The Giuoco Piano, Italian for ‘Quiet Game’ and commonly known as the Italian Opening, is one of the oldest and most traditional chess openings out of the Italian game.
The opening follows a series of moves with the intention of quick development on both sides, offering tactical nuances and strategic possibilities in equal measure.
The basic understanding and practice of the Giuoco Piano can provide an essential stepping stone towards advanced mastery in chess, due to the depth and intricacies it provides.
Below we look at the various aspects of the Giuoco Piano, its theories, variations, strategies, and history, along with discussing its suitability for beginners, intermediates, and grandmasters alike.
Move Order of the Giuoco Piano
The Giuoco Piano opens with the moves:
- e4 e5
- Nf3 Nc6
- Bc4 Bc5
White’s intention is to develop quickly – but so does Black.
White can construct a pawn center but in unfavorable conditions a center which cannot provide a basis for further active play.
Theory, Strategy and Purpose of the Giuoco Piano
The Giuoco Piano’s main focus lies in achieving rapid development and control over the center.
This control of the center is a fundamental theme in many chess openings, with the strategy often being to support a pawn push to d4.
The purpose behind such strategy is to control the game by keeping the opponent on the defensive, while also giving white options for various types of pawn structures and game plans.
Variations of Giuoco Piano
The variations in Giuoco Piano can provide a wide array of strategic and tactical opportunities.
The main continuations after White’s fourth move include:
- 4.c3 (Main line)
- 4.b4 (Evans Gambit)
- 4.d3 (Giuoco Pianissimo), and
- 4.0-0 (with the intention of meeting 4…Nf6 with 5.d4, the Max Lange Gambit).
Other less common replies include:
- 4.Nc3 Nf6 (Four Knights Variation)
- 4.d4 (Italian Gambit), and
- 4.Bxf7+? Kxf7 5.Nxe5+ Nxe5 (the Jerome Gambit)
Each variation offers unique complexities, tactical patterns, and strategic plans that can cater to the varying styles of different players.
4.c3, the Main line
This is the main and most popular continuation in the Italian Game, aiming to support the center pawn at d4 and prepare for the quick development of the queen’s bishop.
4.b4, the Evans Gambit
In this gambit, White sacrifices a pawn for rapid development and to open lines for the bishops, making it an aggressive and dynamic choice that was favored during the 19th century.
4.d3, the Giuoco Pianissimo
This is the quietest and most positional line of the Italian Game, in which White aims for a slow buildup and a pawn structure similar to the Ruy-Lopez opening.
4.0-0, the Max Lange Gambit
In this gambit, often after 4…Nf6, White plays 5.d4 with the idea of giving up a pawn for the rapid development of pieces and opening up the center.
4.Nc3 Nf6, the Four Knights Variation
This is a classical and solid line in the Italian Game, named because both players develop their knights to their most natural squares in the opening.
4.d4, the Italian Gambit
This is a direct and tactical approach where White challenges the center early on, aiming to avoid the quieter lines and complicate the game right from the start.
4.Bxf7+? Kxf7 5.Nxe5+ Nxe5, the Jerome Gambit
This is considered an unsound gambit, where White sacrifices two pieces early on, hoping to expose the Black king and set up a quick mating attack.
However, this attack is easily refutable with accurate play.
Giuoco Pianissimo: 4.d3
The Giuoco Pianissimo with 4.d3, as named by Adolf Anderssen, is a conservative and strategic variation of the Italian Game where White aims for a gradual buildup, postponing the d4 push until it can be better prepared.
This decision of avoiding immediate confrontation in the center helps White maintain tension, facilitating a more positional game focused on maneuvering.
Two important continuations include the Giuoco Pianissimo Deferred with 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.d3, and the more aggressive Lucchini Gambit with 4.d3 f5, which can lead to the tactical Dubois Variation after 5.Ng5 f4.
When White plays c2-c3 and the bishop retreats to c2 via b3, the game can resemble the Ruy Lopez opening.
This strategy has been employed by Grandmasters such as Anish Giri to circumvent the Berlin Defense in the Ruy Lopez.
In addition, White can execute the b4 and a4 moves to pressure the black bishop and gain territory on the queenside.
This variation was commonly perceived as slow and prone to draws, but it gained popularity in the 1980s after Grandmaster John Nunn started using it.
Common move orders include 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3, and transpositions from the Bishop’s Opening with 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d3 Nc6 4.Nf3 Bc5 5.c3 or 5.0-0 d6 6.c3.
