Kindred’s Special: The Ruy Lopez Bishop is the Hallmark of Chess

When I think of the Ruy Lopez Opening it reminds me of looking down a deep dark well or multitude of cornstalks in a cornfield.  In 1948 the famous Chess Review writer, Hans Kmoch, referred to it as The Inexhaustible Fountain. In some respects our comparisons mirror but his done in a few brilliant words! That, too, can mirror the intricacies of charm that embody the soul of the “King of Openings” as I once coined it. Dr. Emmanuel Lasker is not to be denied, noting in one of his lectures, “The most logical of all the openings.” Not to be outdone, Anatoly Karpov wrote in his Chess is My Life that the Ruy Lopez is one of the oldest of openings, but to this day it is constantly practiced and fully retains it’s attractiveness.  Some of it’s variations have been studied thoroughly, while others require further research and practical testing. It has been said that it does not deserve much attention, that it has been analyzed through and through by many generations of chess players, and that it is impossible to find anything new in it. Even more mistaken are those who think that after reading through and learning by heart the variations given in the books, they can successfully employ them in tournament games. Grandmasters have a very serious approach to the study of this complex opening and it is no accident that the great Capablanca considered the Ruy Lopez to be the test for understanding position play.” The loose cannon in Russian chess, GM David Bronstein, in his Two Hundred Open Games concluded in writing: “After four centuries, the fundamental question, ‘What is the best defense?’ has still not been decided.

What drives me is chess history.  I love to read and study many topics and almost in every case I covet the joy of historical background that draws me to the, in this case, the chessnuts that make up the chessworld.  Chess stars and writers like Steinitz, Lasker and Tarrasch, generally seemed to like less the modern day joys experienced coming from ‘putting the question’ to the Ruy bishop by 3…a6, known as the Morphy Defense. The early world champions–Steinitz and Lasker–preferred the quiet 3…d6 or the stronger 3…Nf6  4. O-O d6.  Another contrast between then world champion Karpov and Steinitz, Lasker and Capablanca reflects the changing attitude toward the approach of chess play; there exhibited much more adventure in their games whereas Karpov displays a strictly correct approach to solving the mysteries of this board game, much the way a mathematician views a problem.

Reflecting on my ‘square count’ one might assume that placing the Bishop on c4 would be superior to playing it to b5 as it strikes across the center squares and attacks the f7 point I once named the inherent weak point since it was guarded only by the King. This leads to an entirely different game plan usually and nothing is wrong with it. But remember what Capablanca said about getting the bishop into the guts of the enemy position. The real secret of the Bb5 ploy is to entice Black to chase it from it’s perch via a4 and later b3. This pawn expansion on the Q-wing by Black of playing a6>b5 is known to produce some weakness in the Black Q-side pawn structure. Remember that once pawns advance, they cannot retreat!

Dr. Lasker often essayed the Exchange variation 3…a6 4. Bxc6 because dxc6 5. d4  exd4  6. Qxd4 Qxd4 7. Nxd4 gives White a pawn majority on the King-side while the pawns on a2,b2 and c2 is sufficient to hold back the 4-pawns on the Q-side due to the fact that double pawns exist in that mass. Most modern authorities today suggest this was Lasker’s patented idea. However, he also essayed often what might be superior 5. Nc3.  A bit of history here. Capablanca played this at the 1914 St. Petersburg Tournament against Janowski and won a brilliant game. Capablanca wrote in his notes that he had in fact discussed this move with Alekhine who said he felt it superior to 5. d4. Lets take a look at this splendid game.  For historical reasons, I decided to use the English Discriptive notation commonly used prior to making algebraic forced on players world-wide.

1. P-K4  P-K4  2. N-KB3  N-QB3  3. B-N5  P-QR3  4. BxN  QPxB  5. N-B3  B-QB4 (f7-f6 is interesting) 6. P-Q3  B-KN5  7. B-K3  BxB (this opens the f-file) 8. PxB  Q-K2 9. O-O  O-O-O (bold play typical of the attacking player Janowski) 10. Q-K1  N-R3 11. R-N1  P-B3 12. P-N4  N-B2  13. P-QR4  BxN 14. RxB  P-QN3 15. P-N5  BPxP 16. PxP  P-QR4 17. N-Q5  Q-B4 18. P-B4 N-N4 19.R-B2 N-K3  20. Q-B3  R-Q2  21. R-Q1  K-N2  22. P-Q4  Q-Q3  23. R-B2  PxP  24. PxP  N-B5  25. P-B5  NxN  26. PxN  QxQP 27. P-B6ch K-N1 28. PxR  QxP/Q2 29. P-Q5  R-K1 30. P-Q6 PxP 31.Q-B6 Resigns.

It is important for you to acquaint yourself with different forms of notation as old books are printed using the above ED notation.

In the Exchange variation, Black has the two-bishops as a trade off for the weakened Q-side Pawn Structure depending upon the strategies employed by both sides into the middle game. The concept was re-popularized by Bobby Fischer who used it in many of his games and usually played 5. O-O.  A study of his games will enrich your being and suggests that there is more than one or two ways to skin a cat!

Personally I like to refrain from 3…a6 and prefer 3…Nf6 following the idea of Lasker’s principle, ‘Knights before Bishops’.

Your personal style is important. What makes the Ruy Lopez appealing to me is the fact that both sides can have room to explore.

The idea of USCF ratings always had a plus and negative effect on the body soul. Players who play for the rating have their reward. Players who play to create beauty have their reward. Players who simply want to enjoy chess play with friends in the home or at a local club have their reward. Players who travel to distant tournaments and cram into a weekend up to several games likewise have their reward and perhaps a headache or miserable trip home thinking about the darn blunder made in the last game! My site is for each and all as well as the general public who rarely ever considered chess anything but a game. Visit here and be enlightened.

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