Ruy Lopez, Breyer

In his last few encounters with the black pieces against Anand, Carlsen has employed the Ruy Lopez Breyer variation three times and drawn all three games. As a fan, it’s odd to see these two battling in an open game so deeply in the same variation, almost matchlike, because both of them tend to be 1.d4 players. While the world anticipates the real match to come between these two (though that may not happen) I can’t help but wonder if this “battle in the breyer” is serving merely as a proxy for their behind the scene preparations in the catalan, or would they attempt to surprise one another with 1.e4 in a match setting? More on the Breyer, after the jump…

The main line of the massive ruy lopez occurs after the move 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 9.h3

Here, black has many moves at his disposal, though 9…Na5 and 9…Bb7 are probably the most popular by far. In the Breyer, black repositions his knight immediately with 9…Nb8, planning Nd7 on the next move.

In the above mentioned diagram, it appears at first glance that black does not have time for this move since he will have moved the same piece so many times that surely white will be ahead in development. However, in the closed ruy lopez, black’s queenside knight is the problem piece that is always in search of a greener pasture. In the Chigorin, it often moves around four or five times on the queenside, only to settle on a less than ideal square. In his book titled “a spanish repertoire for black”, Mihail Marin goes to great lengths to demonstrate to his readers that Black’s queenside knight is a key problem in the chigorin. By immediately repositioning the knight on d7 via b8, black will solve several problems. First of all, the notorious knight will find a useful square for the middle game, and not wander aimlessly on queenside in search of an outpost. Second of all, from d7 the knight will support the vulnerable e5 square, where black would like to keep a pawn.

The ideas for both sides after this are familiar to any lopez player. White will play d4, Nbd2-f1, and then to e3,g3, and strike on the queenside with a4. Black will generally seek to keep the position closed with c6, and possible Qc7, while responding to white’s kingside buildup and open a-file in natural ways. The three games below between Anand and Carlsen show three different plans for black. In one, black choses to open the c-file, and by far this game proves to be the most dynamic and interesting. A more common plan is to allow white to open the a-file, and even exchange heavy pieces there. This explains the very high drawing percentage for this opening, and also it’s relatively low winning percentage for black.

These ideas are all illustrated in the following four games, three of which are the Anand Carlsen games, and one of which features Topalov, who also has been an adherent of this breyer zaitsev system lately.

Also, I can’t help but throw in this link to a nice little thematic trap in the breyer.