Giuoco Piano ECO Codes
Codes from the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings are:
- C50 Italian Game, includes Giuoco Piano lines other than 4.c3 and 4.b4
- C51 Evans Gambit
- C52 Evans Gambit, with 4…Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5
- C53 Giuoco Piano, 4.c3, without 4…Nf6
- C54 Giuoco Piano, 4.c3 Nf6
- includes other than 5.d4 and 5.d3
- 5.d4 exd4, without 6.cxd4
- 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4
Evaluation of the Giuoco Piano
The Giuoco Piano is generally evaluated at around +0.15 to +0.35 for white.
Theory & Continuation Lines of the Giuoco Piano
Below we have some common theory and continuation lines from the Giuoco Piano starting move order 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 that you would see at the highest level of play.
The best reply to the Giuoco Piano is generally four possible moves:
- 4. d3
- 4. c3
- 4. Nc3
- 4. O-O
Let’s look at sample continuation lines in each of them:
4. d3 Nf6 5. O-O d6 6. a4 a5 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 O-O 9. Nbd2 Ne7 10. Nh4 c6 11. Qe1 h6 12. c3 Kh8 13. d4 Ng6 14. Nxg6+ fxg6 15. dxe5 dxe5 16. Nf3
4. d3 Nf6 5. O-O d6 6. a4 a5 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 O-O 9. Nbd2 Ne7 10. Nh4 c6 11. Qf3 h6 12. Qg3 Nh5 13. Qf2 Nf6 14. h3 Be6 15. Bxe6 fxe6 16. g4 g5 17. Nhf3
4. d3 Nf6 5. O-O d6 6. a4 a5 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 O-O 9. Nbd2 Qe7 10. h3 Be6 11. Bxe6 Qxe6 12. Rf2 d5 13. Qe2 h6 14. exd5 Nxd5 15. Nh4 Nce7 16. Raf1 f6 17. b3 b6 18. Qf3 Rad8 19. Nc4 e4 20. Qxe4 Qxe4 21. dxe4
4… Nf6 5. a4 a5 6. O-O d6 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 Ne7 9. Qe1 O-O 10. Nh4 Kh8 11. Nd2 Qe8 12. Qg3 Nfg8 13. Nf5 g6 14. Nxe7 Qxe7 15. Rf2 Bd7 16. Bd5 Nf6 17. Bxb7 Rab8 18. Bd5 Nxd5 19. exd5
4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. Bb3 d6 7. O-O O-O 8. a4 h6 9. h3 a5 10. Be3 Bxe3 11. fxe3 Be6 12. Bxe6 fxe6 13. Nbd2 Qd7 14. Qc2 b6 15. Rf2 Ne7 16. b4 axb4 17. cxb4
4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. O-O d6 7. Re1 O-O 8. h3 Be6 9. b4 Ba7 10. Bxe6 fxe6 11. a4 h6 12. Be3 Bxe3 13. Rxe3 Qe8 14. Nbd2 Nh5 15. g3 Qf7 16. Kg2 Ne7 17. Qb3
4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. a4 d6 7. O-O Ba7 8. a5 O-O 9. Bb3 Be6 10. h3 h6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. Be3 Qe8 13. Nbd2 Nh5 14. Kh2 Nf4 15. Nc4 Qf7 16. b4 Qh5 17. Ng1 Bxe3 18. Qxh5
4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. O-O d6 7. a4 O-O 8. h3 h6 9. Re1 Ba7 10. b4 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. Be3 Nh5 13. Nbd2 Bxe3 14. fxe3 Qf6 15. Qb3 Rf7 16. Rf1 Ng3 17. Rf2 Raf8
4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. O-O d6 7. a4 O-O 8. h3 Ba7 9. Re1 Be6 10. Bxe6 fxe6 11. Be3 Nh5 12. Nbd2 Qf6 13. b4 h6 14. Bxa7 Nxa7 15. g3 Qg6 16. Re3 Nc6 17. Kg2 b5 18. Qb3
4. Nc3 Nf6 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 h6 7. h3 d6 8. Na4 Bb6 9. c3 Ne7 10. Nxb6 axb6 11. Bb3 Ng6 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Re1 c6 14. d4 b5 15. Nh2 Qc7 16. Nf1 Be6 17. Ng3 d5 18. exd5 Bxd5 19. Bxg6 fxg6 20. dxe5
4. Nc3 Nf6 5. O-O d6 6. Na4 Bb6 7. d3 Na5 8. Bb3 c6 9. Nxb6 axb6 10. Bxf7+ Kxf7 11. b4 Rf8 12. bxa5 Rxa5 13. a4 Kg8 14. Bd2 Ra8 15. h3 h6 16. Re1 Ra6 17. Re3 Bd7 18. c4 Qe8 19. d4 exd4 20. Nxd4
4. Nc3 Nf6 5. O-O d6 6. Na4 Bb6 7. d3 Na5 8. Bb3 c6 9. Nxb6 axb6 10. Be3 O-O 11. h3 h6 12. c4 c5 13. Nd2 Nxb3 14. Nxb3 Nh7 15. f4 f5 16. Nd2 exf4 17. Bxf4
