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For instance, in the Ruy Lopez, after

1. e4   e5
2. Nf3  Nc6
3. Bb5  a6

why shouldn't I take the Knight?

4 Bxc6 dxc6

Now Black has a doubled pawn.

It isn't a very popular line of play, which is why I think I shouldn't play it; but as to the principle, is it because I'm opening up Black's game? I don't see any significant advantages/disadvantages for either side.

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+1 great question, I always feel like a doubled pawn is a disadvantage for my opponent, so I take every occasion I get to make him do it. – Soufiane Hassou May 4 '12 at 14:29
@Danny Why are you pointing to another site while this one's in beta? – gobernador May 5 '12 at 23:41
@BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft - While the question is related, the OP's question is more specific to the Ruy Lopez and it makes a big difference. – xaisoft Jun 6 '12 at 2:00
A doubled pawn is a very minor disadvantage, having the bishop pair (when your opponent doesn't have it) is usually slightly better. But it all depends on the position. – RemcoGerlich Dec 18 '14 at 8:58
up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is a variation that was played fairly frequently, but it has been more or less worked out to a draw, so it is less common at the top levels now.

The Ruy Lopez is a very concrete opening, and the capture on c6 has to be carefully considered as it relates to the exact position.

In terms of opening principles, you're giving up a bishop for a knight in an open position. If you could take the pawn on e5, it might be good, but the pawn is protected via the tactical shot 5.Nxe5? Qd4! when white has basically given up the two bishops for very little compensation in a wide open position.

Another downside to Bxc6 is that the black's light square bishop is developed by dxc6, allowing it to come to g4 without waste of time. Indeed, one of the most critical lines continues 5. O-O Bg4 6. h3 h5 when black is offering a piece for attacking chances along the h file.

With all of that said, this is a very common motif in the Ruy Lopez (Bxc6). The pawn structure after d4 and exd4 is very good for white. If all of the pieces were traded off, white would win the king and pawn endgame by making a passed pawn on the kingside and black cannot make a passed pawn on the queenside.

There are also many cases when spoiling your opponent's pawn structure is very good. For example, if black has castled kingside, and a bishop can take on f6 and force ...gxf6, this is almost always good for white. The king becomes very exposed with the g file open. In the Spanish Four Knights, one player or the other will very frequently take on c6 or c3.

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If the doubled pawns created after taking the Knight leave a b- or g-file half open against your castled King, it might be relatively easy to create an attack against your King if the opponent's Rook leverages the half open b- or g-file by building pressure against your King's castle.

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But that's not a "reason why I should not try to take a Knight with my Bishop if it'll result in doubled pawns". If anything, that's a reason why I should. – Daniel Jun 6 '12 at 1:02
@Daniel Do you really want your King in g8 harassed by a Rook in g1 thanks to the open file you created by taking a Knight in f3? – Pep Jun 7 '12 at 8:33
@Danielδ, I think Pep is talking about giving the opponent a half-open b- or g-file that points at one's own castled king. – ETD Jun 7 '12 at 20:11
Ah, I get it. Slow me. Sorry! – Daniel Jun 7 '12 at 21:15
Never mind! I'll edit the response so that is a little bit clearer. – Pep Jun 8 '12 at 14:49
  • Some impressive people consider bishops marginally stronger than knights, though the board position is critical. Reference below.
  • The black Q is freed, perhaps saving black a tempo.
  • The black w-squared B is freed, saving a tempo.
  • The white w-squared B is gone, after 2 moves were spent on it.
  • Black's pawns are doubled, but they still hit the d-file. Not so bad.

In the next 5 moves, it is possible for black to develop all 3 remaining minor pieces, the queen, and castle. In short, black has a flexible position.


Some people have issues with the statement about bishops being stronger than knights. So check this Wiki page (OMG Wiki). You'll see a chart down under 'Alternate Valuations.' You'll see references that include names of knowledgable people that rate the bishop higher. No one listed on the chart rates knight higher, though many rate them equal.

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"Most people consider bishops stronger than knights, in general" - this is not true. The double bishops are usually considered an advantage - but whether a single bishop or knight will be better in the mid/endgame depends largely on the pawn-structure. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 4 '12 at 17:51
Except if one trades a bishop for a knight, one will never have double bishops while one's opponent may. Thus, a bishop is better than a knight. Sure, one can find positions where knights are better. One can also find positions where bishops are better. But in general, keep the bishop barring a compelling reason. – Tony Ennis May 4 '12 at 23:58
Slightly edited the offending statement. – Tony Ennis May 5 '12 at 14:54
Bishops are considered better the longer and more open the game becomes. If a Knight is posted deep into enemy territory, the Knight is better. It all depends on the usefullness of the piece given the situation. – theeppright Dec 18 '14 at 19:07

There are a few disadvantages:

1) You trade your light-squared bishop, your best attacking piece. 2) You give Black the bishop pair. 3) The likely followup is an exchange of queens and an early endgame.

If you like to attack and don't like to play against bishop pairs, don't play this variation.

Do play this variation if you are confident in your play with two good knights, fear having queens on the board, or like to play endgames. The doubled pawns are a clear endgame advantage, if you know how to "shorten" the middle game.

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