Playing The Giuoco A Little Too Piano

IM Lorin D’Costa is one of the latest ChessBase video authors. Today a new video was released where he teams with amateur Nick Murphy. They cover the plans and ideas in three different variations on the Giuoco Piano opening.

There’s a lot to like about this video. Nick Murphy is a good foil for IM D’Costa. His thought processes are typical of many of us improving chess players. He and IM D’Costa have a pleasant schtick throughout. The game in the clip below is a good representative of what to expect.

This week’s column is not a review, however. The video clip is a springboard onto a set of related topics that emerge in this game and the back-and-forth between IM D’Costa and amateur Nick Murphy.

The game is a rapid game that’s a complete mismatch. An intermediate level player rated 1847 goes up against a GM rated 2585.

Rather than play something razor sharp, the GM gave the non-titled player a sporting chance with the Giuoco Piano. Most of us know, the Giuoco Piano does not guarantee a quiet game, but one old joke (from Jan Pinski) goes something like this: if you do play white against a GM and you’re an intermediate player, you might just be able to bore the GM to death by virtue of your opening choice.

Black committed a series of basic strategic errors from the earliest moves. Do that against a GM, and it’s almost certain you’ll never recover.

Black appears to have been intimidated by the GM opponent. Understandable. I certainly would have been intimidated. As a consequence, black fails to fight for the center, concedes the initiative, does not get fully developed, loses tempi, and makes weak moves. Any of these against a GM is courting disaster. As a tangle of problems, you can expect to get clobbered even against a weak opponent. And, that’s just what happened to black in this game.

I wrote previously that we improvers rarely lose our games because of just one bad move. The move we identify as “the” move that cost us the game is usually the culmination of a series of mistakes and even outright blunders. Well, that’s the case here. Black was suffering an excruciating death long before move 18.

There is a lot to learn from this game. It’s a complete rout, but black did not just crumble.

For example, black chose exd on fifth move. Nick Murphy’s instinct, to contrast, was typical of many club players: retreat the bishop with the dubious Bb6. Black saw what Nick missed – that Bb6 allows white to play dxe. You only have to calculate a move or two to see that black would be in serious trouble. At a minimum, one of the pawns on e5 or f7 will fall.

Black invited trouble with the passive 4. … d6. Rather than fighting for the center, white is allowed to strike out with 5. d4 and – as a consequence – black is going to lose tempi with the king bishop while white gets on with development. By the time the game ends in resignation at move 18, all of white’s pieces (except for the king rook) were developed and actively placed and black still had three pieces on the back rank. The d4 thrust followed by exd and cxd left white with a robust pawn center, one that was strengthened further after the black bishop exchanged itself for a white knight on c3.

Black wasted even more time on move 7 by playing h6. This is a common move by novice players. Preemptively avoiding a pin. I’ve heard these one square rook pawn moves referred to as “little ears” by East European chess players. Learning when to move them and when not to move them is part of developing sound chess judgment. In this game, the knight on f8 is neighing and stamping its hoof to get into the game. As IM D’Costa notes, when we find ourselves in an opening variation we do not understand, then follow good opening principles. In this case, black needed to get on with development and fight for the center.

Black did display foresight when white played 8. Qb3. Many of us improvers, especially in a rapid game, might miss the nuances of posting the queen there. The Q+B battery is obvious. But if white was allowed to castle kingside immediately, all sorts of tactical opportunities would have become available. BxN was necessary to keep the knight off d5. Had black hesitated even one move, white could castle, the knight could hop, and the queen would guard the f3 knight.

Move 11. e5 is another instructive move. Re1 is sensible but a weaker move. As IM D’Costa notes, when you have a lead in development, you should try to keep it. Re1 would protect e4 and it would also allow black to get castled. Pushing the pawn to e5 is devastating. If we are slavish in our counting of attackers, we’d see that black has three pieces aiming at e5 and white has only two defenders. However . . . Tactics! Tactics! Tactics! If black takes the e5 pawn, the diagonal from a3 to f8 opens and the bishop on c1 is poised to ensure that black does not get castled!

As an improving player, the most important lesson I learn from this game is to avoid passivity from the start. You do not need to be hyper-aggressive in the opeining. but you do need to follow well-established opening principles and get your pieces developed, be energetic, don’t waste tempi, and fight for the center.

Glenn Mitchell