If you listen to strong players discuss their chess games, one thing that’ll strike you (assuming you’re the perceptive type 😉 ) is the enormous amount of assumed knowledge.
The discussion after a tournament game might go something like this:
Guy 1: “What happened in your game?”
Guy 2: “Ahh… It was an Open Ruy Lopez Opening with Qe2/Rd1 and the guy did some weird shit with Qb8 which I’d never seen before. So… I just played natural moves and…”
“Open Ruy Lopez”?
What the hell is a “natural move”?
That’s what’s called assumed knowledge 🙂
In this series of posts, I’ll be introducing you to the most frequently recurring openings for white in modern practice.
If you study these posts, you’ll be dramatically increasing your knowledge of what is basically, essential knowledge for aspiring chessplayers.
And you’ll obviously boost your results like heck too.
So let’s get started on the…
Ruy Lopez Opening!
The above key position is reached after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 and has been played religiously by top chessplayers such as Morphy, Capablanca, Tal, Fischer and Kasparov!
Nearly every champion has used this opening as a main weapon.
The guy who first wrote about this opening was actually a 16th-century Spanish priest named Ruy López de Segura, who wrote about the opening in his book waaaaaay back in the year 1561! 😯
Anyway guys, I’m gonna skip the history lesson and focus on stuff that’s actually gonna improve your chess.
Ruy Lopez Strategy:
One point to note from the beginning is that white is not threatening to win the e5 pawn at all because 3…a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.Nxe5 Qd4! wins the pawn back.
White’s plan is actually more strategic in nature and involves long term control of the centre, knight maneuvers to the kingside and well-timed opening of the a-file.
Sometimes white plays in an open tactical manner and sometimes in a slow strategic manner depending on what black does.
Let’s look at some key ideas in the opening.
White plays c3, …exd4 cxd4 – and gets a big centre
This is a very frequent strategic path in the Ruy Lopez.
White reinforces his centre by moving his pawn to c3 and black exchanges his e5 pawn anyway.
This gives white a two pawns vs one advantage in the centre which can very often be converted into a kingside attack.
The extra space which this strong centre gives him, allows white ample space to manoeuvre his knight to f5 (via f1 and g3) and often his queen to the kingside as well.
Let’s look at an example game in this structure.
Zhigalko, Andrey vs Swayams, Mishra
Key moment: In this game black plays 15…g6 (which is a standard idea to keep the white knight out of f5) and only after white’s response 16.Qh6 did he realise that 16…Bg7 is met by 17.Bxf7+ Kxf7 18.Qxh7+- with an overwhelming attack.
So instead black tried to block the strong b3 bishop with 16…Nc4 and was demolished by an impressive kingside attack anyway.
Take a look at the ridiculous amount of pins in the final position!
A pretty nice game.
Now let’s look at another recurring theme in the Ruy Lopez…
White closes the centre… Action on the a-file
In this scenario the centre is closed by white’s d4-d5 push and as often happens in closed centre structures, play switches to the flank.
In the Ruy Lopez this is generally the a-file or the kingside and we’ll now have a look a two awesome examples of the former.
Let’s look at some example games in this structure.
I have two beautiful examples of this “action on the a-file” plan.
One game is played by the genius Bobby Fischer and the other by his never-to-be-played rival, Anatoly Karpov.
Karpov’s game is a strategic masterpiece which would be worthy of deep study by aspiring players, while Fischer’s game begins as a strategic masterpiece and quickly becomes a tactical masterpiece when his opponent lashes out, trying to avoid suffocation.
Beautiful chess, and excellent examples of the structure we are looking at.
Karpov, Anatoly vs Unzicker, Wolfgang
Here we see our structure with the closed centre appear and as mentioned, Karpov turns his attention to the a-file.
What we then witness is Karpov completely squeeze his strong Grandmaster opponent to death!
This game is a positional crush very rarely seen in a Grandmaster game.
Study it deeply for the sake of your own chess improvement! 🙂
And here is Fischer’s masterpiece.
Fischer, Robert James vs Spassky, Boris V
This game amazingly was played by Fischer 20 years after his retirement from chess, after being in hiding for years and never playing serious chess since 1972.
Here we see the same strategy more or less as the Karpov game, but instead of getting strangled to death (as Unzicker did) Spassky lashed out with 29…Nxe4!.
Fischer wasn’t having any of it though.
Despite being rusty from 20 years off the chessboard, he navigated the complications with his machine-like perfection and when the tactics came, he was simply brilliant.
42.Nf5!! is a star move by Fischer after which Spassky is caught in a whirlwind which eventually engulfs him.
These guys are sickeningly good, huh?
Let’s see another idea for white in the Ruy Lopez…
White pawn on e4, Black pawn on d6
This structure occurs when white plays his pawn d2-d4 without playing c2-c3 first and when black captures on d4, white recaptures with a piece (usually the knight or the queen).
In this structure white has a little more space and central control and has various ways to organise his attack.
A quite common approach for white is to:
- Capture on c6
- Fianchetto the c1 bishop
- Play Qf3 and/or launch the f-pawn
- Centralise the rooks
Pretty simple, but there are some nice examples of these ideas.
Lasker, Emanuel vs Walbrodt, Carl August
The first example was played over a hundred years ago by the second official world champion ever, Emanuel Lasker.
Lasker’s plan is very simple (the same one mentioned above) and his opponent who wasn’t very strong, loses without resistance. Not the highest quality game, but for learning players a nice example of this structure and attacking plan.
Instructive despite the poor play from black, right?
Let’s see the next game.
Wei, Yi vs Zvarik, Martin
Here is a game by the Chinese wonder boy Wei Yi, who many consider to be a future challenger to Magnus Carlsen.
Wei Yi’s opponent played much better than Lasker’s opponent had more than 100 years earlier, but Wei placed tactical pressure on his opponent which eventually was too much.
100 years later the plan is still very similar, right?
Reminds me of GM Korchnoi’s statement saying “Whatever is old is new, whatever is new is old”.
So very true!
In this post you may have noticed something…
I didn’t make any mention of so-called “theory”.
I didn’t say “Now I’m gonna show you what to do against the Berlin variation” or such nonsense.
Because this is a mistake so common its ridiculous.
Learning all of the names and deep theory is what learning players should do AFTER they’ve learnt the important ideas, structures and details of an opening.
Even GM’s make this mistake when teaching openings.
If you study the games in this post deeply over the board, you will develop a deeper feel for the positions which occur in the Ruy Lopez than any player who has only memorised variations.
If you know the structures and plans, you’ll probably figure out the theory over the board anyway!
So anyway fellas…
I’m still going to write a follow up post to this (Part Two) which will look at a few other scenarios in the opening (especially black’s tactical tries), so keep an eye out for that.
- Download the games from this post
- Open in Wordpad (or your preferred .pgn viewer) and print them
- Setup your chessboard
- Make a strong coffee
- Kill distractions
- Study these 5 games you’ve downloaded.
- Take note of the structures/plans we looked at in this post.
- Report back to chessncognac.com for Part Two! 🙂