Two thematic ideas in the Open Ruy Lopez, the Howell Attack and a knight sac.

Continuing in our series of posts on the Ruy Lopez, Open, I thought I would go over some of the ideas in the Howell attack, an interesting sideline that involves a queen sacrifice. After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb4 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7. Ba3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 we have the following position which is extremely common in the Ruy lopez open:

Here, there are several moves at white’s disposal. Most common are 9.c3, and 9.Nbd2. However, white can invite complications with 9.Qe2, entering the “Howell Attack.” After 9…Be7 10. Rd1 Nc5 white has built enough pressure on the d-file that he can play the surprising 11.Bxd5.

After 11…Bxd5 12.Nc3 Black has the passive queen sacrifice 12…Bc4!

allowing 13. Rxd8 with check! After 13…Rxd8, the best place for the queen is on e3, giving us the critical tabiya for this attack.

The combination of white’s weak back rank and black’s lead in development compensate for the material, which will soon be returned. Probably fearing the tactical complications involving the weak back rank, white tried 14. Qe1 in the following game, in which black’s queenside piece activity sprang to life instantly.

this game demonstrates why 14. Qe1 fails to adequately defend all of white’s weaknesses. After 14. Qe3, black must press with 14…b4, hitting the knight on c3.

Rather than moving the knight, which is guarding the sensitive d1 square, white does best with the intermezzo 15. b3, pushing back on the bishop. After 15…Be6 16.Ne4 Rd1+ 17.Ne1 Nd4 we have this position

There is no defending against the fork on c2, and so the best continuation is 18.Bb2 Nxc2 19. Qe2 Rxa1 which gives a theoretically equal game to black in this position.

Here are some illustrative games in this line which show various ideas for both sides. Enjoy!

Another idea in the Open Ruy Lopez is the knight sacrifice on g3, in fact it is theory, and the arising position is obviously critical. Below, find an eye opening game collection in this variation: