Ruy Lopez. General. Classical Defense

Jan 17, 2016, 3:06 PM |

For those who like to begin the chess game with 1.e4, there inevitably arises a question - what to play against 1. ... e5. Of course, that depends on taste and style of play. For a long time upon 1.e4 e5, one of my favorites is the King's Gambit, 2.f4. But after you play the same opening for a long time, it's natural that there arises desire to practice something else, and more and more I come at an idea to add the solid 2.Nf3 to my favorites, too Smile. The similar question is - what to play as Black against 1.e4 Smile. Here, for a long time I played French Defense (1. ... e6), Alekhine Defense (1. ... Nf6), and Pirc Defense (1. ... d6), from time to time Sicilian Defense (1. ... c5), and rather seldom the good old 1. ... e5. But why not play it as Black, too.

After 1.e4 e5, besides 2.Nf3, of course there is a variety of other ways, such as Vienna Game (2.Nc3), Bishop's Opening (2.Bc4), Center Game (2.d4) with possible sharp Danish Gambit (or Nordic Gambit) after 2.d4 ed 3.c3. A good way to make White prove correctness of Danish Gambit is 2.d4 ed 3.c3 dc 4.Bc4 (this is the main line, but better is 4.Nxc3) 4. ... cb 5.Bxb2 Nf6! 6.e5 d5! (or 6.Nd2 Bb4). There is also Portuguese Opening (2.Bb5), an interesting, funny and good-to-confuse-opponents way (which to some degree helps Black in struggle for the center, though - 2.Bb5 c6 (3.Ba4 Nf6 etc). In case of White's attempt of "immediate struggle for the center" by means of 2.c3 and (hopefully) d2-d4, Black has a good way to use that - 2.c3 d5! (2. ... Nf6 is good, too) 3.ed Qxd5, and it's in a way a pity for White that there is no Nb1-c3 now. In blitz games after 1.e4 e5, as Black, from time to time I face 2.b3, with comfortable play for Black after 2. ... Nf6.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3

The idea of 2.Ng1-f3 is simple - developing pieces (Em. Lasker's famous (and correct) rule that knights are to be developed earlier than bishops), taking control over important central squares e5 and d4, by the way attacking the black pawn on e5. Unlike 2.Nc3, after 2.Nf3 White reserves the possibility to set up a construction with c2-c3 (usually followed with d2-d4) in future (but of course, c2-c3 is not impossible in case of 2.Nc3).

Now Black has to decide what to do with 2.Nf3. The attacked pawn e5 is not to be necessarily defended, and Black's reaction can be rather different, beginning with the sharp Latvian Gambit (2. ... f5), then some extravagant 2. ... Bd6 (really, it's not a simple question for White to "punish" Black for that), and more common ways like Philidor Defense (2. ... d6), Petroff Defense (or Russian Defense) (2. ... Nf6), and the logical and most popular 2. ... Nc6.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6

For his part, Black also develops a piece, at the same time defending the attacked pawn, and taking control over central squares e5 and d4.

Besides some timid and not very active moves like 3.Be2 (not very popular but quite playable for White is the Ponziani Opening (3.c3) - as Black, I always play 3. ... d5 against it), there are four common ways for White to go on here:

3.Nc3, a simple developing move which may lead to Four Knights Game or Three Knights Game.

3.d4, the Scotch Game.

3.Bc4 which mostly leads to Italian Game (3. ... Bc5), Two Knights Defense (3. ... Nf6), or Hungarian Defense (3. ... Be7).

3.Bb5, Ruy Lopez (or Spanish Game), which is the most popular way here.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

This way with 3.Bb5 was first mentioned in works of the Spanish chess theoreticians of XV and XVI centuries, Luis Ramirez de Lucena and Ruy Lopez de Segura. In their interpretation, the goal of 3.Bb5 was creating a threat to the pawn e5 by means of Bb5xc6 and Nf3xe5. With the time, this opening became much more complex and was enriched with many more ideas than simply development and threat to e5.

Generally, the variations of Ruy Lopez can be divided into two main parts - without 3. ... a6, and with 3. ... a6.

Variations without 3. ... a6.

Of course, Black is not obliged to defend e5 directly. There are ways to do it indirectly (and of course there are ways to sacrifice it).

Classical Defense (Cordel Defense)

3. ... Bc5

This is one of the oldest variations of Ruy Lopez (it was mentioned as far back as 1490).  Black seeks to create pressure with his pieces on the White's center, but White gets a possibility to create the broad pawn center with c2-c3 and d2-d4, gaining some time while attacking the black bishop on c5.

