Nxe5) Qg5 7.d4 Qxg2 8.Qf3 Qxf3 9.Nxf3 Bb4.

In case of 5.(Nc3) Be6, White is not obliged to go for 6.Nxe5 Qg5, choosing more reliable ways like 6.0-0, 6.h3, or 6.d3.



White's castling is the most popular here. My favorite way here as Black is 5. ... Bg4, meaning 6.h3 h5, which can be rather poisonous.