I find myself in positions like this a lot when playing the Ruy Lopez:

[fen ""]

1. e4 e5 
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 d6
4. O-O Bg4

If I try to kick the bishop out with 5. h3, they back up to h5 and I'm in the same spot I was, essentially. What tends to end up happening is after my queen comes out, they take on f3 and I end up with doubled pawns, which makes me pretty uncomfortable on my King's side.

So what's the best way to deal with this pin? Or are doubled pawns a typical consequence of playing this line? Maybe I could have done something earlier? According to the chess.com database, this isn't a super common line anyway.

  • 2
    Why castle when you can simply play d4! right away? – Jossie Calderon Feb 26 '18 at 17:01

Black cannot exploit the pin with ...Nd4: not at once because the Nc6 itself is pinned, not later because c2-c3 is on your plan anyway. This means that you should not panic and can concentrate on developing before taking measures about the Bg4.

You should not be afraid of a ...Qf6 either. After the later sequence ...Bxf3, Qxf3, Qxf3, gxf3, your king is secure thanks to the queen exchange, and the bishop pair is much more important than the temporary doubled pawn that you would get rid of by pushing f3-f4, gaining influence in the center in the process.

If you follow a Ruy Lopez plan anyway: c3, d3, Nbd2, Re1, Nf1 you have various ways of breaking the pin.

  • First, you can move your queen when the second knight is on d2. Plus: it is faster. Minus: your queen don't have so many great square to go to, since on c2 it is a bit passive and that square is better left for a possible retreat of the Bb5.
  • Second, you continue, after Nf1, with h3 (check whether the opponent can reply ...h5 when his rook is still on h8) and after ...Bh5, Ng3. It is part of your plan anyway (reinforce e4 so you can push d3-d4, possible knight-hops to f5 or h5) and it embarass Black's light-squared bishop. After an eventual ...Bxf3 Qxf3, you gain the bishop pair with excellent chances to build an initiative on the light squares.

I'm not an expert on the Ruy Lopez, but it seems that its downsides outweigh the upside of potentially creating a doubled pawn on f3.

After 5. h3 Bh5, you are in fact not quite in the same spot: From h5, the light squared bishop can't assist to defend the light squares on the queenside anytime soon, so you can put your pin on the c6-knight to good use.

The weakness of c6 also allows you to easily get rid of the doubled-pawn threat because your queen can relocate with tempo (either by checking on c6, or d8 as soon as the d-file is opened).

For example:

[fen ""]

1. e4 e5 
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 d6
4. O-O Bg4
5. h3 Bh5
6. c3 Nf6?!
7. d4 {Threatening 8. d5.} a6 (7...exd4 8. cxd4 {Isn't prettier. Now a following Qc2 hits c6 and e4.})
8. Bxc6 bxc6
9. dxe5 dxe5 (
9. Qa4 {Another possibility.} Qd7 (9...Bxf3 10. Qxc6+ {Winning a pawn.})
10. dxe5!? Bxf3 (10...dxe5? 11. Nxe5)
11. exf6 {Hard to assess, maybe this line is a bit too risky.})
10. Qxd8+ Rxd8
11. Nxe5 Nxe4 
12. Nxc6 {Looks fine.}

Of course, Black doesn't have to play Nf6, but any other move except 6...Qd7 or 6...a6 (e.g. 6...Be7) won't change anything essential. Black still has to deal with the pin somehow. 6...Qd7 only replaces it with another pin, while 6...a6 still allows the Qa4 manoeuvre. I'd be pretty comfortable with the situation as White.

  • 2
    I'm not sure about the theory, but it looks like Black can counter 5.h3 with 5...h5. – Evargalo Feb 26 '18 at 16:16
  • 1
    @Evargalo. Ah, okay. Interesting. – Annatar Feb 27 '18 at 7:18
  • Before black castles, there is the strong possibly that black can counter h3 with the pawn move h5. The best is either to not capture until black has to release the tension or attack the bishop with the other knight as suggested in another answer. There are other methods, but they are too advanced to discuss here. – Mike Jones Jan 22 '20 at 7:21
  • @Evargalo: I think that line is much better in the improved Steinitz (with 3...a6 4.Ba4 d6). – RemcoGerlich Jan 22 '20 at 11:09

Learn to play the Ruy correctly. h3 is needed before castling.

  • 4
    I can't think of a single game where white played h3 before castling. Except for the beginner's unfounded fear of the pin, there isn't a good reason to play this move. – Mike Jones Jan 22 '20 at 7:15
  • 3
    @MikeJones You probably also meant it that way, but to clarify: There is no reason to play the exact move 5.h3 - the move h3 itself has some merits and is in fact played in a lot of lines, just later on. As a reference, in the Closed main line 0-0 is played in move 5 and h3 in move 9; in the Berlin main line, it's 4.0-0 and 10.h3. – Annatar Jan 22 '20 at 7:42
  • 3
    "Learn to play the Ruy correctly" is exactly why I asked this question... – Derek Allums Jan 22 '20 at 9:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.