4. Nc3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. Nd5 Nxd5 7. Bxd5 d6 8. O-O O-O 9. c3 Qf6 10. h3 Ba7 11. Bb3 Be6 12. Bg5 Qg6 13. Kh2 Rae8 14. Bd2 Bxb3 15. Qxb3 Nd8 16. Nh4 Qe6 17. f4 Qxb3 18. axb3 exf4 19. Rxf4 f6 20. Rg4 Kh8
4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. c3 a5 7. h3 h6 8. Re1 O-O 9. Bb3 Bb6 10. Nbd2 Be6 11. Nc4 Ba7 12. a4 Re8 13. Be3 Bxe3 14. Nxe3 Qd7 15. Nc4 Rad8 16. Rc1 Bxc4 17. Bxc4 d5
4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. a4 a5 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 O-O 9. Nbd2 Ne7 10. Qe1 Ng6 11. Qg3 c6 12. h3 Bd7 13. Ba2 Re8 14. Nh4 Nxh4 15. Qxh4 d5 16. exd5 cxd5
4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. a4 O-O 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 a5 9. Nbd2 h6 10. h3 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. c3 Qd7 13. Qc2 b6 14. Rf2 Ne7 15. b4 Ng6 16. b5 Rf7 17. Raf1 Raf8 18. d4
4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. a4 a5 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 O-O 9. Nbd2 Qe7 10. h3 Be6 11. Rf2 Bxc4 12. Nxc4 d5 13. exd5 Nxd5 14. e4 Nf4 15. Kh2 Qc5 16. Qd2 f6 17. b3 Rad8 18. Raf1 b6
Which reply to the Giuoco Piano is strongest?
Generally, 4. c3 and 4. O-O are the strongest 4th move for white.
4. d3 is next. 4. Nc3 is the weakest of the four, but is playable and retains white’s advantage.
Giuoco Piano | Italian Game Theory
History of the Giuoco Piano
The Giuoco Piano has a long and storied history in the world of chess.
Played as early as the 16th century by the Portuguese writer Pedro Damiano, it gained popularity in the 19th century.
However, modern refinements in defensive play have led chess masters towards openings like the Ruy Lopez.
Despite this, the Giuoco Pianissimo, a slower and more strategic line of the Giuoco Piano, has been favored by many modern grandmasters.
Is the Giuoco Piano Good for Beginners or Intermediates?
The Giuoco Piano is an excellent opening for beginners and intermediates to learn.
It introduces players to key concepts in chess such as rapid development, pawn structure, and center control.
Moreover, it can guide players to understand more complex ideas and tactics that are applicable in various other openings and middlegame plans.
However, like any other opening, it requires study and practice to fully understand its possibilities and potential pitfalls.
Is the Giuoco Piano Played at the Grandmaster Level?
At the grandmaster level, the Giuoco Piano has seen its popularity fluctuate over the years.
Despite being less popular than other openings like the Sicilian or the Ruy Lopez, it still holds a respected position.
Grandmasters have shown preference for the Giuoco Pianissimo, with famous practitioners including the likes of Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, and Magnus Carlsen.
Therefore, while not as frequently played as other openings, it certainly is a part of the grandmaster’s arsenal.
Example Giuoco Piano Game
This game was done between Stockfish 15 (Black) and Stockfish 12 (White) to see lines that a computer would process.
The game was a tight positional battle until move 16.
White committed the mistake of the bishop taking on d5 to try to break open the center and eventually capture a rook for a bishop.
However, it led to a positional disadvantage with inferior king safety for white and eventually a material disadvantage by move 22.
