Dominate with the Ruy Lopez – How to Play the Spanish Opening

The Ruy Lopez chess 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.

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Dominate With The Ruy Lopez - The Ultimate Opening Guide For Beginners

In 1561, Ruy Lopez de Segura published a book on chess called Libro del Ajedrez (Book of Chess) in which the Ruy Lopez 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 Vishy Anand, Fabiano Caruana, and Magnus Carlsen frequently play the Ruy Lopez).

The Ruy Lopez is a classical opening based upon classical strategies and development. This makes it a great learning tool for anybody serious about improving their chess understanding. Learn more about this exceptional chess opening from GM Marian Petrov.

A Classical Opening for the Improving Chess Player

On the one hand, many chess players love to play the Ruy Lopez as it’s exceptionally versatile. 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 this chess opening because the Ruy Lopez opening theory is very extensive.

However, the Ruy Lopez chess opening 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.

By all means, say a silent thank you to Ruy Lopez de Segura for his efforts in keeping this wonderful opening alive.

Chess Infographic: Spanish Opening
Chess Infographic: Spanish Opening

Essential Variations in the Ruy Lopez

The best way to master the Ruy Lopez opening theory is to start with the mainlines and expand your knowledge through analysis of your games.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6

Ruy Lopez 3...a6
Ruy Lopez 3…a6

Exchange Variation: 4.Bxc6

Noah’s Ark Trap: 4.Ba4 d6 5.d4?!

Peter Svidler’s 6.d3: 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3

Closed Ruy Lopez: 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Be7 7.Re1 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3

There is nobody better than GM Marian Petrov to help you learn a chess opening. He has put together a high-quality 10-hour course that teaches you all you need to know. Now you can master the Ruy Lopez chess opening and theory.

Questions and Answers

1.) Is the Ruy Lopez a good chess opening?

The Ruy Lopez is one of the most reliable openings for both sides and teaches you a lot about chess. Start by learning the typical strategies before moving on to the Ruy Lopez opening theory.

2.) Is the Ruy Lopez aggressive?

In the Ruy Lopez, it’s possible for White to play very aggressively on both sides of the board.

3.) What is the point of the Ruy Lopez?

There are many options for White in the Ruy Lopez. These options include a strategic battle or a battle where White attacks on the kingside and Black on the queenside.

4.) Is the Ruy Lopez an opening for white?

The Ruy Lopez is one of the classical openings for White and held in high esteem by many of the greatest chess players to have played the game.

5.) Is the Ruy Lopez good for Black?

Black has many choices to help him reach positions where he feels most comfortable. These options range from the super-solid Berlin to the fighting Open Variation, and the extremely classical Closed Variation.

6.) How do you beat the Ruy Lopez?

White can choose whether to play on the queenside or launch a direct attack against the Black king. The Ruy Lopez bishop is a potent attacking weapon and a White knight will often take up a great attacking position on f5.

7.) How old is the Ruy Lopez opening?

The Ruy Lopez is named after a Spanish Priest Ruy Lopez de Segura and is more than five hundred years old.

8.) Is the Ruy Lopez for beginners?

Because the Ruy Lopez teaches you so much about chess it is an ideal opening for beginners. Thanks to what you learn by playing the Ruy Lopez it won’t be long before you shed the beginner label.

Two Excellent Reasons to Play the Ruy Lopez

If you don’t already play the Ruy Lopez, here are 2 reasons why you should start:

  1. Vishy Anand insists the Ruy Lopez and the Sicilian Defense are the 2 essential openings to understand if you want to understand chess.
  2. Mikhail Botvinnik claimed Polugaevsky was held back from being a World Championship contender because he didn’t play the Ruy Lopez.
Learn how to play the Spanish Torture Ruy Lopez, Beginning with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5

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 the Ruy Lopez chess opening and theory. Learn how to play this chess opening well and you’ll become a better strategist and evaluate complex positions with accuracy.

The Ruy Lopez – One Of The Best Chess Openings For Beginners

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. Ruy Lopez de Segura has certainly helped many chess players improve their game thanks to his work with this opening.

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.

