Chess Opening Basics: Berlin, Rio de Janeiro Variation


Table of Contents

What is the Berlin Defense, Rio de Janeiro Variation?

The Berlin Defense is one of the most solid of all responses to the Ruy Lopez opening.

1 .e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 Nf6

Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense

The Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense

The Berlin Defense was out of favour for a very long time (Black preferred other lines, starting with 3…a6) but was resurrected by Vladimir Kramnik in his 2000 World Championship match against Garry Kasparov. Kasparov, the defending champion, could not break down Kramnik’s ‘Berlin Wall’. Kramnik won the match and the Berlin Defense has remained popular ever since.

The main sequence of moves is:


White can defend the e-pawn with 4.d3 or 4.Nc3 instead of castling, but this is the most testing move.



Ruy Lopez, Opening the Centre

White is trying to open the centre before Black has the opportunity to castle. It is easy to see that the rook can move swiftly to e1, lining up with Black’s king.

Black’s most popular response is to follow in Kramnik’s footsteps with 5…Nd6, after which play continues: 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8. This is Kramnik’s favourite variation. It is good to play this way against dangerous attacking players, as Black’s position is extremely difficult to crack, especially as the queens have been exchanged.

However, not everyone likes to give up the right to castle.

The Rio de Janeiro Variation


This move, which heralds the arrival of the Rio de Janeiro Variation, still allows the queen exchange but Black no longer has to recapture with the king.

Rio de Janeiro VariationThe Berlin Defense, Rio de Janeiro Variation

The point of the move is shown after the following, natural moves.

6.Re1 Nd6

7.Bxc6 dxc6

8.dxd5 Nf5

9.Qxd8+ Bxd8

Black can castle in this line and his bishop pair have every chance of becoming strong in the middlegame.

White has different ways to play after 5…Be7, but this line shows the major differences between the Rio de Janeiro Variation and the more famous Berlin Endgame. Players with Black will find pre opportunities to play for the win – especially against slight weak opposition – because the king’s position is no longer compromised.

New Chessable Course

Our new Chessable course, From Berlin to Rio: 1.e4 e5 for Black, examines the variation in great detail, as well as providing a complete repertoire for Black after 1.e4 e5.

From Berlin to Rio

Click on the images for further details.

From Berlin to Rio

More Chess Opening Basics

Here are links to the other parts of our series on Chess Opening Basics. More openings will be added soon.

Arkhangelsk Defense

Budapest Gambit


Caro-Kann Defense

The Chigorin Defense

Göring Gambit

Grünfeld Defense

The Jaenisch Gambit

Leningrad Dutch

London System

Najdorf Sicilian

Nimzo-Indian Defense

Queen’s Gambit Declined

Ragozin Defense

Ruy Lopez, Cozio Defense

Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation

Sicilian Wing Gambit

Semi-Slav Defense

Symmetrical English

Taimanov Sicilian

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