Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez


Sideline Tricks with the Worrall Attack

Ruy Lopez Opening: Worrall Attack — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Qe2

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.

Cozio Defense (3…Nge7)

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

This is known as the Cozio Defense. A chess base search revealed no details or games by the man himself, although lane mentions that Carlo Cozio was a writer and player who lived in the eighteenth century. As for the merits of Black third move, the most obvious benefit is that the knight on e7 reinforces its brother on c6, meaning that Black is unlikely to have to worry about Bxc6 ideas in the near future.

Ironically, the mainline of this variation sees White ruin Black’s queenside structure by making that very exchange! The drawback of Black’s system is that the f8-bishop is blocked in, meaning that its development will cost Black additional time.

Meanwhile, white can castle and cease the centre with c2-c3 and d2-d4. Black can react in a variety of ways, the choice of which will obviously have some bearing on the type of middlegame that will be reached. As far as the opening is concerned, White’s plan for the next few moves will usually involve the creation of a strong pawn centre with c2-c3 and d2-d4 as noted above.

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Take on the Closed Ruy in the Averbakh Variation

Ruy Lopez Opening: Averbakh Variation — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 d6

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?

Tal and the Modern Benoni

The Modern Benoni Defense is one of the most combative openings that you can choose to play with the Black pieces.

Let’s immediately see the main positions and then make some conclusions.

Basically, the whole idea behind Black’s move is that he accept a serious positional weakness (the pawn in d6), in exchange for dynamic pieces, most of all the Bishop in g7, and dynamic plans on both flanks (a6-b5 on the queenside, f5 break on the kingside).

However, White gets a clear space advantage in the center, and a target in d6. Many strong GMs believe that this position is strategically unsound for Black. In practice though, the dynamic possibilities simply leave the door opened to all three results.

Tal has played many brilliant games on the Black side of the Modern Benoni Defense. In my opinion, the type of positions that arise with this Opening was perfect for his style.

The most famous game in this Opening is probably the following one, that he won with a brilliant attack, and multiple sacrifices!

When I look at this game, it’s insane that after just 14 moves Black is already delivering a lethal attack to the White king!

Tal sacrificed first a Knight in f2, which is kind of a common theme, and then the Queen in h3 (which is not common at all!). Notice that the black’s Queen in h3 cannot be captured, due to Bxh3 checkmate!

Another game that I like a lot, played by Misha Tal with this Opening, is the following one.

I love the way the Black’s Rook jumps from square to square in the center of the board and finally sacrifice itself for a very strong positional compensation!

The game also contains a very instructive idea, that is to play a6, and when White replies with a5 (to prevent Black from comfortably pushing b5) then Black brings a piece in the b5 square with Bd7 and Nc7-Nb5. This is an important idea, definitely worth remembering.

The Modern Benoni Defense is also the Opening where Tal lost his most dramatic game, for his own admission. This happened in the World Championship against Botvinnik, in 1960.

After a very complex struggle Tal had a totally winning position. The winning manouver consisted in bringing a Rook on the open c-file. Tal did bring a Rook in c8, but it was the wrong Rook!!

A classical case of “the wrong Rook”, indeed. Tal played Rbc8 and even lost the game. Had he played Rec8 (less intuitive but tactically correct), he would have won easily. A rare case of tactical blindness by Tal.

Here’s the game.

Tal and the Ruy Lopez Opening

The Ruy Lopez is probably the most common Opening among the open systems (1. e4 e5). It’s a complex struggle, with lots of fascinating strategical and tactical facets.

Let’s take a look at the first moves (and few possible variations).

Playing the Ruy Lopez with either side is quite a challenging task, in my opinion. The reason is that you must be comfortable with so many variations, that may be very different from each other!

In some lines of the Ruy Lopez, White locks up the center and attacks on the Kingside, by bringing the Knight on g3 and g4, and by building the battery Qd2-Be3.

In other lines, White opens up the center by exchanging in e5 and then occupies the d5-square with a piece (a knight, usually), and keeps playing in the center.

In other lines still, White attacks on the Queenside with a4, b4 and sometimes c4.

