The Ruy Lopez Opening (also called Spanish Opening or Spanish Game) is an essential addition to your repertoire. Like the Sicilian Defense it can be regarded as a cornerstone opening.
White is looking for an open game where he can attack the Kingside. Black can meet that challenge head on. On the other hand he can close the game up and maneuver for position.
The most popular reply by far to the Ruy Lopez is 3...a6. This is known as the Morphy Defense. White can approach the Morphy Defense in many ways. Here we will consider all of your options against 3...a6 except for the Main Line.
The Morphy Defense wasn't always the most common answer to the Ruy Lopez. You could also develop a piece with 3...Nf6 or 3...Bc5. These were the most common continuations up until the middle of the 19th Century.
Paul Morphy the great American player of that era popularized 3...a6 which had been a sideline before then. The move puts an ultimatum to White's light square Bishop immediately.
He can exchange by taking the Knight or go into the vast expanse of theory in the 4.Ba4 lines. These are his only realistic options. The majority of Ruy Lopez theory comes into play after 4.Ba4 but the exchange is perfectly playable.
When Black plays 3...a6 to set the Morphy Defense in motion, you, as White, face your first major crossroads in the Ruy Lopez. Do you preserve your proud light square Bishop by retreating to a4?
Or do you give up the Bishop pair in order to rupture Black's pawn structure? The second option comes by way of 4.Bxc6. This line is known as the Exchange Variation. Black can recapture with either pawn though 4...dxc6 is more common.
There are pros and cons. The good stuff is that it is a less risky line and you will be harder to beat. Also there is much less theory to sift through and learn.
The not so good stuff? The loss of the Bishop limits you somewhat as an attacking force. It's a little harder to drum up a potent attack.
If you don't want the Exchange it has to be 4.Ba4. You can try the Norwegian Defense when playing this opening from the Black side. Use it to get rid of White's dangerous light square Bishop. When the Bishop retreats to a4 push him back again immediately with 4...b5 and follow this up with 5...Na5.
At this point White can't prevent you from exchanging off the Bishop for your Knight. You might be asking why this hasn't become a more prominent line in the Ruy Lopez.
Surely the speedy elimination of one of Black's greatest tormentors is a scalp worth taking? It turns out White gets a good edge in development in many lines.
Black has great trouble castling and coordinating his pieces if White knows how to punish him for those tempi used against the Bishop. Still if you come up against players who don't know the Norwegian Defense, the loss of the Bishop may upset their rhythm.
The Neo-Steinitz is an improvement on the Steinitz Defense. The Steinitz Defense is when Black answers the Ruy Lopez with 3...d6 instead of 3...a6. The problem with this is it allows White to take over the center.
The Neo-Steinitz is the solution to this problem with 3...a6 4.Ba4 inserted into it. Now if White plays d4 threatening d5 to attack the pinned Knight Black simply plays ...b5 breaking the pin.
When the Bishop retreats Black just plays ...Na5 and can trade off the Bishop at any time of his choosing. This is an opening with tactical possibilities for both sides. It is also positionally playable for both.
The Siesta Variation has a deceptive name because it's the deadliest line in the Neo-Steinitz. The move 5...f5 is played to undermine White's center. When White takes on f5 Black develops a Bishop with the recapture.
The light square Bishop often gets established on d3 with the pawn move ...e4 locking him in place. This Bishop can paralyze the White Queenside.
If you have the White pieces you might well think about challenging this Bishop with Bc2. Even then Black will be working hard to ensure that his pawn on d3 is protected to cramp your position.
If you have the Black pieces you get to make some decisions too. After the Bishop is withdrawn to a4 you can play 4...Nf6. White should castle here and now you will choose the course of the game.
Do you want to close the position with 5...Be7 or open it with 5...Nxe4? What kind of middlegame do you fancy? A positional affair with plenty of maneuvering behind the pawn shells? Or a battle between the long range pieces on open terrain?
If you take the pawn it will be an open game but you haven't won material. 6.Re1 wins the pawn straight back and then there is 6.d4, perhaps even stronger. Be prepared to learn lots of theory to play this opening from either side.
You may decide that the open road is too risky. Concentrate on getting your King castled to safety. Get your fort in order before your opponent has a chance to strike.
Settle in for a long war. Soon you will play ...d6 and the game will take a definite course. Now it's a matter of getting your pieces in position. Both sides will try to be ready to take control when the pawn breaks are finally played.
When you hear that players like Karpov, Kramnik, Smyslov and Fischer all had remarkable success in the Closed Spanish you come to realize that it is a good choice for patient, positional players.
The Delayed Exchange Variation is a very clever idea for White. You sacrifice a tempo for a crucial positional gain. Compare the position in the Exchange Variation after 4.Bxc6 with the position here in the diagram after 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Bxc6. What is the difference?
The difference is in the Delayed Exchange Black's Kingside Knight has been developed to f6. Doesn't this make White worse than in the Exchange Variation?
