Playing the Italian Game like a Pro! (Includes Giuoco Piano)

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Table of Contents

Yes, you can play the Italian Game like a pro and enjoy many victories with this classic chess opening.

  • Although one of the oldest known chess openings, the Italian Game is certainly not outdated. This chess opening has grown with time and embraced many changes.
  • The Italian Opening offers tactical and quieter positional variations, making it ideal for players of different styles and skill levels. You can play the Italian Opening from beginner through to grandmaster.
  • Don’t be misled by the name “Quiet Italian” or Giuoco Piano because this opening packs a punch that will catch the unwary with surprising force. 

Introduction

The Italian Opening is one of the oldest known openings and is still being played by the very best chess players in the world today. Wilhelm Steinitz played the Italian Opening way back in 1895.

Players like Giri, Short, and Hou Yifan have used it regularly with success against other top players.

When we learn chess openings, we are told to develop our pieces towards the center, stake a claim in the center with our pawns, and get our king to safety. An ample reason for the Italian Opening’s longevity is that it covers all three of these principles.

Despite being suitable for beginners, the Italian Opening is an effective opening at all levels of play.

The longer you play an opening, the deeper your understanding of the tactics, strategies, and typical endgames become. This deep knowledge of the opening can give you a winning edge in many theoretically equal positions.

Start playing the Italian Opening now and learn why so many other chess players use it in their games.

Ideas and Strategies in the Italian Opening

After the opening moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4

The Italian Game involves the development of the bishop to c4 on move three.

Black can choose 3…Bc5 or the Two Knights Defense with 3…Nf6. Against both moves, White can choose the more aggressive c3 and d4 option or the quieter Giuoco Piano with c3 and d3.

If you choose to adopt the c3 and d4 approach, an effective strategy for White is to sacrifice the e-pawn and play 7.Nbd2. For example: 3…Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nbd2

When Black can accept the sacrifice with 7…Nxe4, White’s compensation consists of a lead in development, more space, and in some instances having the bishop pair in an open position.

Do not be afraid to sacrifice a second pawn with d6 since this sacrifice makes it harder for Black to develop his light-squared bishop.

The usual way for Black to decline the sacrifice is with 7…d5. If Black declines the sacrifice White must be willing to play with an isolated queen’s pawn.

Playing isolated queen’s pawn positions will help your development as a chess player. Yes, these positions require more study, but they lend themselves to attacking play which is a lot of fun.

The Italian Opening 3…Bc5

Playing 3…Bc5 and developing the bishop before the knight avoids the Fried Liver Attack. The Fried Liver Attack is a dangerous attacking option for White when Black often sacrifices a pawn.

Although the sacrifice is theoretically sound, many chess players prefer not to sacrifice material in the opening, especially when there is a good alternative in 3…Bc5.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5

For those who enjoy playing with a space advantage and active pieces, a promising approach is

4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nbd2

Black Accepts the Sacrifice With 7…Nxe4

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nbd2 Nxe4

The Italian Opening becomes very dynamic, with White gaining a lead in development and space advantage, and sometimes the bishop pair advantage.

Of course, Black’s position is very solid, and Black is a pawn up. As is often said in chess, “A pawn is a pawn.”

Since one of Black’s freeing moves is …d5, it makes a lot of sense for White to prevent this and gain a tempo by playing 8.d5

8.d5 Ne7 9.0-0 Bxd2 10.Nxd2 Nxd2 11.Bxd2 d6

When Black plays 9…Bxd2, it is essential for White to recapture with 10.Nxd2 to obtain the bishop pair.

Black Declines the Sacrifice With 7…d5

Declining the sacrifice with 7…d5 is a logical approach by Black, who decides a pawn is not worth falling behind in development or giving up the bishop pair.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nbd2 d5

8.exd5 Nxd5 9.0-0 0-0 10.a3 Be7 11.Re1

Black needs to decide how to develop the light-squared bishop.

When playing White with an isolated queen’s pawn, your light-squared bishop is a crucial attacking piece that you want to avoid exchanging. Fortunately, playing a3 gives the bishop a perfect retreat square on a2.

From a2, the bishop can go to b1where it aims at the h7 square.

Another advantage of playing a3 is it allows Qc2 without fear of the queen getting attacked with …Nb4. The bishop and queen become a potent attacking force when they are both on the b1-h7 diagonal.