On the other hand, Black has a lot of different plans too! Kicking away the White’s Bishop with Na5 (Chigorin variation), re-routing the Knight with Nc6-Nb8-Nd7 (the Breyer variation), an early Bb7 (the Zaitsev Variation), plus a mix of all these.

Tal enjoyed playing the Ruy Lopez with both colors. When playing with White, I noticed that he would often go for a positional approach, on the surface, but only to turn the table out of nowhere with some brilliant sacrifice or tactical shot.

The following game against Averbakh (a very strong Russian GM) is a good example of this.

It’s amazing that Tal sacrificed a piece with the sequence started with 22. Rad1, in order to follow up with the silent move 26. Bb3!!

A quiet move after a piece sacrifice is always a pleasure for the eyes. In this case, Tal brings the light-squared Bishop back to life, and despite being a piece up Black finds himself deadly lost.

This game shows well a typical behavior in the Ruy Lopez. A quiet game, apparently all centered around strategy and positional moves, suddenly becomes sharp. In fact, Misha was “famous” for his ability to generate attacking maneuvers to the opponent’s King out of nowhere.

My favorite Tal’s game in the Ruy Lopez as White is the following game against Spassky. A big clash between two former World Champions that Tal wins with a scintillating attack to Black’s King.

To tell you the truth before you look at the game, this is another case of an insane attacking maneuvers architected by Tal. The Knight’s sacrifice in h5 is simply astonishing. I bet Spassky was suprised too!

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Tal played the Ruy Lopez with the Black pieces too. After all, this Opening is so complex that both sides have their chances to generate interesting play, and tactical complications!

Mikhail used to play both the Closed and the Open Ruy Lopez, with Black. The Open line has become trendy again, in the last 2-3 years, and has therefore been analyzed till death.

Tal enjoyed the Black’s side of the Ruy Lopez, and he would often choose a provocative approach, inviting White to over-expand his position.

The following game was played at the URS Spatakiad, a strong tournament that was held in the last decades of the Soviet Union. Tal’s opponent challenge him in a very complex battle, and Tal replies with an insane piece sacrifice in the heart of White’s position!

The Closed Ruy Lopez Chigorin Variation

The Chigorin Variation is the most popular variation of the Closed Ruy Lopez by almost 3000 games. The other two, the Breyer and Zaitsev Variations, are neck-and-neck for second in popularity.

Many players are drawn to the Chigorin Variation because it offers complicated and strategic positions. Although White enjoys an enduring space advantage, this variation is perfectly playable by Black.

This should not put you off because all it takes is a little preparation to gain a nice opening advantage.

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 9.h3 Na5

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy LopezRuy Lopez Chigorin Starting Position

10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.d5 Nc4 13.b3 Nb6

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy LopezRuy Lopez Chigorin 13…Nb6

One of the many good things that make the Ruy Lopez one of the best chess openings for White is that you get to play across the whole board. White will expand on the queenside with moves like a4-a5, and transfer his knight to support his expansion on the kingside.

Take a look at how Veselin Topalov makes use of his knights to support his kingside pawn-storm against strong chess grandmaster Alexei Shirov.

Topalov, Veselin (2735) – Shirov, Alexei (2736), 1-0, 2017.01.07

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

Old Steinitz Defense (3…d6)

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

Black defends the centre in the most straightforward manner. This playable but White obtains a freer position without much trouble, so the defense is rarely seen nowadays. This solid method of defense is named after Wilhelm Steinitz, the first official World Chess Champion. Black does not try to do anything spectacular in the early stages, instead settling for simple piece development and a firm defensive position.

Although this is a fundamentally sound approach which can never be refuted, it does not really challenge White in the early stages and the first player has a multitude of ways to achieve a comfortable position. That is why 3…d6 has never achieved any great popularity at either club or master level. At the same time we must recognize that Black is not breaking any traditional rules of opening play. Therefore, any expectations of White to be able to force a substantial opening advantage can be viewed as wholly unrealistic.