The two main ways for White are 4.c3 and 4.0-0, but among the acceptable ways (4.Bxc6, 4.Nc3, 4.d3, 4.Nxe5), immediate capture of the pawn e5 deserves attention, I practice it from time to time, not without interest.

4.Nxe5, in view of possible further d2-d4, quite playable for White, without fear of 4. ... Qe7 (5.Nf3 Qxe4+ 6.Be2 Nd4 7.Nxd4), or 4. ... Nxe5 5.d4 c6 6.Be2.

In my blitz games, I also faced 4. ... Bxf2+ 5.Kxf2 Nxe5, and it turned out that not only simple and logical 6.Rf1 is good for White, but also 6.d4, 6.g3 and the most interesting 6.Nc3.

There are also queen moves 4. ... Qg5 5.Ng4, and 4. ... Qh4 5.0-0 Nxe5 6.d4, which looks interesting for White. Upon 4. ... Qf6 - 5.Nd3 looks probably a bit more interesting than 5.Nf3 Ne5 6.0-0.

Upon 4. ... a6, 5.Nxc6 and 5.Bxc6 are equally good for White and unpleasant for Black.

Sometimes Black gets into a trap, in case he decides to attack the bishop b5 by means of 4. ... Nd4 - 5.Nxf7 with possible four ways: 5. ... Qh4 (probably the best for Black here) 6.Nxh8 Nxb5 7.0-0; 5. ... Kxf7 6.Qh5+ and Qh5xc5; 5. ... Qe7 6.Nxh8 Nxb5 7.0-0, or 6. ... Qxe4+ 7.Kf1 Qxc2 (7. ... Nxc2? 8.d3) 8.Be2; 5. ... Qf6 6.Nxh8 g6 (to prevent Qh1-h5+) 7.Be2 (7.Bc4) is unpleasant for Black.

As for the two main ways, 4.0-0 and 4.c3, although 4.0-0 Nd4 5.Nxd4 (or 5.Be2) is quite playable for White, I would prefer not to allow the black knight on d4 (although Black is not obliged to move 4. ... Nd4, there are also 4. ... Nf6, 4. ... Nge7, 4. ... d6 and 4. ... Qf6 quite playable for Black), by means of 4.c3. But the both ways are approximately equal and good for White, tastes differ.

As for the line 4.c3, besides the three main ways - 4. ... Nf6, 4. ... Nge7, and 4. ... f5, acceptible for Black is also 4. ... a6, and a bit worse but still playable are 4. ... Be7, 4. ... Bb6, 4. ... Qf6 (defending e5) and 4. ... Qe7 (the same). Unpleasant position for Black may become after 4. ... d6?! 5.d4 ed Bb6 (still worse for Black is 6. ... Bb4+ 7.Kf1) 7.d5, and after 4. ... h6 5.0-0 (White's development is much better).


3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6

White's usual ways here are 5.0-0 and 5.d4 (there is not much for White after 5.Bxc6, 5.d3, 5.Qe2, 5.Qc2, or 5.Qa4). Castling is more popular and more solid, whereas immediate d2-d4 looks more aggressive, but it allows simplification after 5.d4 ed 6.e5 (White gets still less after Bb4+) 6. ... Ne4 (a bit worse is 6. ... Nd5 7.0-0) Bb4+ 8.Bd2 Nxd2 (8. ... Nxd4!? 9.Bxb4) 9.Nbxd2 0-0 10.0-0, with good and reliable position for White (the diagram below).

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 ed 6.e5 Ne4 Bb4+ 8.Bd2 Nxd2 9.Nbxd2 0-0 10.0-0

In case White tends to castling instead of 5.d4, and since 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Qe2 is not very good for Black, White does not have to care about defending e4 now, but simply castle at once. After 5.0-0, Black has to be careful, since not only 5. ... Nxe4?! may cause some nasty problems. For example, 5. ... a6 6.Bxc6 dc 7.Nxe5, and it's not so good to take on e4 with the knight now - 7. ... Nxe4? 8.Qe2 (this is much better than 8.d4 Be7, where the bishop on e7 protects the dangerous "e"-file with the black king still on e8). Better is to castle immediately - 7. ... 0-0 8.d4 Bd6, and Black at least will get some compensation for the lost pawn. Upon 5.0-0, still worse for Black is the careless 5. ... d6? - 6.d4, and Black has to go for 6. ... Nxe4 7.dc Nxc5, to evoid still worse consequences. Normal is 5.0-0 0-0 (5. ... Bb6 is quite playable for Black, too; it may just lead to the main line, unless White decides to deviate from it, by means of, say, 6.Bxc6 dc 7.d3) and after 6.d4 Bb6 there arises one of the key positions of the Classical Defense (Black does not have to assist White in building up a strong center by means of 6. ... ed?!; even 6. ... Be7 is better).

