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[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3 5. bxc3 (5. dxc3)

I usually see bxc3 in this position and the main reason given is to capture toward the center, but doesn't bxc3 weaken the queen side and take the option of castling queen side away from white. What is wrong with dxc3? Doesn't this open up the file for the Queen and the Bishop's diagonal?

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in 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Bxc6 dxc6, I always take with the d pawn, lots of good things can happen from here, also note that the pawn is poisoned, if he takes bring the Queen to d4 –  ajax333221 Jan 8 '13 at 20:29
    
My rule (not just in chess but in general) is "always isn't", meaning if someone says that something is always the case, he's usually wrong (there may be rules of nature). So here the answer is a clear NO, not always. dxc3 will open up both the bishop and queen, which can be a big advantage. –  jwenting Feb 4 '13 at 12:44

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Either is fine. bxc3 gives you a strong chance to push in the center successfully. It leaves a dangling pawn on a2, but by playing bxc3 you should already have resigned this pawn's fate to some sacrifice for a tempo later in the game. Note you can not play 6. d4 right away since black's response will most likely be 5. ... d5 or 5. ... Nf6 putting pressure on the e4 pawn which is awkward to defend for you at this point. You should most likely respond 6. d3 which dashes any hopes you had for a pawn charge to d4. Also, black can exert pressure on the doubled pawn at c3 which is also a bit awkward for you to defend.

I personally would play dxc3. It is less committing. You no longer have to hope to pry open the middle with your pawn majority, and you have no dangling pawn you have to sacrifice eventually. You've opened up strong lines for all three of your white bishop, your dark bishop and your queen. Note this may seem not that important, but keep in mind your opponent just traded one of his bishops for your knight. If you can open up this game, you will have a strong edge on your opponent. Any attack on your e4 pawn can now be refuted, such as 5. ... Nf6 comes in with a strong pin 6. bg5. Also, it no longer looks silly for your white bishop to travel to d3 to defend e4.

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bxc3 gives you a majority of pawns in the center, and a big support for the outbreaking d4!, possibly pushing c4 and still having d4 pawn-supported. Big advantages on the long-term.

With dxc3, you're right, the bishop is free, but with already fewer pieces on the board, and Black being to play, it's not much of an advantage. The file for the Queen, “attacking” the ♟d7, which belongs on d6 where it is well defended, is worth nothing, and the possibility of castling queenside is not very relevant either (e.g. Black traded his f2- and h2-threatening bishop)

Also keep in mind that the c pawns are doubled for the time being, and you don't want this situation to last until the endgame. It will be a lot easier to trade the ♙c3 on the d file than trying to support the b pawn, or merely blocking the d file for Black.

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In my opinion, always capture towards the center when possible in the opening with your pawns. There are caveats to this of course, such as making sure to immediately capitalize on your advances by ensuring no pawns remain doubled. Also if there are attacks or tempos gained from not taking towards the center then by all means go the other way.

However, I would like to know why you would play 4. a3. To me, it seems like a blunder. I think that you should probably play Nd5 there.


[fen ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nd5

I like this because it loses the dark bishop for Black and gives White a nice tempo and some increased control over the center. More than likely Black will play Nf6 here, although Be7 would be possible to see as well. Either way it is beneficial to remove the bishop from the game.

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I just picked a3 as a random move. –  xaisoft Jan 9 '13 at 13:24

Capturing toward the center with pawns is a general guideline that should be followed when appropriately, however, just like all the other positional guidelines It should be also ignored when appropriate. In the specific case of the Ruy Lopez: Exchange Variation (the opening you mention) it is more popular to capture with the d pawn because it gives your queen and open file, and keeps your pawn structure a little better (two pawn islands instead of three).

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Capture towards the center is often valid when the choice stands between the a-pawn and c-pawn (as well as f-pawn and h-pawn). For example, axb3 is often better than cxb3, hxg3 is often better than fxg3. In general, it is a good idea to look at the concrete position and make a practical decision. In the example you show, I prefer dxc3

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3 5. dxc3

The reason is because after bxc3, white's pawn structure is damaged for the rest of the game. While after dxc3, the pawn structure is perfectly fine. Opening the d-file increases white's control over d4 and d5. Also, the Bc1 opens up and is ready for action. I think black's plan is to go for a quick Ng8-f6 and d7-d5 to grab the center. White has to be a bit careful, otherwise black will grab the initiative. The reason is because a2-a3 was a passive move. It would have been better to try Nc3-d5 or Bf1-c4.

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