Black eventually mated on move 47:
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. O-O d6 7. b4 Bb6 8. a4 a5 9. b5 Ne7 10. Nbd2 Ng6 11. Bb3 Bg4 12. h3 Bh5 13. g3 Qd7 14. Kh2 Rad8 15. Nc4 d5 16. Nxb6 cxb6 17. Bxd5 Nxd5 18. exd5 f5 19. d6 Qxd6 20. Ba3 Qd5 21. Bxf8 Rxf8 22. Re1 Qxf3 23. Qc2 Nf4 24. gxf4 Qxf4+ 25. Kg1 Bf3 26. Re2 Qg5+ 27. Kf1 e4 28. Rd1 Rd8 29. d4 f4 30. Rc1 Rf8 31. Qa2+ Kh8 32. Qa3 Re8 33. Ke1 e3 34. fxe3 fxe3 35. Kd1 Qg2 36. Qb2 Rf8 37. Kc2 Qxe2+ 38. Kb1 Qc4 39. Qa2 Be4+ 40. Ka1 Qf1 41. Qb2 e2 42. Ka2 e1=Q 43. Rxe1 Qxe1 44. c4 Rf3 45. d5 Qd1 46. c5 Qxa4+ 47. Qa3 Qxa3#
FAQs – Giuoco Piano
1. What is the Giuoco Piano or the Italian Game in Chess?
The Giuoco Piano, also known as the Italian Game, is a popular chess opening that starts with the moves 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5.
The term Giuoco Piano translates to “Quiet Game” in Italian.
This opening allows both players to develop their pieces quickly with the potential to construct a strong pawn centre.
However, a central control that doesn’t support active play can be unfavourable.
It’s one of the oldest known chess openings and was frequently played from the 16th through to the 19th century.
2. What is the historical significance of the Giuoco Piano?
The Giuoco Piano is one of the oldest recorded openings in chess history.
It was first played by the Portuguese player Pedro Damiano in the early 16th century, and then by the Italian player Greco in the early 17th century.
This opening was particularly popular through the 19th century.
However, contemporary refinements in defensive play have led many chess masters towards openings like the Ruy Lopez, which offer White greater chances for a long-term initiative.
3. What are the main variations in the Giuoco Piano?
The Giuoco Piano has several main continuations on White’s fourth move:
- 4.c3, the Main line.
- 4.b4, known as the Evans Gambit, which allows White to sacrifice a pawn for rapid development.
- 4.d3, known as the Giuoco Pianissimo.
- 4.0-0, usually with the intent of meeting 4…Nf6 with 5.d4, known as the Max Lange Gambit.
Additionally, other continuations are:
- 4.Nc3 Nf6, the Four Knights Variation.
- 4.d4, the Italian Gambit, which opens up the centre.
- 4.Bxf7+? Kxf7 5.Nxe5+ Nxe5, the Jerome Gambit, a risky opening where White sacrifices two pieces hoping to expose Black’s king.
4. What is the main line of Giuoco Piano?
In the main line of the Giuoco Piano, White plays 4.c3 in preparation for the central advance d2–d4.
The typical response is 4…Nf6. The game can then continue with 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4.
This line is focused on control of the center and sets the stage for a strategic battle.
5. What is the Giuoco Pianissimo?
The Giuoco Pianissimo is a variation of the Giuoco Piano that starts with 4.d3.
The term Giuoco Pianissimo translates to “Very Quiet Game” in Italian.
Here, White aims for a slow buildup, delaying the d4 push until it can be prepared.
By avoiding an immediate confrontation in the center, White prevents the early release of tension through exchanges and transitions into a positional maneuvering game.
6. What are the ECO codes for Giuoco Piano?
The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO) assigns codes C50 to C54 to the Giuoco Piano.
Here is how the codes break down:
- C50: Italian Game, includes Giuoco Piano lines other than 4.c3 and 4.b4.
- C51: Evans Gambit.
- C52: Evans Gambit, with 4…Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5.
- C53: Giuoco Piano, 4.c3, without 4…Nf6.
- C54: Giuoco Piano, 4.c3 Nf6, includes variations other than 5.d4 and 5.d3, and also 5.d4 exd4 without 6.cxd4 and with 6.cxd4, as well as 5.d3.
7. How did modern grandmasters utilize the Giuoco Piano?
Many modern grandmasters have shown a distinct preference for the slower and more strategic Giuoco Pianissimo.
For instance, Anatoly Karpov used it against Viktor Korchnoi in the 1981 World Championship match, Garry Kasparov used it against Joël Lautier at Linares 1994, and Magnus Carlsen used it against Hikaru Nakamura at London 2011.
The choices made in these games often led to intense positional battles, reflecting the strategic depth of the Giuoco Piano.
8. What is the Evans Gambit in the Giuoco Piano?
The Evans Gambit is a variation of the Giuoco Piano that starts with 4.b4. In this opening, White offers a pawn in return for rapid development.
This gambit was more popular in the 19th century than the standard Giuoco Piano and is known for leading to aggressive and tactical play.
