Learn How to Play an Italian Game

Learn How to Play an Italian Game
William T Green

William T Green

Jul 10, 2023


The Italian Game is a popular and dynamic chess opening that has been played for centuries. It is named after its popularity among Italian chess players during the 16th century. The opening begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, and it can lead to a variety of positional and tactical positions. In this article, we will delve into the theory behind the Italian Game, its historical background, strategic goals, notable games, and modern trends.

Historical Background

The Italian Game has a rich history that dates back to the 16th century. At that time, Italian chess players were among the strongest in the world, and they played the opening frequently. The opening was later popularized by the famous chess player and writer Gioachino Greco, who wrote a treatise on chess that included numerous games featuring the Italian Game.

Over time, the opening evolved, and different variations were developed to counter it. One of the most famous variations is the Evans Gambit, which involves sacrificing a pawn to gain a strong initiative. The opening remained popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and has continued to be played at the highest levels of the game.

Basic Moves and Variations

The Italian Game begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4. This sequence of moves is designed to control the center of the board and develop the pieces quickly. The move 3.Bc4 attacks the pawn on f7, which is a weak spot in black's position.

One of the most popular variations of the Italian Game is the Giuoco Piano, which begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5. This variation aims to control the center of the board and develop the pieces quickly while maintaining a solid pawn structure.

Another variation is the Two Knights Defense, which begins with the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6. This variation is more aggressive and aims to challenge white's control of the center of the board.

Strategic Goals and Considerations

The Italian Game has different strategic objectives for each side. White aims to control the center of the board and put pressure on black's position. Black, on the other hand, aims to counter white's initiative and develop their pieces quickly.

One of the key positional features of the Italian Game is the bishop on c4. This bishop exerts pressure on the pawn on f7, which is a weak spot in black's position. The bishop can also be used to control the long diagonal and put pressure on black's queenside.

Tactical motifs are also important in the Italian Game. For example, the fork on e5 can be a powerful tactic for white. If black captures the pawn on e5, white can respond with d4, attacking the knight on c6 and gaining control of the center of the board.

Notable Games and Analysis

There have been numerous famous games played featuring the Italian Game. One of the most famous is the Immortal Game, played in 1851 between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. In this game, Anderssen sacrificed his queen to deliver a checkmate with his minor pieces.

Another famous game is the Opera Game, played in 1858 between Paul Morphy and Duke Karl of Brunswick and Count Isouard. In this game, Morphy used the Italian Game to gain a powerful initiative and win the game quickly.

Vladimir Kramnik vs. Magnus Carlsen


1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Qe7 5. Nc3 Na5 6. O-O 7. a4 Nxc4 8. dxc4 d6 9. b3 Qc7 10. Bg5 Be7 11. a5 O-O 12. Qd3 h6 13. Bh4 Be6 14. Rfd1 Rfd8 15. Qe3 b6 16. axb6 axb6 17. h3 g5 18. Nxg5 Rxa1 19. Rxa1 hxg5 20. Rxg5 Kh7 21. Re3 Rg8 22. f4 Nh5 23. fxee5 Bxh4 24. Qf3 Rg5 25. exd6 Qxd6 26. Ne2 Ng3 27. Nc3 Qd4 28. Kh2 Qee5 29. Kg1 Qxc3

Key Takeaways & Analysis:

The game started with 1.e4 e5, which is a very common opening known as the Open Game. After 2.Nf3 Nc6 and 3.Bc4, we see the Italian game, and after 4...Nf6, it's the Two Knights Defense. After 4.d3, White decides to play in a closed, positional manner.

Black's 5...Na5 is an unusual response in the Italian Game but is aiming to disrupt White's pawn structure after 6.Bb3, leading White to play 6. O-O instead. Then, Black captured the bishop on c4, successfully disrupting White's pawn structure.

By move 8...d6, Black has established a solid pawn structure to control the center and prepare to develop the remaining minor pieces.

The early middlegame move 10.Bg5 signals White's intent to make the game more dynamic and possibly to provoke weaknesses in Black's kingside pawn structure. Black responds with 11...Be7, opting for a defensive posture while developing a piece.

