The Closed Ruy Lopez chess opening variations are a sound choice at all levels and will also help your general improvement as a chess player.
Many beginners shy away from the Ruy Lopez because of the theoretical workload. The Closed Ruy Lopez is a classic opening where the first nine moves are very thematic.
Remember, when you see an opening variation in the Closed Ruy Lopez of 15 moves, the first 9 moves will be well-known to you.
The Closed Ruy Lopez is extremely popular but it isn’t Black’s only option and knowing how to meet Black’s alternatives to 3…a6 is essential. Here is GM Damian Lemos to show you how to meet 3…Bc5.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Let us take a look at the three main variations of the Closed Ruy Lopez:
- the Chigorin Variation,
- the Breyer Variation, and
- the Zaitsev Variation.
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
10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7 12.d5 Nc4 13.b3 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
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
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
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
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
10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 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
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
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.