The Italian game is a King’s Pawn opening that starts with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4
It is a major chess opening and is popular at the top level. The bishop is actively placed on c4 from where it puts pressure on the f7 point. The Italian game is also called Giuco Piano.
There are two moves after 3.Bc4, they are 3…Bc5 and Nf6.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5
White can play 4.c3 and enter into the main line, which runs 4….Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2
( Here 7.Nc3 can also be played, which leads to sharp play after 7…Nxe4 8.0—0 Bxc3 9.d5 Bf6 10.Re1)
7….Bxd2+ 8.Nbxd2 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Qb3 Nce7 with equality
After 5….exd4, white can play 6.e5, another main line.
Here are black counters in the center with 6….d5. Here white plays 7.Bb5 Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb6.
Here 9.Nc3 is considered the main move after 9….0-0 10.Be3 Bg4. We have reached the critical position of this variation. White has a space advantage, but Black has enough resources to challenge White’s centre.
Another line is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4
This is a very old gambit employed for the first time in 1853. White sacrifices a pawn to exploit his better development.
5….Bxd4 6.Nxd4 Nxd4 7.f4
White has to play energetically to open the f file.
7….d6 8.fxe5 dxe5 9.Bg5
White inflicts a very annoying pin on the h4-d8 diagonal and tries to create threats on the f file. However Black can easily handle this position and prepare to castle queenside with 9…Qe7. Black plans Bd7 and 0-0-0.
Also, after 3….Bc5, 4.b4 can be played, which is the Evans Gambit. White offers a pawn to divert the Black bishop; if he captures the pawn, white will follow up with c3 and d4.
Lines after 4.d3:
These structures are also called Giuco Pianissimo. The play takes a very close character in these structures.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.c3 0-0 6.0-0
Here black can play 6….d5!. The reader should remember that he can play this move only when white has committed c3. In the positions which arise, White’s pressure against the central pawn e5 is compensated by the pressure on d3. The players must know the full theory to play this line. 7.exd5 Nxd5
This position is fashionable today, and white has several decent moves starting from 8.a4, 8.Nbd2 and 8.Re1.
Black can also deviate and opt for more fighting play with 5…a6. Here white goes 6.Bb3, which leads to very positional play. After 6…d6 (There is almost no difference if Black would first play 5…d6 and then 6….a6). 7.0-0 – 0-0 8.h3
We have reached the main position of the so-called Giuco Piano. White takes control of the g4 square to avoid Black’s night jump.
White has two plans for this position:
- Prepare the d3-d4 advance by playing Re1, Nbd2-Nf1-g3
- Develop a kingside offensive by playing Re1, Nbd2-f1-g3 followed by Nh2 and Qf3.
On the other hand, black should try to challenge the strong b3 bishop and look for the d5 break.
The main move order goes 8….h6 9.Re1 Re8. This move helps to prepare Be6 and then plan d5 when given the opportunity.
10.Nbd2 Be6! 11.Nf1 Bxb3 12.axb3 d5! Black is at least equal.
Lines with h3:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.h3
We should pay special attention to this tricky move order. White’s main idea is to avoid the 6.c3 d5 lines. However, with 6.h3 white, the option of expanding on the queenside using a2-a4 followed by the eventual c2-c3 and b2-b4.
After 6…d6 7.c3 (this is always a good move when black has played d6) a6 8.Re1
White aims to keep his bishop on c4 to switch to a queenside expansion later possibly.
8…Ba7 ( The most popular) 9.Bb3 h6 10.Nbd2
We have arrived at an extremely important theoretical position. The a7 bishop is not the best piece here but has long-term goals. Black’s chances are quite reasonable in this line.
Lines with a4:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.a4!?
The latest trend in this popular line. White gains space on the queenside and try to delay the move c2-c3, as it allows the immediate 6…d5. In general, he would play c3 only after black commits d6.
This move is always an important plan of White’s strategy. Besides the obvious idea to prepare d3-d4 advance in the future, White also creates a little trap-now he wants to trap Black’s bishop through b2-b4.
7….a6 This is a modest move. Black creates room for his bishop without creating any weaknesses.
7…a5 is also possible, and one of the recent games continued 8.Na3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nb5 Nb6 11.Bg5 Be7 12.Bxe7 Qxe7 13. Bb3 Bg4 14.Qe2 Rad8 and Black achieved a comfortable game in David A-Sokolov In Saint Quentin 2016.
If you like to know more about chess openings for white, check out the blog on aggressive chess openings for white.
The Two Nights variation:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6
This is the starting position of this opening. The game takes a sharp character, and both players need to be up to date with the theory.
Black lures white to attack his f7 pawn with Ng5; if white accepts this offer, black is forced to sacrifice a pawn.
The main line runs 4.Ng5 d5
Black counters in the centre!
5.exd5 Na5 (The recapture 5…Nxd5 is extremely risky. After 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 These variations are very difficult for black to play practically over the board)
White plays 6.Bb5+ c6 ( 6….Bd7 is a reasonable alternative) 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6
8.Qf3 is also a move when black has a choice between 8…h6,8…Rb8 or 8….Be7.
White generally retreats the night to f3 after 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Bd6 This is considered the main line of the Two nights variation.
To sum up:
The Italian opening is very aggressive, and if you like sharp tactical battles, you must try this. However, the play can be relatively slow in some lines like the ones arising from the d3 move order.