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.0-0 0-0 6.d4 Bb6

The most popular way here is 7.Bg5, but other ways do not look worse at all - 7.Nbd27.a4 and 7.Re1 are rather logical, whereas other ways do not give much for White -!? Nxe4 8.Qd5 Nc5 (8. ... a6), or 7.d5 Ne7 - the both with rather equal position.

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7

This way is clear and logical. Unlike 4. ... Nf6 where Black attacks the white pawn on e4, "doubling" knights via 4. ... Nge7 is intended to prevent the threat Bb5xc6 and Nf3xe5 (although again, White may decide for Nf3xe5 Nc6xe6 d2-d4), to cover the "e"-file where the black king is for now, and to prepare castling. It's difficult to say which is stronger - 4. ... Nf6 or 4. ... Nge7.

Upon 4. ... Nge7, White has two approximately equal ways, 5.d4 and 5.0-0. The main and more popular is castling - I prefer it not because it is more popular, but because I like it more than 5.d4 ed Bb4+ (but tastes differ).

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7 5.0-0

The most popular is 5. ... Bb6 here, but there are three other ways which are at least not worse than the main line with 5. ... Bb6: 5. ... a6, 5. ... d5 and 5. ... Ng6.

As for other possibilities for Black, for example, 5. ... f5 (?!) - this does not look timely; 6.d4, and White's initiative may become unpleasant, 6. ... fe 7.dc ef 8.Qxf3 (this probably could do for a blitz game, a kind of 8. ... d5!?, but that does not look quite safe for Black); 6. ... ed - I would not like to play as Black here; 6. ... Bb6, and White has pleasant choice of good ways (7.Bg5, 7.Nxe5, 7.d5), even simple 7.Bxc6 causes problems in view of 7. ... Nxc6? 8.Bg5 Ne7 9.Nxe5, therefore Black has to agree to 7.(Bxc6) dc 8.Nxe5 or 7. ... bc 8.Nxe5. "Prophylactic" 5. ... h6? 6.d4 will not do much for Black either.

Automatic 5. ... 0-0?! 6.d4 can be also a cause of problems for Black in view of d4-d5 with White's unpleasant initiative. Still worse for Black is 5. ... d6? 6.d4.

Now about acceptible ways for Black: 5. ... a6 (a good way, this looks like continuation of Ng8-e7, in order to play Ne7xc6 in case of Bb5xc6). Still, besides bishop retreats 6.Ba4 and 6.Bc4, White can also consider well 6.Bxc6 Nxc6 7.d4, for example 7. ... ed Ba7 9.Nc3 - I would prefer to play as White here. The main way is 6.Ba4 though, and Black has not a bad choice here - 6. ... b5 (the most popular), 6. ... d6, 6. ... Ba7, 6. ... 0-0, or 6. ... Ng6. Of course 6.Bc4 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.d4 Bb6 is playable, too.

Immediate counterplay in the center 5. ... d5 looks good, both in case of 6.d4, and 6.Nxe5, but it requires accuracy of Black.

5. ... Ng6 is also playable for Black (as we could see, after 5. ... 0-0?! Black may have trouble with e5, so Black covers it), but White's position is more pleasant - 6.d4 Bb6, and here White has a wide choice, such as 7.Bg5, 7.a4, 7.d5, 7.Be3, 7.Re1, and even 7.Na3.

In any case, the most popular way is 5. ... Bb6 - Black retreats from c5 in advance in anticipation of d2-d4.

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7 5.0-0 Bb6 6.d4

The theoretical line goes here with 6. ... ed (this way is much more popular than the others). There is also 6. ... Ng6 (at least it is more acceptable than, for example, 6. ... 0-0 7.d5, or 6. ... d5 7.ed). After 6. ... Ng6, White has a good choice, though - 7.Bg5, 7.d5, 7.a4.

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7 5.0-0 Bb6 6.d4 ed

An important position to evaluate the line with 5. ... Bb6.

