The Ruy Lopez opening, also known as the Spanish Opening, is one of the oldest and most popular chess openings ever. The opening is named after a Spanish priest from the 16th century, Ruy López de Segura.
In 1561, he published a book on chess called Libro del Ajedrez (Book of Chess) in which the Ruy Lopez already appeared. Since then it has been used regularly by every World Chess Champion and is often one of the first openings beginners learn.
It is also one of the most heavily analyzed openings in today’s game and continues to enjoy incredible popularity at all levels (elite players such as Anand, Caruana, and Carlsen frequently play the Ruy Lopez). On the one hand, there are many chess players who love to play the Ruy Lopez as it’s exceptionally versatile and there is still plenty of room to maneuver and discover new ideas for both sides! On the other hand, many players don’t like playing the Ruy Lopez and are scared to learn it because the accompanying theory is very extensive.
However, the Ruy Lopez is considered essential to the development of any promising player. Its strategic nature, typical tactics plus the fact it leads to both open and closed positions make it perfect for deepening general chess understanding.
If you don’t already play the Ruy Lopez, here are 2 reasons why you should start:
Vishy Anand insists the Ruy Lopez and the Sicilian Defense are the 2 essential openings to understand if you want to understand chess.
Mikhail Botvinnik claimed the great Polugaevsky was held back from being a World Championship contender because he didn’t play the Ruy Lopez and so never mastered positional play.
The great Lev Polugaevsky, who competed at the very highest level during the ’60s and ’70s, was a fantastic Sicilian player but his neglect of the Ruy Lopez meant he lacked the deep strategic understanding of the likes of Karpov and Korchnoi, the latter player being able to beat him twice in the Candidates.
Due to the fact that every 1.e4 player needs to have an answer against 1…e5, the following article is devoted to this key chess opening. Learn how to play the Ruy Lopez well and you’ll become a better strategist and be able to evaluate complex positions with accuracy.
The Ruy Lopez is so popular it’s hard to find a player who hasn’t played it at some point in their chess career.
It’s considered to be one of the best openings for beginners because it typically leads to open games, with a lot of play for both sides. Mastering the fundamentals of this opening isn’t rocket science and today we will go over the basics to get you going with the Ruy Lopez.
The Ruy Lopez begins with the following move
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 (see the diagram on the right)
One of White’s key ideas in the Ruy Lopez is to quickly control the center. This is achieved by placing a pawn in the center on the first move (1.e4), a move which also liberates the White’s light-squared bishop and queen.
By playing 2.Nf3, White immediately attacks the Black central pawn on e5. Afterwards, White moves his bishop to b5 from where it threatens to eliminate the knight on c6, Black’s piece that protects the pawn on e5. With these three moves, White immediately puts pressure on the center.
Following these ideas, White achieves the 3 main goals of any opening: control of the center, rapid development, and preparation for castling to safety.
Unsurprisingly, there are many variations to choose from in the Ruy Lopez Opening for both sides. In the following article, we want to provide you with an overview of three of the most common lines.
One line that can arise from the Ruy Lopez is the Exchange Variation. This variation is
sometimes used by lower-rated players who want to create doubled pawns for their opponent as
quickly as possible. The variation starts with the moves
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6
dxc6. White has managed to create doubled c-pawns in black’s camp, in exchange
Now, taking the e5-pawn with 5. Nxe5 is no good because Black has the strong response 5…Qd4, forking the knight and the e4-pawn. Black threatens to capture the e4-pawn with check, forcing the queen exchange and preventing White from castling. This only brings trouble for White who should away from this line.
White has a couple of moves at his disposal on move 5 (5.0-0, 5.Nc3, 5.d4). A good line to illustrate the key imbalances of the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation continues 5.d4 exd4 6.Qxd4 Qxd4 7.Nxd4 (see the diagram below):
This position shows the basic Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation pawn structure. White already has better control of the center and has stuck Black with doubled pawns. These doubled pawns can either be a weakness or a strength, depending on how Black uses them and how White fights against them.
In a late endgame with many of the pieces traded off, this doubled pawn will be a big problem for Black because his pawn majority on the queenside (4 vs 3) is nullified. On the other hand, White’s pawn majority on the kingside (4 vs 3) will be able to be converted into a passed pawn.
With pieces on the board, however, this doubled pawn is less of a liability. Aside from the pawn majority problem for Black, he does have an extra half-open file available that White does not have. Both sides have the open d-file to use but only Black has the half-open e-file leading towards the e4-pawn that could be a potential target.
Black can also fight against White’s center pawn with an eventual f5 pawn push. If White’s e-pawn disappears, then the position will open up more and Black’s two bishops will prosper. Black can also begin to push his c-pawns to c5 and c6 in order to control more space. Factoring in the pieces, White’s best plan is to keep up his control of the center, advance his pawn majority on the kingside and try to trade pieces so that he can be closer to a king and pawn endgame that is winning for him.
Black, on the other hand, should try to open up the position as much as possible so that his bishops will be better, try to trade off the doubled pawn if possible, fight against White’s center and avoid trading pieces.
Instead of taking the knight after
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6, White’s main move by
far is 4.Ba4.
The main idea behind Black’s move 3…a6 is that after the usual retreat 4.Ba4, Black always has
the opportunity of playing the move …b5, breaking the potential pin against along the a4-e8
diagonal. After 4.Ba4, White has to be careful to not fall for a common opening trap in the Ruy
Lopez – the Noah’s Ark Trap.
If you want to play the Ruy Lopez with White, you definitely need to be aware of this trap. Many chess players who start playing the Spanish fall for this trap and have resigned in less than 10 moves with White.
However, 4…d6 is not Black’s main move after 4.Ba4.The main line of the Closed Ruy Lopez goes
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.
Looking at the two previous variations, some chess players might want to play the Ruy Lopez, but
they desperately wonder how to study all the long variations. For these players, the 6.d3
Spanish comes to rescue. The variation arises after the moves
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3.