White’s most natural reply to 3…d6 is 4.d4

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

This is by far the most popular move, immediately fighting for the central squares. The pressure on Black’s e5 pawn usually encourages him to cede to centre by consenting to the exchange with …exd4 at some point during the next few moves.

Take a Siesta in the Neo-Steinitz

Ruy Lopez Opening: Siesta Variation — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6 5.c3 f5

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.

Neo-Steinitz Defense to Break the Pin

Ruy Lopez Opening: Neo-Steinitz Defense — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 d6

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.

Tal and the Caro-Kann Defense

The Caro-Kann defense is a sound system with a pretty positional touch. Black builds up on his pawns chain, placing them on white squares, but also gets rid of the light-squard bishop that could potentially become passive.

In this sense, many say the Caro-Kann is an improved French defense, because in the French Black often struggles with his bad bishop. The truth is that both systems are sound and absolutely playable. The French is a more dynamic opening, whereas the Caro-Kann is slightly more static.

Let’s take a look at the first few moves.

Looking at the board above a few points are immediately evident:

  • Black has given up the center in order to ease his development.
  • Black intends to build a solid pawn chain with c6-e6, and his light-squared Bishop is already outside of the chain. It is actually a strong piece.
  • White, on the other hand, enjoys more space in the center and has free hands about how to develop her initiative.

This static touch in the Caro-Kann is probably also the main reason why Botvinnik chose this opening as his main weapon against Tal during their World Championship Match in 1960.

Misha (Tal’s nickname) won two games with White against Botvinnik’s Caro-Kann. Both were attacking games, where Tal handled the Caro-Kann in such a way that Botvinnik could not avoid complications and tactical shots.

My favorite game with the Caro-Kann in the match is game 17th. Tal handled the White’s side of the Caro-Kann in such a brilliant and anti-positional way!

In his self-biography, Mikhail confesses that he knew he was taking way too many risks with those anti-positional moves, but he says that it all looked very interesting!

Here is the full game:

A few things worth mentioning:

    1. Bg5 is a very strange move, so atypical in the Caro-Kann. White bishop is not doing much over there.
    1. f4?!? is the most anti-positional move of the game. It weakens a lot of squares in White’s field. On the other hand, it forces Black to play more actively.
  • Tal collects the full point in furious zeitnot and with a cute attack to Black’s king!

Botvinnik decided to play the Caro-Kann in the re-Match too. At that time, whenever the World Champion would loose his title, he would have the right to ask for a re-match, to be held one year later.

So Botvinnik and Tal played the re-match in 1961, and Botvinnik got his World Champion Title back. The Caro-Kann games in the rematch were quite different from the previous year, also because Tal decided to play the Advanced Variation more often.

The Advanced Variation in the Caro-Kann (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. e5) is a more “forcing” line, where the development set-up is less flexible (for both sides), but positions are also very tactical and tricky to handle.

I can only assume Tal was hoping to drive the games into a street-fight sort of battle. However Botvinnik came in very well prepared and managed to win more than one game.

Tal, of course, won some model games too. In particular, the following game is my favorite from the re-Match, with the Caro-Kann.

As you can see, with the Advanced Variation White hopes to drive Black’s into a cramped position and then exploit his space advantage. I have to say, this is also my favorite choice and the variation that I have chosen in my Opening Repertoire!

Sample lecture: Andrew Martin – The Open Ruy Lopez

Andrew David Martin (born 18th May 1957 in West Ham, London)
is an English chess player with the title of International Master. He has won
various national and international tournaments and has been playing for years
in the Four Nations Chess League, at present (July 2009) for Wood Green Hilsmark
Kingfisher, previously for the Camberley Chess Club. Martin received his IM
title in1984. He earned his first grandmaster norm in the British Championship
of 1997 in Brighton. Martin was a commentator on the chess world championship
between Kasparov and Kramnik in 2000.