9. Is Giuoco Piano a good opening for beginners?
Yes, the Giuoco Piano is often recommended as a good opening for beginners.
It helps beginners understand key principles of opening theory, such as the importance of controlling the center, developing pieces quickly, and ensuring the safety of the king.
Furthermore, since it typically leads to open games, it provides numerous tactical opportunities, which can be beneficial for improving a beginner’s tactical skills.
10. Can the Giuoco Piano transpose into other openings?
Yes, the Giuoco Piano can transpose into other openings.
11. Why is the name “Italian Game” also used for the Giuoco Piano?
The name “Italian Game” is sometimes used to describe all openings that begin with 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4, which includes the Giuoco Piano.
However, it also encompasses other responses, including 3…Nf6, known as the Two Knights Defense, and other less common replies.
12. What is the history of the Giuoco Piano?
The Giuoco Piano is one of the oldest recorded chess openings. It was played by the Portuguese writer Pedro Damiano in the early 16th century, and by the Italian player Greco in the 17th century.
The Giuoco Piano remained popular throughout the 19th century, but modern advancements in defensive play have shifted preference towards openings like the Ruy Lopez that provide White with better chances for a long-term initiative.
13. What are the main continuations of the Giuoco Piano?
There are several popular continuations for White on the fourth move:
- 4.c3, the Main line, preparing for the central advance d2–d4.
- 4.b4, known as the Evans Gambit, where White offers a pawn for rapid development.
- 4.d3, the Giuoco Pianissimo, where the game continues in a slower and more strategic manner.
- 4.0-0, often intending to meet 4…Nf6 with 5.d4, the Max Lange Gambit.
Other, less common, variations include the Four Knights Variation, the Italian Gambit, and the unsound Jerome Gambit.
14. What is the “Giuoco Pianissimo”?
The Giuoco Pianissimo, meaning “Very Quiet Game” in Italian, is a variation of the Giuoco Piano where White plays 4.d3.
White’s aim is to delay a confrontation in the center of the board, preventing early exchanges and maintaining tension, which leads to a more positional, maneuvering game.
The variation is often seen as slower and less aggressive than other Giuoco Piano lines, but it has been adopted by many high-level players.
15. What are the ECO codes associated with the Giuoco Piano?
The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings (ECO) assigns the following codes to variations of the Giuoco Piano:
- C50: Italian Game, includes Giuoco Piano lines other than 4.c3 and 4.b4.
- C51: Evans Gambit.
- C52: Evans Gambit, with 4…Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5.
- C53: Giuoco Piano, 4.c3, without 4…Nf6.
- C54: Giuoco Piano, 4.c3 Nf6.
16. How has the Giuoco Piano been used in professional play?
Many grandmasters have utilized the Giuoco Piano in professional play, particularly the slower and more strategic Giuoco Pianissimo.
Notably, Anatoly Karpov used the Giuoco Pianissimo against Viktor Korchnoi in the 1981 World Championship match.
Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, and Magnus Carlsen have also used this opening in high-profile games.
17. What are some key tactical themes in the Giuoco Piano?
The Giuoco Piano is a strategic opening where both sides aim to develop quickly and control the center.
Key tactical themes often involve exploiting the position of the central pawns, mobilizing forces for a strong attack, and using pawn sacrifices for rapid piece development.
Understanding these themes can help players navigate the complex possibilities of the opening and effectively respond to their opponent’s moves.
18. What are the benefits of playing the Giuoco Piano?
The Giuoco Piano allows for quick development of pieces, control of the center, and strategic play.
It is a versatile opening that can lead to a variety of different game types, depending on the chosen variations.
Because of its deep history and extensive analysis, playing the Giuoco Piano can provide players with a wealth of resources for improving their understanding of the game.
19. Are there any drawbacks to playing the Giuoco Piano?
While the Giuoco Piano allows for strategic and positional play, it may not suit players who prefer highly tactical and sharp openings.
Additionally, some variations of the Giuoco Piano can lead to more drawish positions, which may not be preferred by players seeking decisive results.
Lastly, as one of the oldest recorded openings, many lines have been extensively analyzed, and opponents may be well-prepared against it.
The Giuoco Piano represents a vital aspect of chess opening theory.
Its emphasis on development, center control, and complex strategic concepts makes it an invaluable tool for chess players of all levels.
Whether it’s a beginner learning the ropes, an intermediate player aiming to improve, or a grandmaster looking for deep strategic battles, the Giuoco Piano has something to offer for everyone.
Its rich history, varied lines, and complex variations make it a fascinating study and an enduring part of the game of chess.