No because in addition to the structural damage to Black's pawn shell, his Knight is actually poorly placed on f6. It blocks in his f-pawn and this pawn break ...f5 is a thematic option in the Exchange lines.
This gives you ample time to castle Queenside and post your pieces on the Kingside. Your pawns give great cover so you can maneuver at leisure. Your two main plans are to create a pawn majority for the endgame or get a Kingside attack going for the middlegame. If you're Black wait for White to show his hand before deciding what to do with your King.
This stab in the center is called the Center Attack. White is playing for the push e5 after ...exd4. The pawn will be regained without too much trouble. White will not, however, find it easy to get an advantage.
Black will play ...d6 or ...d5 and the "power" of the White e-pawn will prove an illusion. White's center too often crumbles as Black happily exchanges off any pieces that take up residence on the 5th rank.
If you have the Black pieces don't shake in your boots if you see this line unfolding before you. But don't get complacent either as inaccurate moves can come at a cost.
The Worrall Attack is a nice sideline for you to have in your locker for the White pieces. Very often after the Queen goes to e2, the King's Rook will go to d1, supporting White's center.
This opening is more of a system than anything else. The main point is to get the ideas involved and place the pieces accordingly. It's a positional opening so there is no specific move order.
The Bishop will come back to b3 or c2 to support a Kingside attack. Black will often post an irritating Bishop on c5. You can oppose this Bishop directly on e3 or hassle the Knight by playing Bg5 instead.
The Averbakh Variation is a tactically rich line starting with 6.Re1. No positional concessions are made but you can still get attacking chances with the White pieces.
The pawn structures are consistent with the other Closed Ruys. Black plays ...d6 to close it up and you will play c2 to give your Bishop a good post deep on the b1-h7 diagonal. This moves also preps d4, the critical break in the center.
Black should play the thematic pin with ...Bg4 and as White you have a decision over the next few moves. Do you close the position and maneuver with d5 or do you open it up for a tactical duel with dxe5?
The Trajkovic Variation is a great little sideline if you have Black and you want to complicate things early on. A lot of players start off playing 1...e5 because everyone does and then they play other stuff like 1...c5 because they want fireworks.
But you know 1...e5 is not as boring and dry as people sometimes think. Even in the Ruy Lopez where it seems like a lot of variations look similar, there are lines where things can go a little crazy. The Trajkovic is one.
Everything runs ahead as normal and then round about Black's 8th move boom: ...d5 is the break in the center and pieces start flying everywhere. G-pawns start getting taken out and who knows what the material balance will be when the dust settles. If you like a tactical shoot out make this line one of your specialties.
The Marshall Attack was famously played by Frank Marshall against Jose Raul Capablanca in New York in 1918. Capablanca survived the astonishing attack but had to call on every ounce of his brilliance to do so. However we are not all Capa and even today with all of the powerful computer analysis this ploy is still considered sound with only minimal improvements.
It is an aggressive assault from Black in the center with 8...d5. Black gives up both central pawns for one in order to launch a brutal attack on White's castled King.
The Marshall Attack is still feared today. So much so that Garry Kasparov never let it be played against him when he played the Ruy Lopez. Also worth noting that Leko used it to humble Kramnik in 2004.
The Arkhangelsk Variation was developed by Russian masters in the city of Arkhangelsk. The main idea is to play ...Bc5 before closing the center with ...d6.
Black will finish up with the Bishop pair staring down adjacent diagonals at the White Kingside. The Main Line goes with 6...Bb7 and it is a sharp line. You should study the analysis before playing it.
You can play 6...Bc5 to go into the Neo-Arkhangelsk which is a quieter line. The move order is not so critical here so you don't need to do the same amount of homework on it.
The MacKenzie Variation is another clever tactical line that White can try in the Ruy Lopez. It starts with the Scotch-like center-thrust 6.d5.
If Black takes the e4-pawn that's okay. You can just keep pushing the d-pawn. d5 kicks the c6-Knight, after which you can get your pawn back with the centralizing Nxe5.
There are more possible tricks and puzzles you can lay if the c6-Knight came back to e7. In that case d6 can be played threatening checkmate by the b3 Bishop and the Black Knight. Your pawn is also threatening the Knight in a double attack. Black has to play well to get an even game.
The Russian Defense is a Neo-Steinitz with 4...Nf6 5.0-0 thrown in. How does this change things? How is the Russian Defense different from the Neo-Steinitz?
With White already castled before Black closes the position with 5...d6, many of the lines in the Neo-Steinitz have been avoided. Remember the White King is still in the center after 4...d6 in the Neo-Steinitz. White has the option to castle Queenside and attack on the Kingside.
If you're playing with the Black pieces and you don't know the theory on those lines then it makes sense to cut all those lines out of the reckoning with the simple waiting move 4...Nf6. White is forced to take some action or another and castling is the most logical continuation.