You might have faced 3. Bb5, the Ruy Lopez a lot more times than the Italian 3. Bc4, if you reply to 1.e4 with 1…e5. So why do most of the players prefer to play the Ruy Lopez more often than 3. Bc4? Does this mean that 3. Bc4 is an inferior opening? In this article, we will be sharing the answers to all these questions.
Also, Black doesn’t decide which opening they will face. It’s White who does. So this article is written from the perspective of why the players with the White pieces prefer Ruy Lopez over the Italian with 3.Bc4.
Now let’s get right into the crux of the matter.
6 Reasons why the 3. Bb5 is popular than the 3. Bc4 (Italian Defense)
1. Ruy Lopez has more possibilities
When you compare the two openings, you’ll realize that the Ruy Lopez gives the White player more options. Black has to be well-prepared to face all of them. With more possibilities comes more flexibility. White can choose which setup they want to play, what pawn structure to opt for etc. They could go for the positional lines with the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation or they could grind away in the main lines. This brings me to my second important point…
2. Most of the lines in the Ruy Lopez are challenging to face
Despite there being a lot of lines in the Ruy Lopez, most of them have the potential to be difficult to play against. The mainline is one such variation. Exchange and Delayed exchange are the others.
On the other hand, 3.Bc4 has very few lines that are actually challenging. Yes there are lines that are aggressive, but with accurate play, Black faces zero problems in them.
3. White can outplay Black, without doing a lot in the game
There is some element of magic in the Ruy Lopez positions. At first, the opening looks very innocent where material is equal and Black is solid. But Black can ‘run out of moves’, even if they continue playing normal chess. If you see some of White’s best games in the Ruy Lopez, you’ll notice how effortlessly they outplayed Black.
This is especially true if you are playing the mainline. In that, the first 15 moves are opening theory where both sides continue normal development. But after that, if Black misplays the next few moves, there comes a point when they’ll face difficulty in finding a good move.
We aren’t kidding! We’ve seen it very often in a lot of games. If you want to know how this happens, play with the Black pieces against a Ruy Lopez expert. Also watch Anand vs Carlsen’s game where even the Magnus was outplayed despite playing all ‘normal looking moves.’
The chances of this happening in the Italian variation is comparatively lower.
4. White’s chances of losing are low
Because of the closed nature of the game, it’s often very difficult to beat White unless they blunder. If White makes a mistake, they’ll squander their advantage and the position would be equal. On the other hand, if Black makes a mistake, they’ll only get positionally squeezed without realizing it. Even in some super sharp lines like the Marshall, White has a way to easily make a draw without much effort.
The 3.Bc4 doesn’t enjoy this reputation, despite some of the lines being super solid. More often than not, Black has options to fight for the advantage.
5. Mark of Approval from the World Champions
There are very few openings in chess that enjoy the reputation of being employed by most of the World Champions. Ruy Lopez is one of them. Because almost every World Champion has employed this opening, it has become very popular with the general chess public. Another popular opening which enjoys this reputation is the Nimzo-Indian Defense with the Black pieces.
6. Cornerstone of Positional Understanding
In one of Anatoly Karpov’s old books, the former world champion remarked that Ruy Lopez was the cornerstone of positional understanding. He also talked about why anyone who’s looking to improve their positional understanding should play it. A lot of modern day greats would agree with this. The same cannot be said of the Italian Defense.
3. Bb5 Is Just Better For Some Styles Of Play In Chess
So with all these reasons, does it mean that the Italian game is inferior to the Ruy Lopez? The simple answer is no. In fact, 3. Bc4 has become a trend lately and a lot of top players are using it in regular practice. It doesn have some dangerous lines as well.
But in terms of popularity, 3. Bb5 is much more ahead. To put it in simple words, White has a lot of options in Ruy Lopez that could cause headaches for Black. In the Italian, these are lesser. With this, we hope you’ve gotten a clear idea as to why the 3. Bb5 is more popular than 3. Bc4.