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

On the 21st February 2004 Martin set a new world record for simultaneous chess.
He faced 321 chess players at the same time. His result was: 294 wins, 26 draws
and only one loss. Martin is known as a professional chess teacher and head
trainer of the English youth team. He trains eight schools (Yateley Manor, Aldro,
Millfield, Sunningdale, Waverley School, St Michael’s Sandhurst, Wellington
College, Salesian College). Martin is a chess columnist, an author of chess
books and the author of various instructional videos. He was the publisher of
the series Trends Publications. Martin lives in Sandhurst, England, is married
and the father of two daughters and two sons. His present Elo rating is 2423
(as of July 2009).

Tal and the King’s Indian Defense

The King’s Indian Defense is one of my favorite Openings. And it was one of Tal’s favorite too!

Games originated by the KID (King’s Indian Defense) are very complex battles from tactical as well as strategical point of view. The uncompromising type of positions it leads to has made it a lethal weapon in the brain of great chess players. I wrote an in-depth King’s Indian tutorial that I recommended checking out.

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There a couple of Tal’s games with the KID that I simply love. I have shown to you one of them at the beginning of this article, where Tal played an insane Queen’s sacrifice.

However, my favorite Tal’s game (maybe in absolute) is the FAMOUS 10th game of the World Chess Championship he played in 1960 against Botvinnik.

In that game, Tal sacrificed a piece without any “obvious” reason. The game was so complex, astonishing and breathtaking that it was heavily discussed in the days that followed it. All famous GMs gave their own personal analysis of the position, with lots of variations.

Tal, on his part, just said “the sacrifice is good simply because all other moves are bad at this point. And I didn’t calculate much, it’s just positional compensation”.

When I read his analysis in his self-biographic book, I was amazed. By the way, that book is really great, I warmly recommend it!

Back to the game. Tal played the KID against which Botvinnik chose the Fianchetto system, a solid and sound approach.

Both players opted for a full-board battle, meaning that the action was not concentrated on one specific part of the board, it was simply everywhere.

Then, out of the blue, Tal sacrificed a piece for a pawn! You can find lots of analysis about this game, but Tal simply followed his superior intuition, as he said in his own words.

Here is this faboulous game!

To wrap up Tal’s beautiful games with the King’s Indian Defense, I want to show to you another masterpiece, slightly less known.

In the following game Tal played a very complex piece sacrifice, to follow up with a variation where he recovered the piece but lost one pawn.

However, his deep positional understanding told him that he would have had a strong positional compensation for the pawn. And indeed he won thanks to White’s King weakness in 39 moves! Enjoy the game!

Schliemann Variation (3…f5)

Starting position of the Schliemann variation

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

This is the infamous Schliemann variation named after Adolf Schliemann (1817-1872). It is also sometimes known as the Jaenisch Gambit, named after Carl Jaenisch (1813-1872) who was in fact the first one to play it. The move 3…f5 has the ability, like no other variation, to strike terror into the heart of an unsuspecting Ruy Lopez player.

The Schliemann has never been considered a truly respectable option by the world’s top players. It seems to break all the established principles of opening play by weakening the king’s protection and neglecting to develop a piece. Nevertheless, this risky policy has never been completely refuted despite numerous attempts. The variation has stood the test of time and undoubtedly has the right to exist


Black plans to open the f-file for the purpose of attack, in the course of which he frequently sacrifices a pawn or two. The opening has a dubious reputation, but keeping control of the game is difficult for White to do against aggressive play. By thrusting the f-pawn into the game on the third move, Black aims to seize the initiative at the earliest opportunity.

Final Thoughts on One of the Best Chess Openings for White

The Ruy Lopez is one of the best chess openings for White and has the added advantage of teaching much more than only opening play. Become a better, more well-rounded chess player by taking time to learn this classic opening.

There is a lot to learn when playing the Ruy Lopez but much of this is related more to middlegame technique than the opening. Take it slowly and you will find yourself marveling at the richness of this opening.

Start playing this opening today and learn why many regard it as not only one of the best chess openings for white, but one of the essential openings for white too!

Of course, Black doesn’t have to enter the Closed Ruy Lopez and has different third move options in the Ruy Lopez chess opening. A well-prepared White player must know how to meet these moves and GM Damian Lemos will help prepare you for them.

His Deep Dive Ruy Lopez Part 1 course will have you ready to face Black’s alternatives to 3…a6 with confidence. You will get over 7 hours of grandmaster opening coaching.

