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This opening begins by copying the Ruy Lopez/Morphy Defense for the first three moves, but White branches off with 4 Bxc6. I've read that 4 ... dxc6 5 Nxe5 Qd4 is effective for Black to recover his pawn - but what if White does not play 5 Nxe5, say 5 O-O instead? In short, why has this opening been largely ignored? Is there a disadvantage to White after 4 Bxc6?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This is called the "Exchange" Variation of the Ruy Lopez. Not only is there an early exchange of bishop for knight, but it usually soon leads to an exchange of queens on d4.

This queen exchange brings about an early "endgame," effectively cutting out the middle game. Most players are not particularly fond of the endgame, so they don't consider this an advantage, and therefore don't play this variation.

But in a famous game in St. Petersburg in 1914, the world champion, Emmanuel Lasker, played this variation against future world champion Jose R Capablanca---and won. By Capablanca's own admission, "Lasker had no superior in [the endgame]" at the time. On the other hand, he already (and later) feared Capablanca's middle game.

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Wow, your answer was written and accepted before I even finished writing mine :) –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jun 18 '11 at 18:24
    
@blueraja: I don't like to see things happen this way. But it does happen from time to time. But an upvote for you, too. –  Tom Au Jun 18 '11 at 18:26
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So the opening does not necessarily disadvantage either player; it merely makes for mediocre play - is that it? Thanks! –  Daniel δ Jun 18 '11 at 18:27
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@drm65: I wouldn't say mediocre play; but yes, like most openings where neither player made a mistake, it doesn't confer an "advantage" to either player, it just gives them different imbalances to work with; for instance, black now has more space due to his open D file, while white has a better pawn structure. At this point the "advantage" will go to whichever player can make better use of the imbalances they have. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jun 18 '11 at 18:31
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@blueraja: Very helpful. @both of you: Thanks! –  Daniel δ Jun 18 '11 at 18:36

It hasn't been ignored; this is called the Ruy Lopez Exchange variation, and is extremely popular in tournament play.

5. Nxe5 is considered a small mistake (for the reasons you mentioned), but moves like 5. O-O and 5. Nc3 are perfectly acceptable, and are played by grandmasters all the time.

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I wish I could divide my acceptance between these answers; they each address a different facet of the question. I didn't know it was popular. Then again, I only have old books. –  Daniel δ Jun 18 '11 at 18:34
    
I think you meant to type Ruy ... –  Dave DuPlantis Jun 18 '11 at 23:37

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