At move 16...axb6, Black's a-pawn captures White's a-pawn, opening up the a-file for rooks and queens to take advantage of. Black's a-pawn can now recapture, creating semi-open files on both sides of the board.

The move 17.h3 is a useful, prophylactic measure from White, making luft for the king and preventing Black from playing ...Ng4.

A dramatic moment comes with 18.Nxg5. It's a risky move, as it sacrifices a knight to open up Black's king's position. This sacrifice is, however, questionable, as Black is able to capture the knight with hxg5 without any immediate, devastating consequences.

After 24.Qf3, White is trying to maintain the pressure despite being down in material. However, Black's response, 25...Rg5, defends against the threat while simultaneously attacking the exposed rook on e5.

Move 27.Nc3 indicates that White is trying to bring all remaining pieces into play, but it may be too late as Black has managed to solidify his position.

The game finishes with 29...Qxc3, after which Black is simply up too much material and White's position is too weakened. A thrilling game showcasing the risks and potential benefits of aggressive play in the middlegame!

Bobby Fischer vs. Serui-Florin Grunberg


1. e4 e5 2. N3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. d4 Be7 7. Nxf7 Kxf7 8. Qf3 Ke6 9. Nc3 Bb4 10. Bxd5 Kd6 11. Bxc6 Bxc3 12. bxc3 bxc6 13. Ba3 Ke6 14. O-O Qd5 15. Qh5 e4 16. Qh4 g5 17. Qh5 Qf5 18, f3 Qg6 19. Qg4 Qf5 20. Qxf5 Kxf5 21. fxe4 Kxe4 22. Rae1 Kd5 23. Re5

Key Takeaways & Analysis:

This game starts with the popular Open Game 1.e4 e5 followed by 2.Nf3 and 3.Bc4, leading us into the Italian Game. The move 4.Ng5 turns the game into the Fried Liver Attack, a notoriously aggressive opening.

After 5...Nxd5, Black's knight is vulnerable in the center, and White responds with the explosive 6.d4. Black develops with 6...Be7, preparing to castle and aiming to reinforce his knight on d5.

The move 7.Nxf7 is known as the Fried Liver Attack's most aggressive continuation. White sacrifices a knight to destabilize Black's king safety. Black has to respond with 7...Kxf7.

The moves 8.Qf3+ Ke6 9.Nc3 continue to apply pressure on Black's king stuck in the center and the d5 Knight. After 10.Bxd5+ Kd6, we see an unorthodox King maneuver by Black to protect the knight. However, this leaves the Black King very exposed and in a precarious position.

After 13...Ke6, Black tries to bring the king back to safety, but White's development and Black's lack of it gives White a significant advantage.

White has a huge lead in development after 14. O-O. The move 15. Qh5 puts further pressure on the e5 pawn, leading to 15...e4, which closes off the queen's access to the e5 square but exposes the pawn to attacks from the rooks.

The position after 21...Kxe4 is very precarious for Black. His king is dangerously exposed in the center and vulnerable to attacks.

The move 23.Re5+ is a great move, which cuts off the black king's escape routes and sets up potential for a deadly discovery check or mate threats in the next few moves.

Modern Trends and Innovations

In recent years, there have been many new developments in Italian Game theory One of the most interesting variations that have gained popularity is the Giuoco Pianissimo, which translates to the "very quiet game". This variation involves playing 4.d3 instead of 4.d4, which leads to a slower and more positional game. The Giuoco Pianissimo has become popular because it allows white to develop their pieces quickly and maintain a solid pawn structure while avoiding the complexity of other variations.

Another variation that has become popular in recent years is the Fried Liver Attack. This variation involves sacrificing a knight on f7 to gain a powerful initiative. The Fried Liver Attack is a risky but powerful weapon that can catch black off guard if they are not familiar with the opening.


In conclusion, the Italian Game is a fascinating and dynamic chess opening that has been played for centuries. It has a rich history and has been popularized by many great chess players over the years. The opening has different variations that can lead to a variety of positional and tactical positions, making it a great weapon in any chess player's arsenal. Understanding the strategic goals and considerations of the Italian Game is essential for any player who wishes to improve their game. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced player, studying the Italian Game can help you become a better chess player.