The Closed Ruy Lopez: Breyer Variation

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 9.h3 Nb8

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy LopezRuy Lopez Breyer Starting Position

Black intends to bring the knight to d7 where it helps support his center, can easily reach the kingside to help defend, or put pressure on White’s center from c5. This is a super-solid system that has withstood the assault of chess engines.

Once again White gets to play across the board after closing the center with d5. What makes the Ruy Lopez one of the best chess openings for White is that you get a position that is easier to play than your opponent’s position.

White’s advantage might seem slight but it is a long-lasting advantage!

10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.Bc2 Re8 13.Nf1 Bf8 14.Ng3 g6

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy LopezClosed Ruy Lopez Breyer 14…g6

White’s position is built upon classic chess principles, and it is no surprise that from such a strong position White can choose where to attack. This is what makes it one of the best chess openings for White.

When facing the Breyer variation, Grandmaster Zigurds Lanka chose to start by playing on the queenside but ended the game by attacking the kingside. Even the simplification of material and establishing a strong knight on d3 was not enough to save Black.

Lanka, Zigurds – Meszaros, Michal, 1-0, CZE-chT 0809, 2009.03.21

Fire Tactical Shots in the MacKenzie Variation

Ruy Lopez Opening: MacKenzie Variation — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d4

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.

Take Out the Bishop in the Norwegian

Ruy Lopez Opening: Norwegian Defense — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 b5 5.Bb3 Na5

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.

Throw in a Gambit with the Center Attack

Ruy Lopez Opening: Center Attack — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d4

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 Closed Ruy Lopez: Zaitsev Variation

This variation of the Ruy Lopez chess opening for Black is a favorite of former world champion Anatoly Karpov. In light of this, we must not take the variation lightly.

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 9.h3 Bb7

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy LopezClosed Ruy Lopez Zaitsev Starting Position

10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a3

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy LopezClosed Ruy Lopez Zaitsev 12.a3

The move 12.a3 is a tricky move by White. White intends to see if Black will play 12…h6 or 12…g6.

If Black plays 12…g6 White will keep the bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal where it places pressure on f7. However, if Black plays 12…h6 White will place the bishop on c2.

In the Closed Ruy Lopez there is a lot of maneuvering by both sides with pieces getting developed and undeveloped. The many good strategies available to White is what makes the Ruy Lopez one of his best chess openings

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

Because White has many good strategies to choose from, in the Ruy Lopez chess opening, understanding the ideas and recognizing the patterns is crucial to playing the Closed Ruy Lopez.

Look at how Indian GM Harikrishna maneuvered his pieces in his victory against Ivanchuk.

Harikrishna, P. – Ivanchuk, V., 1-0, World Rapid 2017

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

Berlin Wall

Starting Position of the Berlin Wall (mainline: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb4 Nf6)

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Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

The Berlin Wall of the Ruy Lopez has the reputation of being an extremely tough nut to crack. The most solid line for Black is 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6. It’s quite an underrated variation that has been used by Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier for decades. However, the Berlin defense achieved world wide popularity after being utilized with great success by Vladimir Kramnik in his World Championship victory against Kasparov in 2000. The Berlin defense may not be suited for the attacking player since the queens are usually traded as early as move 8 (4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+Kxd8).

Berlin Strategy

The game is relatively slow and moves are more strategic and positional. However, there are certain lines where the play can become extremely sharp and tactical, with white hoping to exploit the vulnerable position of Black’s king in the centre. It’s all very fascinating, but whether it represents the ideal choice for the club player is debatable.

Before we start…

Before we start I think it’s better to get into the mood of this article. Personally, I am often speechless when I see Tal’s sacrifices. They just look so bold and so insane that I would not know how to comment.

Before we go into the analysis of Mikhail Tal’s Opening Repertoire, and in particular into his favorite Openings, I think it’s worth looking at the following game, not very well known.

In a quiet position Tal sets a trap for his opponent. The trap is actually an invitation to take his queen, without any obvious drawback!

