Kindred’s Special: Ruy Lopez — Ancients and Moderns Meet via The Berlin Defense

The Ruy Lopez has been around for a long time, having believed to be founded at least on a grand scale by the Spanish Priest who writers and players of his day named as the principal exponent and product of his written material.  The American, Arthur Bisguier, was a principal advocate of the likewise ancient defense called The Berlin Defense to the Ruy Lopez.  This defensive plan for which there are a number of variations that fit in that category of honorable and time-tested opening book analysis by advocates in over-the-board as well as via correspondence play gave it life among a devoted list of players.  Still, its defensive posture lacked zip that numerous alternative systems against the Ruy Lopez appeared to offer.  Thus, it was adopted often as a side-line weapon for surprise.  But to my knowledge it was never condemned as a bad choice and found acceptance in one form or another by its fan club.

It became a weapon of choice among a small group of players in modern times that saw Tony Miles, Karel Mokry, Ivan Sokolov, Kramnik and Topalov and  post Kramnik by Leko,  Ponomaariov and Ivanchuk who essay it occasionally in their games and I am sure a database search will turn up many examples and additional players.

One particular variation that causes great publicity occurred in the World Championship Match between World Champion Garry Kasparov and his challenger Vladimir Kramnik.  The name took on life as the Berlin Endgame Variation.  The champion was unable to solve the defensive strategies employed by Kramnik and the world thus saw the rise of a new Champion of the World.  Naturally, the result produced an abundance of games in that system, much analysis devoted to it, and all of this simply enriched the whole system adding fodder for both sides of the board.

1. e4  e5  2. Nf3  Nc6  3. Bb5  Nf6  4. O-O  Nxe4  5. d4  Nd6 6. Bxc6.

Here is where history is seen in the earlier part of the position.  Dr. Emmanuel Lasker advocated this defense in his Commonsense in Chess favoring the bxc6 reply and after 7. dxe5 retreating the Knight to b7 for which he offered up some convincing reasons and play.  As a result, the chess community went to work on finding and proving that this defensive line was insufficient for equality.  I am sure there will be in the future some effort made to find flaws in current theory on it that again will make it a plausible line for Black.  In a former Marchand Open, I played it against US master Alex Dunne for surprise and he played the recommended moves that bested me. DARN!

6. … dxc6  7. dxe5  Nf5  8. Qxd8+  Kxd8

This occurred in Kasparov vs. Kramnik and many earlier games.  The question is, HOW SHOULD BLACK DEPLOY THE MOVED KING which is in the central files? Refer my lesson and comments on having the King caught in the center files.  As Susan Polgar noted in her analysis,  White is for choice having earlier viewed 9. b3 and 9. Nc3 as potential plans.  On 9. Nc3, Black has a number of replies: 9. …h6, 9…Ne7, 9….Bd7, 9….Ke8, 9…Be7, 9…Be6, or 9….a5 have been tested. She goes on to say that one doesn’t often see a position where so many different ideas yield no clarity exists to any for a judgment currently.  The side that better understands endgame play has a chance to come out on top or at least a draw.

9. Nc3  Ke8  10. h3  h6  11. b3  a5  12. Bb2  Bb4  13. Ne2  h5! 14. Nf4  a4  (15. Nd3  Be7  16. Nd2  h4 =) 15. a3? Be7  16. b4  Rh6  Black is better and went on to win the game in Mainka vs. Dautov;

9. Nc3  Ke8  10. b3  a5  11. Bb2  Bb4  12. Ne4  a4  13. a3  Be7  14. b4  Bc6  15. Rfe1  Rd8  16. Rad1  b6  17. h3  h5  18. Rxd8+ Kxd8  19. Bc1 (Neg5 is better) ..Bd5  20. Bg5 Bxg5  21. Nexg5  Re8  22. Rd1  Kc8  23. Re1  Rd8  24. Rc1  f6  25. exf6  gxf6  26. c4  fxg5  27. cxd5  Rxd5  28. Nxg5? Nd4 29. Rc4  b5  30. Rc5  Rxc5  31. bxc5  b4  32. Ne4  bxa3  33. Nc3  Ne2+ (0-1). Sedina vs. Miles.

9. Nc3  Ne7  10. h3  Ng6  11. Be3  Be7  12. Rad1+ Ke8  13. a3  h5  14. Rfe1  h4  15. Nd4  a6  f4  Rh5  17. Ne4  Bd7 (17…c5 18. Ne2  b618. c4 a5  19. c5  a4  20. Rc1  f5  21. exf6e.p. Bxf6  22. f5  Ne7  23. Nxf6+ gxf6 24. Bf4 White is slightly better but the game was drawn in 47 moves.  Kasimdzhanov vs. Topalov.

When examining these games, did you notice the theory of square count being applied in many of the positions?  The opening is excellent training for playing these endgames from either side.  The importance of squares and situation of the opposing Kings make it a good training session that will enable you to begin to see that even boring looking endgames can be delightful and challenging.

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