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Now it is time to speak about one of the main opening systems in Chess: the Ruy Lopez opening. It is named after a spanish priest who published one of the first books dedicated to Chess. In this article, we will check some ideas in the Ruy Lopez for Black.

Let us start with a short line you must absolutely know if you play the Ruy Lopez with any color. We will clarify immediately if capturing on c6, then on e5 is a real threat by White.

We started with a very concrete line, but it is important to keep this point in mind: White indeed threatens to capture c6, and then e5, but this threat will not materialize immediately. The threat will be real only when White forbids the move Qd8-d4. Then only, Black has to worry about protecting the pawn.

This threat and its feasibility explain a lot in both sides’ first 5 or 6 moves in the Ruy Lopez, whatever precise line is played. Thus it is important to keep that in mind in your analysis.

Now, rather than exploring the full tree of moves played in the Ruy Lopez, which is huge, we are going to take a different approach: we will study the typical ideas for both sides one by one, and only after, give an example of line in which it occurs. This article and the following one details the ideas for Black. The current article presents the following possibilities:

  • The sound and logical Knight to f6
  • The (too ?) solid d7-d6
  • The positional g7-g6 to fianchetto the Bishop
  • The double edged f7-f5
  • The quick b7-b5 in order to neutralize White’s Bishop

The next article discusses advanced ideas for Black in the Ruy Lopez.

Are you ready ? Because there are a lot of ideas. We will start with Black’s ideas: after all, it is up to Black to decide what to do to counter White’s Bishop’s move.

Playing the logical Nf6

Playing Ng8-f6 is certainly the first idea that comes to mind for Black:

  • it develops a piece (and a good one ! Remember that according to the opening principles, Knights should be developed before Bishops)
  • it attacks the e4-pawn

This move constitutes the Berlin defense.

This opening is called the Berlin defense and it is one of Black’s most solid defense against 1. e4. Basically, White has three options now:

  • defending e4 with a Knight on c3, coming back to the four Knights’ defense
  • defending e4 with the move d2-d3, that may seem unambitious, but is actually extremely interesting
  • Achieving a fast development and castling quickly, at the cost of the e4-pawn

Those two last options are discussed in details in my article about the Berlin defense. More generally, even if Black does not play Ng8-f6 on the third move, this Knight will often be developed on f6 anyway. f6 is just the perfect square for this Knight in most cases !

Playing the solid d7-d6

As we have already seen, Black must pay attention to White’s threat to capture on c6, removing the defender of e5, followed by Nxe5. One radical way to counter that is to play d7-d6. The immediate d7-d6 is called the Steinitz defense, named after the first World Champion of Chess.

In both cases though, the move d7-d6 is not the most popular as it is known for being passive. The typical reply from White is a move you will also see against the Philidor defense.

White’s accurate reply to the move d7-d6 is often the move d2-d4 with a better position. This leads to a favorable version of the Ruy Lopez tense center. There is one exception to this rule though, in the so-called “modern Steinitz defense”. This trap allowed the great Capablanca (third world champion !) himself to win an easy game.

For this particular reason, playing d7-d6 is probably best played on the fourth move, after Black has played a7-a6.

Let’s finish by mentioning that d7-d6 is often a convenient way to protect e5 later in the opening, when White’s threat to capture the e5-pawn materializes. Take for instance this line of the Berlin defense:

The previous line has given you a hint of all the hidden threats within a seemingly quiet line. The move d7-d6 comes as a natural defense here, when played at the right time.

Fianchetto the Bishop

Developing the f8-Bishop in fianchetto is a quiet positional idea that can sometimes be used in conjonction of the previous d7-d6 idea. The immediate 3… g6 is called the Smyslov variation. Yet another line named after a Chess World Champion !

The fianchetto setup is really a solid one for Black and there is no easy way for White to take advantage of this.

You can find the g7-g6 move in some lines of the Berlin defense, in conjonction with d7-d6.

If we want to summarize the idea of developing the Bishop to g7: this is a solid option, often played together with d7-d6.

Attacking with f7-f5

But the next possibility is a totally different animal ! The move f7-f5 is an attempt to counter-attack on White’s main center pawn instead of defending e5.

Again, the move 3. Bb5 by White is a long term threat on Black’s position. So if Black wants to play sharp and concrete moves, now is probably the right time !

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