What is the Cozio Defense to the Ruy Lopez?

The Ruy Lopez opening (1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5) appears regularly in our series on Chess Opening Basics. Most recently, we examined the Exchange Variation (3 …a6 4 Bxc6).

We have encountered Carlo Cozio before too, in our series on checkmates. Cozio’s Defense to the Ruy Lopez is the simple-looking 3 …Nge7.

Cozio Defense to the Ruy Lopez

The Cozio Defense

Black immediately nullifies the threat of the structure-damaging Exchange Variation. This is because Bxc6 is met by …Nxc6, refusing to accept doubled pawns on the queenside.

3 …Nge7 is also a developing move, which is always good news. The blot on the copybook of this particular developing move is that the knight temporarily blocks the king’s bishop. However, the bishop could be developed to g7 or it could wait until the knight moves again (probably to g6).

It is such a rare line that I doubt many Ruy Lopez players even have a clear idea on how to meet it, which surely is a good sign for Black, from the practical point of view.

You can easily test this out if you are a Ruy Lopez player. Think about it right now: what would you do after 3 …Nge7? If you are not a Ruy Lopez player, ask a friend who is!

I have seen the Cozio Defense ‘played by accident’ many times in chess clubs, where people with little knowledge of the openings find it a sensible move to try. It certainly has a strong element of logic yet it remains one of the most unexplored variations in the whole of the Ruy Lopez opening.

The Cozio Defense as a Repertoire Option

The Cozio Defense could be all set to experience a rise in popularity thanks to a brand new Chessable course by Grandmaster Simon Williams and Blair Connell.

1 e4 e5 Club Player's Dynamite

1. e4 e5 Club Player’s Dynamite arms Black with a full repertoire of weapons designed to take the fight to White. The Cozio Defense is the recommended line to tackle the Ruy Lopez.

Simon Williams on the Cozio Defense to the Ruy Lopez

In Simon’s own words:

‘This is my main recommendation against the Ruy Lopez. Experience shows that many players of the white pieces are unprepared for this move, even dismissive of it, and assume that with some simple moves, found over the board, they will get an easy advantage. This is not the case.’

‘This is not just a playable variation from a practical point of view; it is entirely objectively playable and there are very few lines where White can claim a clear edge and these almost certainly need to be known beforehand.’

Simon covers White’s main options in detail. These are: 4 0-0, 4 Nc3, 4 c3 and 4 d4. The compliant and inferior 4 Bxc6 is also considered.

I especially like the way Simon makes use of the specific knight placement in the Cozio Defense. White’s dark squares will be under observation and sometimes occupation as the knight dances across the kingside squares to cause the opponent’s king some anxious moments.

Black's Plans in the Cozio Defense

Head here for further details on the Chessable course, which offers Black a full repertoire based on 1 e4 e5.

More Chess Opening Basics

Here are links to the other parts of our ever-growing series on Chess Opening Basics.

Arkhangelsk Defense

Budapest Gambit

Caro-Kann Defense

Göring Gambit

Leningrad Dutch

London System

Nimzo-Indian Defense

Ragozin Defense

Ruy Lopez, Exchange Variation

Semi-Slav Defense

Taimanov Sicilian

Queen’s Indian Defense- Tournament Edition

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