Na5 in Ruy Lopez?


Hey there!

In the Ruy Lopez, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4

Can't Black force a trade with 4. ...b5 5. Bb3 Na5 ?

 In this position, White's light square bishop is doomed, and most of the strength of the Ruy Lopez seems to come from its good placement on the long diagonal...losing it for a knight gives Black the bishop pair, and seems to offer no advantage to White at all...but this is unavoidable, so since the Ruy Lopez is still played there has to be some compensation I am unaware of.

So basically, what does White do if such a position should crop up? Shredder recommended ignoring it and just taking the knight with the a2 pawn after, clearing a file for the rook. But that gives white double pawns and a loss of the bishop pair...

Whenever I play the Ruy, it seems like no Black players do this either!  So what am I missing here? Embarassed


EDIT: White cannot take Black's e pawn because the queen could fork the knight and White's g pawn, right? But even if this is fine, pretend that the e pawn is defended somehow; my question still stands, even if the exact problem only crops up a move or two later. I know that if it does not happen immediately a3 opens up a nice safe outpost for the bishop, and because of my paranoia I always end up doing this very early without being provoked. It is alright, I suppose, but it seems to make me lose tempo and forces me to play defensively more often than not...


White castles, you grab the bishop, white re-captures with the a-pawn.

White now has a nice lead in development (knight out, castled, open file for a-rook), not to mention a threat on the e5 pawn which black will need to defend with d6, blocking his own bishop.

White plays h3 and will have a comfy game after pushing d4 and e4.


What you are asking about is called the Norwegian variation of the Ruy Lopez / Spanish. White gets a comfortable advantage in this line. 


Oh, alright.

But are the doubled pawns and the loss of the light bishop really worth it?

It seems that in the end game Black would have a superior pawn structure and before that would be able to use his bishop pair...

I understand that white gets a huge lead in development, but how difficult or easy it it to capitalize on this? After the Black king castles and every piece is released, it still seems to me that White would be at a disadvantage...and I am not sure how one would go about trying to attack Black successfully before this occurs...


For the bishop pair white has a lead in development, initiative and space advantage....... thats plenty and white scores 60% from the position after 6 0-0 Nxb3  7 axb3 d6  8 d4   according to my data base.... 


Reb probably knows more than me, but here are my two cents.

I play the Ruy quite alot, both as white and black (more as black...I simply love the fighting chess as black).

First off, although black has the bishop pair, his dark-square bishop is limited in mobility due to d6. After white gets d4 in, white can potentially blockade the pawn on d6 physically or tactically and basically render the dark-square bishop virtually useless until the endgame.

Second, I find white's Spanish bishop gets relocated to c2 sooner or later anyways, where it has a comparatively more defensive role in the middlegame. On the other hand, the black knight that starts on b8 will find itself on c4 via a5 (Chigorin) or relocated to b6 via b8 and d7 and ready to jump to c4 from b6 (Breyer). During the middlegame, the black knight produces strong pressure against white's queenside.


You mention doubled pawns and a lack of a bishop pair as white's disadvantages and wondered whether the development lead was enough of an advantage to counteract the disadvantages.  I wanted to point out that what you say are disadvantages aren't always so.

Doubled pawns can be a weakness, yes, but they can also be a strength.  A weakness is only a real weakness if it can be attacked.  In this case, white's doubled pawns help to restrict black counterplay on the queenside (by restricting access to a4, c4, a3, and c3) and won't be easily attacked.  Consider black's backward pawn on a6, on the other hand.  It is already being attacked by the rook on the newly opened a-file.  White's doubled b-pawns aren't so much of a weakness, but black's backward a-pawn already is.  After white castles and develops, he could pile up both rooks on the a-file to pressure the backwards pawn.

The bishop pair is another double-edged 'advantage.'  Bishops are best when the center is wide open.  Knights, on the other hand, are best when the center is closed.  The current status of the center is indeterminate, at best.  Another thing to keep in mind about the difference between having the bishop pair and having the knight pair is that while both sides each have 3 minor pieces apiece, only white can coordinate all three to attack the same piece or square.

With all this in mind, a reasonable plan for white would be to play to close the center, develop to the queenside, castle kingside, and then pile everything he could onto the backwards a-pawn.  White's sole bishop could be used to keep black from doubling rooks on the a-file to protect the pawn or to attack the pawn if it advances to b5.  Black's plan, on the other hand, would be to play to open the center and then find or create targets on both wings.  Whose attack is faster will depend on a lot of things that crop up through the middle game.


