Although often regarded as drawish, White must prove he knows how to play the opening, middlegame, and endgame in the Ruy Lopez Exchange variations, or else Black can turn the tables on him.
Drawish openings are not something Black needs to fear nor does he need to give up on playing for a win in these opening variations. Easy equality early in your games is not a gift to turn down.
Deepen your understanding of the Ruy Lopez Exchange variations and increase your winning chances.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Ideas Within the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variations
The Ruy Lopez is a classic chess opening for Black against e4, and knowing how to meet the Exchange Variation is essential.
A glance at the resulting king and pawn endgame in the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation is enough to let you know this is something to avoid with Black. Remember, before the endgame, the gods have placed the middlegame.
However, despite wanting to keep pieces on the board, there are beneficial exchanges for Black. Defending the e5-pawn with …f6 means a queen exchange will offset the weakness on the kingside.
The most well-known Exchange Variation is 4.Bxc6, but White can first play 4.Ba4 and exchange on c6 later. White justifies the loss of tempo by saying Black has the opportunity to misplace a piece with 4…Nf6.
The knight on f6 is not misplaced, but Black must know his theory in this line.
The Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation With 5.0-0
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0
This is the move Bobby Fischer chose to play, and it has been played almost 7000 times more than 5.Nc3! Many White players who decide the Exchange Variation are likely to follow Fischer’s approach.
5…f6! is an excellent approach for Black against 5.0-0 and 5.Nc3.
5…f6 6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 c5 8.Nb3 Qxd1 9.Rxd1 Bd6 10.Na5 b5
All of White’s queenside pieces remain undeveloped, and his knight is on the rim. Black has all the time he needs to develop his knight and get his king to safety by castling short.
Lacayo, Rene – Guillen Ramirez, Jose Antonio, 1/2-1/2, Guatemala City zt 2.32, 2000
There is no doubt the White knight is misplaced on b3, so White turned to 8.Ne2
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 f6 6.d4 exd4 7.Nxd4 c5 8.Ne2
8…Qxd1 9.Rxd1 Bd7 10.Nbc3 0-0-0 11.Be3 Re2 12.Rd2 Bc6 13.Rad1 b6
Now White has a choice between 14.f3 and 14.a4. No matter which approach White adopts, Black is holding his own and then some.
Here is Etienne Bacrot to show us an excellent way to play the position with Black. You can feel confident using this line in your games if it gets the seal of approval from a player rated 2718!
Balogh, Csaba – Bacrot, Etienne, 0-1, Corsica Masters rap 08th, 2004
Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation 7.Qxd4
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.0-0 f6 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4
Allowing the exchange of queens on d4, White doesn’t get to activate his rook on d1 for free. However, it does leave the d1-square free for his queenside rook to occupy.
Unfortunately, this is one of those positions that is almost guaranteed to end in a draw if nobody blunders. There is invariably a line in every opening for White to play if he is determined to settle for a draw.
7…Qxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.Nc3 0-0-0 10.Be3 Bd6 11.Rad1 Ne7 12.f3 Rhe8
Arakeljan, Armen M – Vasiliev, Vladimir P, 1/2-1/2, Bogoroditsk 07, 2013
Ruy Lopez Delayed Exchange Variation
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Bxc6 dxc6
All of Black’s moves from this position are natural, developing moves. The one maneuver Black must keep in mind is re-routing the knight on d7 to c6 via b8.
Black must make sure to counter threats against the e5-pawn.
6.d3 Bd6 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.Nc4 Nd7 9.0-0 Re8 10.b3 c5 11.Bb2 f6
The queens are still on the board, so Black has every opportunity to play for the win in this equal position. Take a look at how De Wagner converted the position into a whole point for Black.
Martin Duque, J. – Wagner, De, 0-1, Sunway Sitges Open 2019
White can delay capturing on c6 for another move and play 5.0-0 first. This is known as the Delayed Exchange Ruy Lopez Deferred or Steenwijker variation.
No matter what you call it, Black is doing perfectly fine in this Exchange variation too.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6 dxc6
Black’s strategy is to re-route a knight to c6 or e6, where it keeps control of d4 with the aid of a pawn on c5. Playing through a couple of games is all the work you need to do for this variation.
Bartel, Mateusz – Tomashevsky, Evgeny, 0-1, EU-Cup 28th, 2012
Many players choose to avoid openings because of the drawish nature of exchange variations. The Ruy Lopez is such a classic chess opening for black against e4 that you would deny yourself many rewards if you didn’t play it.
Great players of the past and coaches insist this classic chess opening is the cornerstone for understanding chess in general and becoming a well-rounded player. Embrace the Ruy Lopez since you really have nothing to fear from the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation with Black.
Remember, ‘drawish’ does not mean a draw is predetermined. You will get early equality with the black pieces almost effortlessly.
There are many good reasons why this classic chess opening remains so popular today. Play the Ruy Lopez and discover the attraction for yourself.
The ever-popular Deep Dive series delivers comprehensive opening instruction by one of the world’s leading chess coaches GM Damian Lemos. His 1.e4 e5 Bundle for Black covers the Ruy Lopez, sidelines, gambits, and another classic chess opening the Italian Game.
There’s a lot more to the Ruy Lopez than just the Exchange Variations and GM Damian Lemos will cover all of White’s options. Click here to get instant access to the 1.e4 e5 for Black bundle with 50% off!