The Italian Opening Two Knights Defense

In the Two Knights Defense, there is no time to prepare d4 with c3 because the e4-pawn comes under attack after 3…Nf6.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc5 Nf6

White can play the immediate 4.d4 because after 4…exd4, the move 5.e5 is an excellent option.

4.d4 exd4 5.e5 d5 6.Bb4 Ne4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Bxc6 bxc6 9.0-0 Bc5 10.f3 Ng5 11.Be3

Although 8…bxc6 gave Black doubled-pawns recapturing with the bishop surrenders one of Black’s advantages in this position – the bishop pair.

11.Be3 is a dual-purpose move that breaks the pin on the knight and continues White’s strategy of playing on the dark squares. White will generate play against the awkwardly placed black knight on g5 with the f4 advance.

Black will seek to place both bishops on squares where they aim at the White king – b6 and c6. Since White has exchanged the light-squared bishop, Black’s light-squared bishop becomes a powerful piece when it reaches the c-square.

The Italian Game Giuoco Piano

In the Quiet Italian Game, White starts the game more restrainedly with c3 and d3.

One of the many advantages of playing the Giuoco Piano is that you can use one system against both 3…Bc5 and 3…Nf6. The latter will usually transpose to the …Bc5 variation after 4.d3.

Although the game starts quietly, White has several sound attacking strategies to employ later in the game.

The Ideas and Strategies In the Italian Game Giuoco Piano

When playing the Giuoco Piano, the ideal setup is easy to remember and play. In this chess opening, White intends to:

  • Place his pawns on d3,  c3, and h3.
  • Delay castling to allow for faster development of the b1 knight.
  • Develop the queenside knight with Nd2-f1-g3.
  • White’s dark-squared bishop will often go to e3, where thanks to h3, it cannot get attacked with …Ng4.
  • Advance in the center with d4 after all the pieces have developed.

Thanks to White’s excellent control of the center, delaying castling poses no great danger to the white king.

In fact, by delaying castling White can often launch a kingside attack and then castle queenside. The delayed castling means his attack is already underway before Black has a chance to initiate his attack on the queenside.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 a6 is the usual move order to reach the starting position of the Giuoco Piano.

Remember that when Black plays a6, it is usually a signal of his intent to exchange a knight for White’s light-squared bishop with …Na5. The move …a6 denies the bishop access to the b5-square.

…a6 is best met with Bb3 to meet …Na5 with Bc2.

True, the bishop is temporarily inactive on c2, but its long-term potential is a valuable asset for White. 

The ..Na5 move isn’t the only way for Black to attack the bishop on b3. Sometimes Black attacks the bishop with …Be6 when the retreat to c2 avoids helping Black exchange pieces.

Despite the symmetrical position, it isn’t easy for Black to find squares for all his pieces despite the symmetrical positions, and exchanging light-squared bishops will give him a little more space.

The Modern Italian Opening With 7.h3

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 a6 6.Bb3 Ba7 7.h3 

Playing beneficial waiting moves is an equally sound approach by Black as well as White. Playing 5…a6 and 6…Bb7 allows Black to delay moving his d-pawn-sometimes playing …d5 in one move.

Notice that White meets 5…a with Bb3 to avoid giving up the bishop for a knight.

7.h3 allows White the option of meeting 7…0-0 with 8.Bg5. The bishop’s development would not be possible if White chose to begin the Nbd2-f1-g3 maneuver on move seven.

Since h3 is a move White will invariably play, there is no harm in playing it early and offering Black the chance to step into a nasty pin early in the game.

7…d6 8.Nbd2 0-0 9.Nf1 d5 10.Qe2 Be6 11.Bc2 dxe4 12.dxe4 Nh5

Notice that Black waited for White to play Nf1 before advancing his pawn to d5. When the knight is on f1, it blocks White’s h1 rook from coming to e1to support the e4-pawn.

One of White’s standard strategies is Nbd2-f1-g3, but it is also possible for the knight to reach f5 from e3. Remembering this is important because you might need to play g3 to keep Black from placing his knight on f4. 

One of the many benefits of the Italian Game is its flexibility in move order. Even with the g3 square occupied by a pawn, White can still generate a dangerous attack on the kingside.

