The Italian Game unfolds with the sequence of moves 1.e4 (King’s Pawn Opening) e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, where the defining feature of this opening lies in the placement of the bishop on c4. The Italian Game, one of the oldest recorded openings, has undergone extensive study and analysis for over 300 years.
It owes its name to Italian masters from the 16th century, including Greco and Damiano, who made the earliest significant contributions to the opening theory of the Italian game. It is fair to say that since the evolution of modern chess, the Italian game has maintained its popularity among chess players of all levels and is still regarded as one of the most effective opening strategies white can employ.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Main Ideas of the Italian Game
- Italian Game Theory
- Guioco Piano: 3.Bc4 Bc5
- Evans Gambit: 3…Bc5 4.b4
- Fried Liver Attack: 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+
- Common Traps in Italian Game
- Trap №1
- Trap №2
- Pros and Cons of playing the Italian Game
- Why is it called Italian Game?
- Is Italian Game for beginners?
- What is another name for the Italian Game?
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
Main Ideas of the Italian Game
The Italian Game exhibits a versatile and dynamic nature, offering players a wide range of possibilities. It can lead to highly tactical and aggressive positions, sometimes even surpassing the sharpness of the Sicilian Defense. On the other hand, it also has the potential to transition into slow and strategic positional games, reminiscent of Ruy Lopez. This kind of flexibility and adaptability of the Italian Game have attracted numerous players to incorporate it into their repertoire.
The main ideas in the Italian Game have their root in the fundamental opening principles such as quick piece development, bringing the king to safety with castling kingside quickly, as well as fighting for the central control and space advantage with pawn moves like c3-d4. The reply 1…e5 against the King’s Pawn Opening (1.e4) somewhat weakens the f7, as it is no longer possible to block the a2-g8 diagonal with a move like …e6. So, the 3.Bc4 move exactly exploits this fact: The pawn on f7 is black’s main weakness and white’s main target, as it is only defended by the black king. The primary game strategy revolves around this target and the pressure on this diagonal. Oftentimes, white will try to launch a kingside attack by maneuvering the knight to f5 the square, while black will try to fight back with similar ideas like …Bc5 and the Ne7-Ng6-Nf4 maneuver.
Italian Game Theory
Being a widely studied line since the modernization of chess centuries ago, the Italian Game boasts an extensive and intricate theory, encompassing both nuanced strategic ideas and concrete tactical variations. Most of the variations that lead to a more positional game arise after Black’s response with 3…Bc5, known as the Guioco Piano Variation, which translates to English as the “quiet game”. White’s main options are 4.c3, 4.0-0 or 4.d3, but white can still play ambitiously instead by sacrificing a pawn for activity with 4.b4, the so-called Evans Gambit. As an alternative to Guioco Piano, black can play the Two Knights Defense with 3…Nf6 but white can cause a headache for black by starting an early attack. One example of a highly aggressive line that involves a knight sacrifice is the so-called Fried Liver Attack: 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7+
Guioco Piano: 3.Bc4 Bc5
One valid option white has after 3.Bc4 Bc5 is to castle kingside with 4.0-0 and get ready to open up the center. Black would like to catch up in development, so 4…Nf6. Now white has the choice to change the character of the game. By playing 5.d3, white can aim for a slower game, which is likely to transpose to the mainline after 5…d6 6.c3. The second option is much more aggressive: 5.d4, trying to open up the center as quickly as possible. This is called the Deutz Gambit and can be very dangerous for black, as there are many ways to go wrong. To illustrate how wild it can get: 5…exd4 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 8.fxg7 Rg8 9.Re1+ Be6. It might be hard to believe this position is equal according to the engines, but any result is possible in a game between two humans.
However, in the mainline of the Guioco Piano, which is 4.c3, the ideas, key squares, and piece placement matter more than concrete move orders, so transpositions from one variation to another in the Guioco Piano are very common. After 4…Nf6, white can either go for a center attack immediately with 5.d4 or employ a slower yet more popular approach with 4.c3 Nf6, which is known as “Guioco Pianissimo” (“very quiet game”). The center attack variation, 6.d4, despite looking like a more active move, often leads to an equal endgame. Black has nothing better than 6…exd4 and after 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 (7.Nd2 Nxe4) black can force an equal endgame with 7….Nxe4 8.Bxb4 Nxb4 9.Bxf7 Kxf7 10.Qb3+ Kf8 11.Qxb4+ Qe7 12.Qxe7 Kxe4, where white has little chance to play for a win.
Evans Gambit: 3…Bc5 4.b4
Although the Evans Gambit was tried in the Romantic Era of chess in the 19th century, the opening was not played often until the legendary World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov revived it. The main idea behind the pawn sacrifice on b4 is to accelerate the development and central control with tempo moves. After 4…Bxb4 (4…Bb6 5.a4 a6 6.Nc3 Nf6 is also occasionally played) 5. c3 Ba5 6.d4 exd4, white simply castles kingside with 7.0-0, giving up another pawn, but black has no time to capture as they are severely behind in development, so 7…Nge7. Now, after 8.cxd4, white has a space advantage and central control as compensation for a pawn.
Fried Liver Attack: 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+
Alternatively, against 3.Bc4 black can choose to develop the knight instead of the bishop with 3…Nf6. This move might seem natural; however, it can lead to complications that can be very dangerous for black, unless they know the theory well. An example line that demonstrates the aggressive attacking opportunities white gets in the Two Knights Defense is the Fried Liver Attack: 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qxf3 and black’s only move is to play 7…Ke6, defending the knight. White will keep the pressure on the pin on d5 and also try to open up the position to exploit the vulnerability of black’s king in the center: 8.Nc3 Nb4 9.0-0 c6 10.d4 and white has a great compensation for the sacrificed knight.
Common Traps in Italian Game
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4 Bxd4 6.Nxd4 Nxd4 7.f4 Nc6 8.Bxf7+ Kxf7 9.fxe5 Nxe5 10.Qd5+ white regains the material, and black’s kingside is ruined.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0-0 Nxc3?! 9. bxc3 Bxc3 10. Qb3, double attacking the f7 and the bishop and if black gets greedy with 10…Bxa1?? then 11.Bxf7 Ke7 (11…Kf8 12.Re1 again) 12.Re1+ Kf8 13.Bh5 leads to mate in 8 for white.
Pros and Cons of playing the Italian Game
|allows for quick and harmonious piece development, particularly the white bishop on c4, which exerts pressure on the vulnerable f7 square.
|Often leads to symmetrical pawn structures, reducing immediate imbalances and requiring players to find creative ways to create advantages.
|offers various move orders and setups, providing players with flexibility to adapt to different positions and their opponent’s responses
|Certain lines require theoretical knowledge
The Italian Game is one of the best openings to develop your chess skills in all aspects of the game. It does teach fundamental chess and opening principles, as it involves both tactical motifs and strategic and thematic aspects such as weak- and key-squares and piece maneuvers, which makes it great for beginners to gain a deeper understanding of the game. At the same time, the line is respected by top-level players as well, who frequently include it in their repertoire.
Why is it called Italian Game?
The Italian Game is named for its origins in 16th-century Italy. It became popular after Italian chess masters like Gioachino Greco began using it, showcasing its strategic depth in their games.
Is Italian Game for beginners?
Yes, the Italian Game is suitable for beginners. Its basic principles, involving early development and center control, are fundamental to understanding chess strategy, making it an excellent starting point for new players.
What is another name for the Italian Game?
The Italian Game is also known as the Giuoco Piano, which means “quiet game” in Italian. This name reflects its relatively slow and strategic nature, especially compared to more aggressive openings.