It looks logical that Black would not be very willing to allow d4-d5, and for that reason the way which is much more popular than the other here is 7. ... d5, but in reality it's not easy to prove that 7. ... d5 is much better than 7. ... 0-0 or 7. ... Ng6 (there is also 7. ... a6 - a could-be-to-go way, but it does not change much Black's situation for the better - 8.Ba4, and both after 8. ... 0-0 9.d5 and 8. ... d5 9.ed Nxd5 10.Re1+ White's position looks significantly more pleasant).

7. ... 0-0 8.d5 - there are three ways for Black here: 8. ... Nb8 with good choice for White, for example, 9.a4, 9.d6 or 9.Nc3; 8. ... a6 - both 9.Ba4 and 9.Be2 are equally good for White; 8. ... Nb4 - could be played, too, and after 9.a3 Na6, besides the logical 10.Nc3, there is also 10.d6 interesting.

7. ... Ng6 - and both 8.Bg5 and 8.Nc3 are good for White.

So, the main line with 7. ... d5

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7 5.0-0 Bb6 6.d4 ed d5 8.ed Nxd5

Of course, the most popular and logical way to go here is 9.Re1+ (less is to get after 9.Bg5 f6 10.Re1+ Kf7, or 9.Ne5 0-0)

9.Re1+ Be6

Formerly, the main line was considered to be 10.a4 a6 11.Bxc6+ bc 12.Bg5, but immediate 10.Bg5 is appreciably better (after 10.Nc3 0-0 or 10.Qa4 0-0 Black's situation is easier than after 10.Bg5).

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7 5.0-0 Bb6 6.d4 ed d5 8.ed Nxd5 9.Re1+ Be6 10.Bg5

Of course 10. ... Qd6 is the most logical, otherwise Nf3-e5 is unpleasant.

10.Bg5 Qd6

Squares e4 and c4 for the knight are of more interest than 11.Nc3 Nxc3.


After 11.Nbd2, castling is natural and the best way to go, but there are also other ways, for example, 11. ... h611. ...f6, or 11. ... Qb4.

11.Nbd2 h6 - in case White does not retreat the attacked bishop, but attacks the black queen instead, it might be unpleasant for Black; 12.Ne4 (12.Nc4 Qb4 does not give much) 12. ... Qb4 (almost forced) 13.Bxc6 (this is really forced) 13. ... bc - this is an interesting position to work on, White is not obliged to defend the pawn on b2, leaving it for the black queen to eat and maintaining the initiative instead.

11.Nbd2 f6 - while attacking the bishop on g5, Black weakens e6, and there is not much reason in placing the knight on e4, the white rook would be glad to assist in pressure on e6, added by the white queen from e2. Both 12.Nc4 and 12.Qe2 (they may lead to the same position) are good for White.

11.Nbd2 Qb4 - with the black king still in the center, White may consider well the exchange sacrifice - 12.Rxe6+ (12.Ba4 looks solid and interesting, and 12.Bxc6+ is playable, too) 12. ... fe 13.Qe2 Kf7 14.Bxc6 bc 15.Ne5+ with an interesting position.


3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 Nge7 5.0-0 Bb6 6.d4 ed d5 8.ed Nxd5 9.Re1+ Be6 10.Bg5 Qd6 11.Nbd2 0-0

Here White has two good ways, 12.Nc4 and 12.Ne4 (after 12.a3 f6 there is not much to expect for White). As for the two knight moves, 12.Ne4 is more poisonous and might be objectively better.


3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 f5

This is another popular way. Black does not want to allow White building a strong center, but attacks it at once. White has a choice between two good ways - 5.ef and 5.d4. There is also 5.Bxc6 followed with Nf3xe5, also playable for White, and there are 5.d3, 5.0-0, and 5.Nxe5. That is all the matter of taste. As for the two main moves, I am not very fond of the line 5.ef e4 6.d4 ef, and so the subject of my attention is 5.d4 (which is the most popular).

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 f5 5.d4

The good way for Black here is 5. ... fe, whereas upon 5. ... ed White gets a good position after 6.ef (6.e5 is good, too) Qe7+ 7.Be2.

3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 f5 5.d4 fe

White has several good ways here: 6.dc, 6.Nxe5 and 6.Bxc6 (gaining not much after 6.Nfd2, 6.Ng5 or 6.Bg5).

In case of 6.dc ef 7.Qxf3, Black may go for 7. ... Qf6, seeking to trade queens after 8.Qh5+ Qf7. Although this way is quite playable for White, it is not quite to my taste. More interesting look 6.Nxe5 Nxe5 and 6.Bxc6 dc 7.Nxe5.