Ruy López Opening: Berlin Defense

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6

The Berlin Defense is a natural, classical way of meeting the Ruy Lopez. Black develops the knight to a good square and attacks the e4-pawn. The Berlin Defense contains a common variation beginning with 4.O-O Nxe4 which leads to a well-known queenless middlegame.

Often referred to as simply "the Berlin," this opening often results in a draw at the top levels of chess. In the Opening Explorer database, 43 percent of Berlin games end in a draw, compared to 36 percent of Morphy Defense games.

Starting Position


  • Black fights for equality in a natural way
  • Black leaves the bishop on b5, where it can come under attack
  • The 4.0-0 Nxe4 line usually leads to a complicated, unusual endgame


  • White has many ways to force a drawish position
  • The opening is not ideal for attacking players
  • White makes most of the decisions about what kind of game will result

Main Variations

White has three main moves against the Berlin: 4.O-O, 4.d3, and 4.Nc3.

Berlin Wall

White usually castles on the fourth move. Then the most common line is called the l'Hermet Variation and involves a trade of queens. Black has doubled pawns and a king in the center but also has the two bishops in an open position. It is difficult for White to take advantage of Black's king position.

An alternative to the l'Hermet is a popular draw by repetition that reinforces the drawish nature of the Berlin. This exact game has been played dozens of times at the grandmaster level.


If White doesn't want to allow Black the equality that comes with the main lines—which is why this move is called the anti-Berlin—then 4.d3 is the best alternative to 4.O-O. With the anti-Berlin move, 39 percent of games end in a draw, compared to 47 percent if White castles.

Four Knights

4.Nc3 is a natural developing move that defends the e4-pawn and transposes into the Four Knights Game.

History of the Berlin Defense

3...Nf6 is one of the oldest responses to 3.Bb5, first appearing in databases about 40 years prior to what became the most popular move, 3...a6 (which is known as the Morphy Defense). After being out of fashion for much of the 20th century, the Berlin was revitalized by GM Vladimir Kramnik in the 2000 World Chess Championship against GM Garry Kasparov. It has been one of the most popular ways to meet the Ruy Lopez ever since.


Learn the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense

The Berlin Defense is one of the most popular and solid defenses against 1.e4. Learn the key ideas for both White and Black in this key opening.
19 min
10 Challenges
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