So Tal sacrifices his Queen for two minor pieces, Knight and Bishop. Then keeps on playing the position like if nothing had happened, and eventually delivers checkmate with rook and bishop.

I didn’t know this game until I made some additional research for this article. I think I read Tal’s biography countless times, but this game is not mentioned there! It truly fascinates me.

Bird Defense (3…Nd4)

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

This strange looking defense is named after the English player, Henry Bird, who played it consistently during the second half of the 19th century. Although some strong grandmasters occasionally use it as surprise weapon, the defense has never really become popular.

This is hardly surprising considering that Black violates the established rules of development by moving the same piece twice in the opening, only to see it exchanged, and at the same time compromises his pawn structure.

Naturally the move also has some positive effects. Black immediately relieves any future worries about the exchange Bb5xc6 and, assuming that white exchanges on d4, Black’s d4 pawn will cramp the white position to a certain degree. The Bishop on b5 is also left looking slightly misplaced, although quite often Black will have to take the time to chase it with c7-c6 in order to be able to move his d-pawn and let the queen’s bishop into the game.

All in all, the Bird is an interesting system in which White must demonstrate a good level of understanding and specific knowledge in order to guarantee an advantage.

4.Nxd4 exd4 5.0-0

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

This is universally recognized as the best move. Castling is an essential part of White’s plan, so by playing it immediately he retains the maximum flexibility regarding the rest of his army


The most important general idea to understand in this variation is the issue of where to retreat the b5 bishop in the event of Black playing …c6. He could play an immediate 5…c6 or he could postpone it for a move or two. The rule to remember is: In case of an immediate 5…c6, you retreat to c4. In the event of the common 5…Bc5 6.d3 c6 you should go to a4 for reasons that will appear apparent

Morphy Defense — Front Door of the Ruy Lopez

Ruy Lopez Opening: Morphy Defense — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6

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. 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.

Keep Her Steady in the Exchange Variation

Ruy Lopez Opening: Exchange Variation — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6

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.

Delayed Exchange Variation — The Strategic Uppercut

Ruy Lopez Opening: Delayed Exchange Variation — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Bxc6 dxc6

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.

Open the Road to the Enemy King

Ruy Lopez Opening: Open Spanish — 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4

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.

Origin of The Spanish Game

Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez

Despite being one of the most topical openings at the start of the new millennium, the Ruy Lopez is old, dating to the fifteenth century. It gets its name from the Spanish priest Ruy Lopez, who was the first to treat the opening systematically in his Libro del Ajedrez of 1561.

Today, the Ruy lopez is known as the Spanish game in countries such as Europe and South America. The opening is quite sophisticated and embodies all the principles of modern chess. Other openings can be out of date, out of fashion or simply offbeat, but white’s third move 3.Bg5, begins one of the few paths in the openings where both sides seek the ultimately best moves.

This approach can be sometimes impractical, as it requires a player to consider many chess principles and know many long variations, making it easy to make a mistake or blunder. The opening will require more study and effort to learn. As a result, many chess players choose to use an alternate opening such as the Giuoco Piano for their repertoire.

However, the effort to learn the Ruy Lopez can be minimized by choosing one specific variation. The lines without 3…a6 are particularly easy to learn. Meanwhile, learning the more difficult and long variations has the virtue of presenting an opponent with hard problems and the enjoyment of seeing fascinating and cutting edge chess ideas.

Now, the Ruy Lopez may be divided into two systems/variations:

  1. Variations without 3…a6
  2. Variations with 3…a6

The variations without …a6 are thought to give Black fewer options than those systems with it, but this is a generality. It is true that these variations are very old defenses to the Ruy Lopez, but they have their points.

These systems are also simpler to learn as black, so the novice is recommended to study one of them before the more involved variations with 3…a6. The variations of the Ruy Lopez without 3…a6 may be divided into 3 systems:

  1. Berlin Wall
  2. Schliemann Variation
  3. Bird Defense
  4. Fianchetto Defense
  5. Cozio Defense
  6. Steinitz Defense
  7. Classical Variation
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Павел Алексеев
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Opening Repertoire: The Ruy Lopez
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