Ruy Lopez (Spanish opening)[ edit ]
ECO: C60
theme No: 1265
title: Ruy Lopez (Spanish opening)
notation: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5
board: show
The Ruy Lopez, sometimes known as the Spanish Game, is a chess opening characterised by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 (in algebraic notation). The Ruy Lopez has such a vast number of variants that in the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings all codes from C60 to C99 are assigned to them.


The opening is named after the 16th century Spanish priest Rúy López de Segura (pronounced ROOee LOpeth). He made a systematic study of this and other openings in a 150-page book on chess written in 1561 (which also included some more esoteric suggestions, such as setting up the board so the sun shines in one´s opponent´s eyes). However, although it is named after him, this particular opening was known earlier; it is included in the Göttingen manuscript, which dates from 1490. Popular use of the Ruy Lopez opening did not develop, however, until the mid 1800s when Jaenisch, a Russian theoretician, "rediscovered" its potential. The opening is still in active use as the double king´s pawn opening most commonly used in master play; it has been adopted by almost all players at some point in their careers.


At the most basic level, White´s third move attacks the knight which defends the e5 pawn from the attack by the f3 knight. It should be noted that White´s apparent threat to win Black´s e-pawn with 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 is illusory — Black can respond with 5...Qd4, forking the knight and e4-pawn, and winning back the material with a good position. 3.Bb5 is still a good move, however: it develops a piece, prepares castling, and sets up a potential pin against Black´s king. However, since White´s third move carries no immediate threat, Black can respond in a wide variety of ways.

3...a6 (Morphy Defence)

By far the most commonly seen is 3...a6 (the Morphy Defence), when the game can take a number of paths. In a few notable games, Bobby Fischer played the Exchange Variation — 4.Bxc6 — with White; the normal follow-up to this is 4...dxc6 5.O-O f6, although there are alternatives. The Exchange Variation, however, is generally considered to not present enough difficulties for Black.

Main Line
In the main line, White normally retreats his bishop with 4.Ba4. The normal continuation is now 4...Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 (again, there are reasonable alternatives for both sides).

Now 7...d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 (preventing 9...Bg4, which can be awkward for White) is the so-called "closed" Ruy Lopez, which can be considered the main line of the opening. Many hundreds of top-level games have reached this position. Black has a variety of choices here, the most commonly played options being 9...Na5 (the Chigorin variation, freeing the pawn to go to c5), 9...Nb8 (the Breyer variation, rerouting the knight to d7) and 9...Bb7 (the Zaitsev variation).

An alternative to 7...d6 is 7...Bb7. This is known as the Trajkovic variation. Black may sacrifice a pawn with 8. c3 d5 9. exd5 Nxd5 10. Nxe5 Nxe5 11. Rxe5 Nf4

The Marshall Counter-Gambit, Worrall Attack and Open Variation

One of Black´s more aggressive alternatives is the Marshall Counter-Gambit: after 3...a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O 8.c3 Black plays 8...d5, sacrificing a pawn with 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5. In exchange, Black has an attack on White´s king: 11...c6 12.d4 Bd6 13.Re1 Qh4. This attack can be quite treacherous for White. In game 8 of the World Championship in 2004 between Vladimir Kramnik and Péter Lékó, Kramnik succumbed to Black´s attack. A number of anti-Marshall systems have been developed, such as 8.a4 (instead of 8.c3).

An earlier alternative for White is 6.Qe2 (instead of 6.Re1), the Worrall Attack. The idea is that the queen will support the e-pawn, while the rook slides across to d1 to support the advance of the d-pawn (there isn´t always time for this to happen, however). Paul Keres played the line several times. More recently, Sergei Tiviakov has played it, as has Nigel Short, who played it twice in his 1992 match against Anatoly Karpov and won both games.

A black alternative is 5...Nxe4 (instead of 5...Be7), the Open Variation. It should be noted that Black cannot safely hang onto the pawn — play usually continues 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 and material balance is restored. This is a sharper line than many others in which Black has more freedom for his pieces than the closed variations. The variation has been adopted by a number of players, perhaps most notably by Viktor Korchnoi.

Arkhangelsk and Norwegian Variation

The Arkhangelsk Variation(ECO C78) was invented by Soviet theoreticians in the city of Arkhangelsk. The variation will often lead to sharp positions. White has several options which include building an ideal pawn center with c3 and d4, defending the the epawn with Re1 or simply developing. The notation follows after 3...a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 b5 6.Bb3.

The Norwegian Variation, also called the Wing Variation, is an agressive but time consuming alternative for Black. The game follows 3...a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5. The goal of the opening is to eliminate the white bishop. A speculative sacrifice is now 6.Bxf7+?!, which drives the black king out, but with accurate play, Black is supposed to be able to consolidate his extra piece.

The Berlin and other defences

Alternatives for black on move three are less often seen, although Vladimir Kramnik successfully used the Berlin Defence (3...Nf6) as a drawing variation against Garry Kasparov in their 2000 World Championship match.

Other defences include the Steinitz (3...d6), the Schliemann (3...f5), the Cozio (3...Nge7), the Smyslov (3...g6), the Bird (3...Nd4) and the Classical (3...Bc5).

categories: theme library | Ruy Lopez (Spanish opening)
article No 683 / last change on 2005-06-29, 10:40pm

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