White plays 3.Bb5 entering the Ruy Lopez spanish torture

The Opening Moves of the Spanish Game

The Ruy Lopez (or Spanish Games) begins with the following moves:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 (see the diagram on the right)

One of White’s key ideas is to quickly control the center. This is achieved by placing a pawn in the center on the first move (1.e4), a move that also liberates the White’s light-squared bishop and queen.

By playing 2.Nf3, White immediately attacks the Black central pawn on e5. Afterward, 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 this chess opening for both sides. In the following article, we want to provide you with an overview of three of the most common lines.

The Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation

One line that is frequently played 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 4.Bxc6 dxc6. White has managed to create doubled c-pawns in black’s camp, in exchange for the bishop pair.

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. Therefore, White should stay 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 Exchange Variation continues 5.d4 exd4 6.Qxd4 Qxd4 7.Nxd4 (see the diagram below):

Understanding the Structure Ensures Success

One way to reduce the Ruy Lopez opening theory is by learning the different pawn structures that occur in the mainline variations. Above all, one of the structures you definitely must know is the doubled-pawns of the Exchange Variation.

This position shows the basic 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.

White exchanges on c6 reaching the Ruy Lopez exchange variation pawn structure

However, with pieces on the board, however, this doubled pawn is less of a liability. Besides 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.

The Closed Ruy Lopez

Instead of taking the knight after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6, White’s main move by far is 4.Ba4. Therefore, 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. Thus, 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.

The Noah’s Ark Trap – A Key Chess Opening Trap To Avoid With White

If you want to play the Spanish Game 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. In the following, we’ll take a look at these moves step-by-step:

The 6.d3 Spanish Game

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 the 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.

In the following video, the seven-time Russian Chess Champion Super-GM Peter Svidler analyzes in detail the Spanish with 6.d3, which cuts off most of the Ruy Lopez opening theory. No need to study the Marshall Gambit, the Chigorin, or the Breyer. If you are looking for a solid, non-theoretical opening that will confuse your enemies, then you have to check out the Introduction to the 6.d3 Spanish by Peter Svidler. 

Five Notable Spanish Games Played By World Champions

The Ruy Lopez continues to be popular at the highest level and it is games like these that keep it so popular. There can be no doubt these games would have brought Ruy Lopez de Segura much joy if he were with us today.

By all means, feel free to use what learn from them in your own games

Anatoly Karpov – Wolfgang Unzicker, 1974.06.18, 1-0, Olympiad Final-A, Round 4, Nice FRA

Garry Kasparov – Anatoly Karpov, 1986.09.15, 1-0, Kasparov – Karpov World Championship Rematch, Round 16, London ENG / Leningrad URS

Mikhail Tal – Johann Hjartarson, 1987.02.20, 1-0, Reykjavik Round 2, Reykjavik ISL

Garry Kasparov – Anatoly Karpov, 1990.12.15, 1-0, Kasparov – Karpov World Championship Match, Round 20, Lyon FRA

Magnus Carlsen – Hans Krogh Harestad, 2003.07.23, 1-0, XXV Politiken Cup, Round 9, Copenhagen DEN

Conclusion – Dominate with the Ruy Lopez

The Ruy Lopez Opening (Spanish Opening) has been played for some 500 years and is renowned for its rich, strategic play. We owe many thanks to Ruy Lopez de Segura for bringing it to our attention.

It has been used regularly by every world chess champion and is often one of the first openings beginners learn.

It is not only one of the best openings for beginners but also played at master level, with opening theory developed as far as to move 30.

If you are picking an opening to play for yourself, you may very well choose the Ruy Lopez. You will enjoy many successful chess games while paying homage to a humble monk named Ruy Lopez de Segura.

After becoming a much stronger chess player, you can keep on playing it, without a need to dramatically alter your repertoire. The best way to get a feel for this opening is to practice playing with both colors and conducting post-game analyses. You will get a feel for where to place the pieces, understand the key positions and maneuvers.

Another great method to get a feel for the opening is going over annotated Grandmaster’s games. You can absorb many key ideas that will help you in your own games.

Finally, you need to build up a coherent opening repertoire step-by-step. For this reason, we’ve got a special deal for you. Click here to get instant access to a 7 hour video series on the Ruy Lopez, with 50% off.

See also:

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