You can learn a lot about the Italian Game from modern grandmaster Sergei Tiviakov. Take a look at how he won his game against an opponent rated 2565 Elo.

White Plays Nbd2-c4 In the Italian Opening

If you want to keep your opponents guessing about your opening strategy, it pays to have a second plan you can unleash as a surprise weapon. Instead of transferring the knight to g3, placing it on c4 is a viable choice.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 a6 6.Bb3 Ba7 7.Nbd2

7…0-0 8.Nc4 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.0-0 f6 11.Be3 Nxe3 12.fxe3 Kh8

In this variation of the Giuoco Piano, White captures on d5 and makes use of active piece play in the center and on the kingside. Do not neglect the value of putting pressure on Black’s center in your rush to launch a kingside attack.

The Giuoco Piano Classical Line

Even though thousands of games have been played in the Classical variation of the Giuoco Piano, it is still a potent weapon today. The fact that Sergei Tiviakov plays both the classical and modern approach proves there is every reason to include it in your repertoire.

Making it harder for your opponents to prepare against your repertoire is a sound strategy that can give you a vital edge.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 a6 6.Bb3 Ba7 7.0-0 0-0

8.Re1 d6 9.h3 h6 10.Nbd2 Nh5 11.Nf1 Qf6 12.Be3

Instead of Black offering a trade of bishops with …Be6, it is White offering to exchange bishops on e3. If Black exchanges bishops on e3, White will recapture with the f-pawn and cover the critical f4-square.

Boris Gelfand showed how dangerous this quiet chess opening can be when he defeated Francisco Vallejo Pons, rated 2679, in only 30 moves!

Two Knights Defense – Black Avoids the Giuoco Piano

After 4.d3, many players will transpose into the Giuoco Piano with 4…Bc5, but 4…Be7 is a viable alternative. Fortunately, the strategies and piece development remain very similar for White.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Be7

4…Be7 is a good choice for players who enjoy playing the Closed Ruy Lopez. Thus, it is not surprising one of the most popular moves for Black is …Na5.

5.0-0 0-0 6.Bb3 d6 7.c3 Na5 8.Bc2 c5 9.a3 Nc6 10.b4

Advancing the b-pawn gives White the b2-square for his bishop. From b2, the bishop supports the d4 advance after the e4-pawn is defended with Re1.

The strategy for White is clear and straightforward without any razor-sharp theoretical lines. All you need to do is centralize your pieces and advance the d-pawn.

If Black allows you to close the center with d5, you can close the center and switch your focus to the kingside. 

The d5-square can become an excellent outpost for your knight when Black plays …Nh5.

In Conclusion

The Italian Opening is a versatile, attacking option for all players of different chess levels and styles. Although overshadowed by the Ruy Lopez, it remains an excellent choice against 1…e5.

Unlike the Ruy Lopez, there is considerably less theory for you to learn. The strategies are easy to remember and play.

You will see similar piece placement and attacking plans in many variations, which makes it easier to learn. Your position is solid enough to allow you to relax if you forget the opening theory. 

There is little chance of getting checkmated or caught in a trap early in the game. Adopting the Italian Opening will allow you to spend more training time focused on improving your middlegame and endgame skills.

Italian Opening Lifetime Repertoire

There are two chess openings almost every chess player hears about early in their chess career. These two openings are Evans Gambit, played by chess legends Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, and the Fried Liver Attack.

They form an integral part of the Italian Opening chess family and are well-suited to players who thrive in positions loaded with tactics.

In these openings, sacrifices become the norm, and you are sure to enjoy many exciting games. 

IM Yuriy Krykun has put together a dynamic combative lifetime repertoire based upon the Evans Gambit and Fried Liver Attack for those who enjoy taking the fight to Black from extremely early in the game.

Unleash your attacking skills upon the chess world with help from the Dynamic Italian Game

Italian Game Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Italian Game good for beginners?

Yes, the Italian Game is suitable for beginners because it is a chess opening where White plays natural developing moves that are easy to understand.

Why is it called the Italian Game?

This opening is called the Italian game because White develops the bishop to c4. A bishop on c4, or c5 for Black, is known as an Italian bishop. When White develops the bishop to b5, it is known as a “Spanish bishop” because you are playing the Ruy Lopez or “Spanish Game.”

Is Italian Game aggressive?

