Coming Full Circle to the Giuoco Piano

The first chess opening I was taught as a child was the Giuoco Piano. I was seven or eight and it was a cousin of the same ago who showed me the opening. My two uncles frequently played chess on the weekend and Christopher passed along what his dad taught him about central control when he demonstrated the opening.

Here we see a classic game with the Giuoco Piano from the famous Hastings Tournament of 1895. The game was between William Steinitz and Curt von Bardeleben:

The Giuoco Piano has a reputation as a beginner’s opening. No so! It is occasionally played by no less notable GM than the current world #1, Magnus Carlsen. GMs Alexander Morozevich and Emil Sutovsky play it often. GM Sergei Tiviakov plays it, too, (and almost invariably castling on the queenside – a novelty he claims is pretty much unique to him).

At some point during my three decades away from chess, much of the English-speaking world decided Giuoco Piano was too hard to spell and pronounce, so many now call it the Italian Game. They’ve also broadened the family of related openings a bit, too. Giuoco Pianissimo has always been a sibling. The Evan’s Gambit, more of a half-sibling. The Two Knights Defense, a step-brother/sister.

I’ve decided to return to my roots for the remainder of this month and the next few months; focus heavily on the Giuoco Piano and its nearest relatives. The immediate motivation is the release by ChessBase this past week of two new DVDs. One is The Giuoco Piano by Lorin D’Costa and Nick Murphy. The other is Attacking with the Italian Game and the Ruy Lopez by Sergei Tiviakov.

One of the benefits of choosing the Giuoco Piano for extended study is the wide availability of resources. In addition to the new ChessBase DVDs, GM Davies produced an excellent introduction for ChessBase in 2010: Attack with the Modern Italian. Daniel King recommends it as part of his repertoire in Power Play 17: Attack with 1. e4. You can find plenty of coverage on the Internet, too. And, of course there are books and monographs devoted to the opening. Nearly every book on openings in general has a chapter devoted to it.

I’ve already watched The Giuoco Piano by Lorin D’Costa and Nick Murphy and I’ve promised a review for ChessBase in the coming few days. If you think of the Giuoco Piano as boring, you need to watch this DVD, where the focus is exclusively on sharp attacking lines. There’s nothing Pianissimo about these video clips. My eyes really opened when Magnus Carlsen played the Giuoco Piano variation with c3 in conjunction with d3 but with the colors reversed. His QN even managed to beat white’s “Spanish knight” to the kingside and deprive it of its g3 perch.

I’m going to spar a lot with Fritz 13 over the next three-and-a-half months. I’ll be focusing on the following variations:

  • 4.c3 (the Greco Variation);
  • 4.c3 in conjunction with d3 (similar but sidestepping many complications to the Spanish Game)
  • 4.d3 in conjunction with Bg5 (the Canal variation);
  • 4.d4 (the Italian Gambit);
  • 4.0-0, with the intention of meeting 4…Nf6 with 5.d4 (the Max Lange Gambit); and
  • 5.b4 (reaching the Evans Gambit Declined by transposition)

It’s a mistake in my opinion to think of the Giuoco Piano as a beginners opening or leading to deadly, dull chess. The move 3 Bc4 can easily lead to exciting chess. For us improving players, it has the benefit of sharpening our tactical strength and – should we prefer – we can even play it in a more positional fashion.

Glenn Mitchell