Playing Ruy Lopez: The Worrall Attack

Playing Ruy Lopez: The Worrall Attack

Worrall Attack of the Ruy Lopez: The popularity of 1…e5 has increased greatly in recent years. For a long time, this response against white’s move 1.e4 was considered a less ambitious option for black than, for example, The Sicilian Defense. However, times have changed, and so has the way we perceive 1…e5 nowadays.

Thanks to the efforts of players like Kramnik, Carlsen, Anand, and basically most of the elite players, variations like the Berlin, Breyer, or Marshall Attack have turned 1…e5 into a very ambitious way of playing, aiming not only to equalize but actually to win without giving white many chances for an attack.

Worrall Attack – Introduction

In this article, we would like to present an ”almost forgotten” weapon for white as a good alternative to playing from time to time: The Worrall Attack. This variation usually starts after the moves:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qe2

However, white can play the move Qe2 also against the Berlin:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.Qe2

Ruy Lopez – Why add it to your repertoire?

There are several positive points to adding this variation to your opening repertoire. For example:

  • White avoids the (big) amount of theory from the mainlines of the Ruy Lopez, including the Open Variation (5…Nxe4).
  • This will reduce considerably the amount of opening study;
  • Sidestepping the Berlin Endgame;
  • Opening based on ideas, positionally sound. Doesn’t rely on memory or crucial move orders;
  • Being a sideline, your opponents may not be as well prepared as you. So, even if the main recommendations result in an equal position, the line can be very difficult to remember.


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Worrall Attack – How to study it?

When it comes to such an opening as the Ruy Lopez, it can be difficult to study it by going through the lines one by one. We recommend the first starting by model games from the strong players who frequently play the line in order to grasp the ideas. Then, after some practice, the specialization can begin by analyzing your own games and your opponent’s responses.

Ruy Lopez – Players to look for

Here is a short list of the most notable players who have played The Worrall Attack, either against 3…Nf6 or 3…a6 4.Ba4 Nf6:

  • Nigel Short
  • Sergey Tiviakov (possibly the main specialist)
  • Vugar Gashimov
  • Michael Adams

Let’s now take a look at black’s possible set-ups.

Worrall Attack – Black develops with Bc5

One of the ”drawbacks” of playing Bc5 is that white can pin the f6 knight by playing Bg5. In case black prevents this idea, white should play Be3, opposing the powerful c5 bishop as seen in the game Tiviakov – Friedel.

Ruy Lopez – Black develops with Be7 (Closed Spanish style)

Against the closed system, white’s main plan is to play Rd1 followed by d4. Once the center is closed, he will continue to attack the kingside. See the game between Tiviakov and Nyback.

Worrall Attack – Black plays Be7 and d5

This central rupture is always something to take into serious consideration. Black aims to either liquidate the center by capturing on e4 or sometimes push d5-d4, gaining more space and weakening white’s position. However, this action is not risk-free and white has many tricky ideas at his disposal. We can see this in the game between Tiviakov and Short.

As you can see, the line is quite attractive despite not being among the most played variations at the top level. We hope these games serve you as inspiration and guide to take the study further and use it in your games.

Want to know more about the Ruy Lopez? Look at:

If you want to improve your chess level, you need to have a clear study plan. If you aim for a dramatic improvement at chess you need to work on all of the elements of the game in a systematic way:

  • tactics
  • positional play
  • attacking skills
  • endgame technique
  • classical games analysis
  • psychological preparation
  • and much more

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Updated 12.22.2023


Tim Bogan:
You're confusing the Wormald Variation 5. Qe2 with the Worrall Attack 6. Qe2 after 5. 0-0.
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