The Italian Game can become aggressive if White chooses to play c3 and d4 instead of the Giuoco Piano. When playing c3 and d4, it is not unusual for White to sacrifice a pawn for a lead in development.

Which is better, Ruy Lopez or Italian Game?

Neither chess opening is better than the other, and both the Ruy Lopez and Italian Game are played at the highest levels in chess today.

Do grandmasters play the Italian Opening?

Yes, many chess grandmasters play the Italian Opening. Some notable chess players who play the Italian Opening include Giri, Short, and Hou Yifan.

When should I play the Italian Game?

The Italian Game is an excellent choice at all levels. You can start playing it as a beginner and keep playing it as a grandmaster. The sooner you start playing the Italian Game the sooner you will begin to learn the tactics and strategies of the opening.

Can you play the Italian Opening as black?

No, you cannot play the Italian Opening with black because the Opening is defined by the move 3.Bc4.

How do you crush the Italian Game?

There is no way to crush the Italian Opening, but there are ways to equalize with Black.

Is Giuoco Piano a good opening?

Yes, the Giuoco Piano is a good opening because it is based on classical opening principles.

Why is it called the Giuoco Piano?

Giuoco Piano’s name means “quiet game” and refers to White’s subtle or gentle approach to building up the position with c3 and d3. This approach contrasts with the c3 and d4 approach White can adopt.

How do you counter a Giuoco Piano?

A solid approach for Black against the Giuoco Piano is to develop along classical lines with …Nc6, …Nf6, …Bc5, …d6, and …0-0. The move …a6 is often played because it creates a safe retreat square for the bishop if White plays c3 and b4.

How do you play the Giuoco Piano with white?

After the standard opening moves of e4, Nf3, Bc5, c3, and d4, White has two ways to continue in the Giuoco Piano. They both involve different ways of developing the b1 knight.
The Classical approach is to play Nbd2-f1-g3, and the Modern option involves Na3-c2.

Is the Italian Game good for beginners?

Yes, the Italian Game is suitable for beginners because it is a chess opening where White plays natural developing moves that are easy to understand.

Why is it called the Italian Game?

This opening is called the Italian game because White develops the bishop to c4. A bishop on c4, or c5 for Black, is known as an Italian bishop. When White develops the bishop to b5, it is known as a “Spanish bishop” because you are playing the Ruy Lopez or “Spanish Game.”

Is Italian Game aggressive?

The Italian Game can become aggressive if White chooses to play c3 and d4 instead of the Giuoco Piano. When playing c3 and d4, it is not unusual for White to sacrifice a pawn for a lead in development.

Which is better, Ruy Lopez or Italian Game?

Neither chess opening is better than the other, and both the Ruy Lopez and Italian Game are played at the highest levels in chess today.

Do grandmasters play the Italian Opening?

Yes, many chess grandmasters play the Italian Opening. Some notable chess players who play the Italian Opening include Giri, Short, and Hou Yifan.

When should I play the Italian Game?

The Italian Game is an excellent choice at all levels. You can start playing it as a beginner and keep playing it as a grandmaster. The sooner you start playing the Italian Game the sooner you will begin to learn the tactics and strategies of the opening.

Can you play the Italian Opening as black?

No, you cannot play the Italian Opening with black because the Opening is defined by the move 3.Bc4.

How do you crush the Italian Game?

There is no way to crush the Italian Opening, but there are ways to equalize with Black.

Is Giuoco Piano a good opening?

Yes, the Giuoco Piano is a good opening because it is based on classical opening principles.

Why is it called the Giuoco Piano?

Giuoco Piano’s name means “quiet game” and refers to White’s subtle or gentle approach to building up the position with c3 and d3. This approach contrasts with the c3 and d4 approach White can adopt.

How do you counter a Giuoco Piano?

A solid approach for Black against the Giuoco Piano is to develop along classical lines with …Nc6, …Nf6, …Bc5, …d6, and …0-0. The move …a6 is often played because it creates a safe retreat square for the bishop if White plays c3 and b4.

How do you play the Giuoco Piano with white?

After the standard opening moves of e4, Nf3, Bc5, c3, and d4, White has two ways to continue in the Giuoco Piano. They both involve different ways of developing the b1 knight.

The Classical approach is to play Nbd2-f1-g3, and the Modern option involves Na3-c2.

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