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Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Game), C68 – plans and ideas for both sides, main lines and traps.
Learn the opening theory of the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Game) here:
The Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez (also known as the Spanish Game) begins with the moves:
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
The Spanish Game starts after white plays 1.e4 e5, 2.Nf3 Nc6, 3.Bb5. And this is now the Ruy Lopez. And each move so far was designed to increase control over key central squares, and white is trying to push through with d4, and attack the e5 pawn, the e5 square, and black is fighting to stop that, simply.
Black’s main response to the Ruy Lopez is pawn to a6, and that’s a move which is indirectly defending the e5 pawn and preventing the d4 break. It’s disrupting the bishop, that’s attacking the knight, that’s defending the e5 pawn and stopping d4, which might sound complicated, but it’s actually really simple.
The opening moves of the Ruy Lopez make perfect sense when it comes to central control and central pawn breaks. Each side is trying to get as much as possible from the central position out of the opening. And the Exchange Variation is the simplest approach white can take in resolving the issue which occurred; black is attacking his bishop, which was developed to b5 to disrupt the defense of e5 and d4, so the simplest solution is just to take the knight and weaken black’s defenses.
The exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez starts after white captures the knight on c6 with Bxc6. Playing this line is useful for both beginner players and for high level grandmasters because it offers a simple plan for white and black has to play well in order not to lose.
The main asset black has after the exchange is the pawn structure. Black ruins his queenside pawn by recapturing with dxc6 and white has a permanent advantage. Black, on the other hand, has the bishop pair as compensation, and he has deprived white of his strongest piece – the light squared bishop.
Study the Exchange Spanish because it will improve your understanding of pawn structures and imbalances in positions. This opening is perfect for improving your endgame play as well, because you will be forced to plan way ahead to utilize you advantages in the position.
I would recommend studying three old masters who played the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez with great success – Emanuel Lasker, Bobby Fischer (who popularized the move 5.0-0 as the main line) and Alexander Alekhine.
The latest theory has seen significant improvements for black, and there is an article by Jon Jacobs written in July 2005 for the Chess Life magazine (page 21), in which he writes: “A database search (limited to games longer than 20 moves, both players FIDE 2300+) reveals the position after 7.Nxd4 was reached 20 times from 1985–2002. White’s results were abysmal: +0−7=13.” However, that doesn’t have to mean the opening has been refuted. It just highlights the advantage black has out of the opening due to lack of pressure by white.
Another training method I’d recommend is setting up the pawn structure which occurs after the opening in the main line exchange variation and trying to create plans for both sides. Try pushing both sides’ pawns and try to create a passed pawn to get the feeling of what will have to be done during a real game. And remember, pawns are the soul of chess!