Something else needs to be pointed out. The advantage of the " two bishops" needs a very great technique to make them count for much and I doubt players under 2400 ( FIDE ) have the necessary technique. So, I think the advantage of the "two bishops" is often meaningless with lower rated players..... 


But if you choose to play a certain line because you have the "advantage of the 2 bishops" and yet your technique isnt such that you can actually exploit this advantage its a dead end proposition. 

Clouseau741 wrote:

True , but you have to try it and lose it(many times), to learn it.That's what experience is.And this is not the case only for the pair of bishops only.

I know many begginer's that can't win with a piece up.What should you say to them?Don't play positions where you have a piece up?

I would teach them how to win when having an extra piece. If they cant win even a piece up then they certainly shouldnt be concerned with such small advantages as the bishop pair or better pawn structure though. 

Clouseau741 wrote:

   Also keep in mind that openings is a matter of fashion.If Anand plays and do an important win with a forgotten opening suddenly all they will start to play that opening.

Mostly because the win would have to stem from some novelty or original idea in opening theory. Then people would use that idea until a counter-idea is shown, or if no counteridea is shown it would become part of regular opening theory and the opposide side would rarely enter the line. This is the progression of modern top-class opening theory

Clouseau741 wrote:

You can't teach anyone winning with the extra piece, they will learn it by time.They will break their faces(as I did and I think everyone else did) a "thousand" times  and they will.You can teach them pawn strucure , weaknesses , piece improvement and as they will become better and by experience they will learn to win with a piece up.

   There is no lesson(as far as I know) or book (again as far as I know) "Winning with a piece up".You certainly know that all books(again as far as I know) stop game analysis when , not only the material, but even the strategic advantage is decisive.Nooone goes further showing you how to win with this decisive material or strategic advantage.I haven't ever found, not even in books for beginers,a chapter  that teaches or attempts to teach that. Only help you can offer(I think) is analysis to make them understand why they didn't win it.

Maybe you can't but I can and have. Its really simple, you give them that "experience" you refer to by taking positions against them a piece down and let them try to win it. You do this over and over , instructing them along the way and analyzing their "failures" with them. I had a student of about 1700-1800 uscf and he had trouble sometimes converting piece up games with stronger players but didnt have the same problems with weaker players ofcourse. I drilled him over and over in such positions , with me trying to defend the weaker side and then we would analyze his failures. He got better and better at converting against me until we were both satisfied that he would very rarely have this problem anymore..... try this method and you will see that it works. 

Clouseau741 wrote:

Very , very interesting Malreid, thank you.Can you tell me the title of the book?

This is from an old chess magazine:

CHESS May 1986

Originally published by Chess Sutton Colfield B73 6AZ England. Which is now --> here.


After looking in my database it appears to me that this Norwegian variation fares far worse than several other lines for black in the Spanish. If you like it, by all means play it and if you have great technique with the 2 bishops then it may be just the opening you want. In the games I saw the only upsets ( games won by the lower rated when at least 100 points lower ) were won by white. The only games black won white was , as a rule, lower rated and sometimes much lower rated. 


One trap that White has to keep in the back of his mind is when Black doesn't immediately take on b3.  For instance:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 b5 5. Bb3 Na5 6. O-O d6 7. d4 exd4 8. Nxd4 ...

Note that ...c5 would both hit on the d4-knight and threaten ...c4 trapping the b3-bishop.  If Black immediately played 8...c5, White could answer with 9. Bd5.  White needs to watch for moves like ...Bb7 which threaten to neutralize Bd5.


Wow, thanks for all of the responses!

Especially Malreid; that article was really helpful!

Now I don't need to be so scared of someone doing that to me. 


I don't really agree with you on the "Bishop pair only has meaning if you are above 2400" argument...I find it generally easier to convert bishops to an advantage than knights in open positions, and also find it much easier to open a position up than to close it. So I think that against opponents of similar level, a bishop pair is still an advantage at any rating.


EDIT: Oh right, one more question now: when is the best time then, if ever, to push a3? When I was paranoid of the knight-bishop trade happening, I always did it on the first few moves, but that always made me lose some advantage. Is it ever good to do it anyways as part of an opening process?

Oh, and I don't play the Ruy as Black; it seems that every 1. e4 player wants for that to happen and is happy to play into it. I prefer the Sicilian, which I personally don't like playing against.