Let us give you some good reasons why you should play the Ruy Lopez chess opening with Black. Many coaches advocate playing it early in your career to improve your overall chess understanding.
There is much to learn from this classical opening which follows the classical principles of fighting for the center and rapid development.
This alone is good reason to play the Ruy Lopez as Black because even if you switch to another opening later, you will have a solid foundation of opening play to build upon.
There is such a history, not to mention romanticism, to the Ruy Lopez, it’s hard to resist playing it at some stage in your chess career.
The Ruy Lopez opening begins with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5.
Learning an opening with a lot of theory can be intimidating but the secret, as with many things in life, is to break it down into bite-sized chunks.
By taking it one step at-a-time you will soon know enough to play the Ruy Lopez as black with confidence. Equally important, there is less to worry about if you play the main lines because you know they are sound.
Ruy Lopez Opening Variations
Another reason why you should play the Ruy Lopez chess opening with black is that it offers a multitude of variations to suit almost every taste. Going with a solid set-up with Black seems the most prudent because White tends to have a lasting space advantage.
At the same time choosing a solid line doesn’t mean settling for a draw and both sides in the Ruy Lopez opening have the opportunity to play for a win.
In the following video by GM Damian Lemos, you’ll see a quick but complete introduction to the Ruy Lopez:
Three Must-Know Ruy Lopez Variations
There are three main variations you must know when playing the Ruy Lopez opening with Black. Start by learning a line against these three variations.
- the Exchange Variation
- Closed Ruy Lopez
You can expand your repertoire as you encounter other variations. Remember to ask yourself, “Why did my opponent play this move?” and restrain their plans before pushing yours.
Although it has gone out of fashion, the Zaitsev Variation is a sound system. Playing a line that isn’t currently popular (but still sound!) is a good thing because you can often catch your opponent by surprise.
Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation
This is often White’s choice when they wish to play for an endgame advantage in the Ruy Lopez opening. Black’s position is certainly very solid in this variation.
Keep in mind that there is a middlegame to play before the endgame and a lot of time for your bishop pair to do damage.
One of White’s main ideas is to exchange the d-pawn for the e-pawn because White will have a pawn majority on the kingside while black is lacking one on the queenside due to his doubled pawns.
Starting Position Of The Exchange Variation
The position is reached by 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 (diagram).
After 4…dxc6, a natural way to proceed is 5.0-0 Bd6. When playing such a classical opening, sticking to classical principles like rapid development is a sensible approach.
Exchanging your e-pawn for White’s d-pawn is not something to fear because you gain good files for your rooks and open the position for your bishops.
Play might continue 6.d4 exd4 7.Qxd4 f6 (defending against Qxg7) 8.Be3 Be6 9.Nbd2 Ne7 10.Rad1 (diagram).
And now 10…Ng6 is a very useful waiting move coupled with …Qe7.
All your pieces are on sensible, central squares. In addition, you can castle either side. The bishop pair in an open position is a powerful weapon – for this reason don’t rush to reach the endgame.
In light of all of this, White might play a move like b4 to discourage you from castling queenside. Then again, there is nothing wrong with kingside castling when White has voluntarily created weaknesses on the queenside and given you a nice pawn to attack.
GM Hebden and GM Flear are good exponents of 5…Bd6 in the Ruy Lopez opening.
Exchange Variation Example Game
Here is a game from GM Hebden to show you some ideas on how to play this variation.
Miguel Navarro Cia (2257) versus Mark Hebden (2458) 0-1
4NCL 2017/18 England 2018/01/13
The Delayed Exchange Variation
As the name suggests, White doesn’t exchange on move 4 but waits until move 6 since White believes the knight on f6 and bishop on e7 aren’t ideally placed.
The position is reached through the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Bxc6 dxc6 (diagram).
Since Black has only played sensible developing moves, there is nothing to fear. Also, obtaining the bishop pair for two pieces on slightly less-than-ideal squares is good for Black.
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Additionally, you have a semi-open file in the center which often becomes an open file and this allows you to meet d4 with …exd4 where you have a position that is easy to play.
If White defends the e4 pawn with d3 you can play 7…Bd6. Meet 7.Nc3 with …Nd7 and 8.d4 with …exd4. Centralize your pieces and enjoy having equalized before move 10.
The Solid 6.d3 Variation
6.d3 variation of the Ruy Lopez opening is played for the purpose of avoiding the Marshall Attack.
The game begins 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba5 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 (diagram).
Now that the e4 pawn is defended, Black needs to react to the threat on his e-pawn with Bxc6 and Nxe5. In light of this, Black has two choices: 6…d6 or …b5 followed by …d6.
When choosing between two moves of equal value it’s best to take care of the threat in the first place. For example, play can continue 6…d6 7.a3 (to give the bishop an escape square in case Black plays …Na5 immediately after …b5 – c3 is also possible) b5 8.Bb3 0-0 9.Nc3.
7.c3 b5 8.Bc2 saves White a tempo but Black has a perfectly fine position. For example, 8…0-0 9.Nbd2 d5 10.exd5 Qxd5 coupled with …Bg4 when the position is equal.
…Na5 isn’t going to win the bishop on b3 but it allows …c5, gaining space on the queenside. In addition to queenside play, keep in mind if you can get …d5 in, suddenly Black ends up with the space advantage.
Ruy Lopez Closed – Zaitsev Variation 9…Bb7
Any opening chosen by the 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov is certain to serve you well.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 and now 9…Bb7 brings us to the Ruy Lopez Zaitsev Variation.
Not only is this a dynamic line but it’s also a solid line to play in the Ruy Lopez with Black. In addition, the line is not in fashion at the top level which means you could spring a surprise on your opponents.
Equally important, the Zaitsev variation is known as a sound variation and unless your opponent understands the main ideas he is unlikely to put you under a lot of pressure.
Be that as it may, you don’t want to let your preparation lag and make White’s job easier. That is why it’s best to play the mainline of the Zaitsev with 11…Bf8 coupled with 12…h6.
A Critical Position in the Ruy Lopez Zaitsev Variation
We reach a critical position in the Zaitsev after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a3 h6 13.Bc2 Nb8 14.b3 Nbd7 15.Bb2 (diagram).
In this position, Black can adopt two plans. The first is to expand on the queenside with …c5 supported by …Rb8. With this in mind, White will usually choose to close the center with d5.
Consequently, Black can choose a more solid plan with 15…c6 or …g6 and will slowly add pressure to White’s center as he prepares the d5 advance. For that reason, White will attempt to expand on the queenside with c4 and b4 once the minor pieces have been brought into position.
As a result, you have a dynamic position with chances for both sides where Black has a sound position and can play for a win and so it is hardly surprising it’s held in high regard.
Vasilios Kotronios (2572) versus Viktor Antonovich Bologan 0-1
Aeroflot Open, Moscow, 2007/02/14
The Ruy Lopez chess opening is a wonderful opening to play if you want to learn more about yourself as a chess player. When you are playing it with Black a little preparation will take you far.
After all, you improve as a player by getting better at the resulting middlegames. The Ruy Lopez will allow you to show off these skills without worrying if you are going to be caught out by a sharp tactic in the opening.
Lastly, a point often overlooked is the safety provided by the classical rules of chess. For that reason, you can trust your position with Black is sound in the Ruy Lopez opening. To put it another way, you have peace of mind.
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