Openings

Italian Game

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4

The Italian Game is one of the oldest openings in chess and has been around for centuries. This classical 1.e4 opening can lead to slower and positional games as well as open, tactical battles. Although very common among beginners, the Italian Game is a part of the repertoire of players of every level.


Starting Position

The Italian Game starts after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4. White develops their kingside pieces sensibly, with the knight controlling the center and the bishop attacking the weak f7-pawn through the central d5-square.

Italian Game chess opening
The starting position of the Italian Game.

With this opening, White follows the basic opening principles of fighting for the center and taking care of the king's safety. From there, the game can evolve into either tactical or positional struggles.

Pros

  • Natural play
  • Focus on the center
  • Rapid development

Cons

  • The bishop on c4 might be exposed
  • Black's center is not under immediate pressure

Variations

As an opening that has been around since the 1500s, masters studied the Italian Game intensely throughout the ages. Below you can see the main variations of this opening.

Giuoco Piano

The most popular variation of the Italian Game is the Giuoco Piano, which starts after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5. The name of this line is an Italian expression that can translate to "soft game" or "slow game," an indication that this variation often leads to positional games. Despite its name, White can force a more open game by playing 5.d4 and entering the Center Attack variation.

Giuoco Pianissimo

The Giuoco Pianissimo, as the name suggests, tends to lead to a "very slow game." The d2-d3 push characterizes this variation and can happen either through 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 or through 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3. With this variation, White keeps the center closed and favors a more positional game.

Evans Gambit

Popularized by Captain W.D. Evans and used extensively by Paul Morphy, The Evans Gambit is suitable for the aggressive player. White gives up a wing pawn to develop quickly and create a dangerous attack on the enemy king. This variation adds spice to the slower Giuoco Piano after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4. Although not common at the highest levels, the Evans Gambit is one of the best-scoring lines among beginner and intermediate players.

How To Play Against The Italian Opening

The Italian Game is not one of the most challenging openings to deal with on Black's side.

Giuoco Piano: Main Lines

The Black player who enjoys a positional game can count on the main lines of the Giuoco Piano for a balanced game. Black wins 31% of games, draws 33%, and loses 36% in this line—a more than satisfactory result. Note that if Black chooses this line, they should be prepared for the Evans Gambit.

Italian Game chess opening
The main lines of the Italian Game will give Black a good game.

Evans Gambit Declined

Although Black can accept the gambit and still get a good game, the Evans Gambit Declined variation scores the best. With 41% of games ending in wins, 23% draws, and 36% losses, Black stands very well after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6. The Black player can also rejoice at the fact that this variation scores remarkably well among non-professional players.

History Of The Italian Game

The Italian Game is one of the oldest openings in chess, with Italian masters adopting and studying it as early as the 16th century. Notably, Giulio Cesare Polerio analyzed it in his codexes, Pedro Damiano in his 1512 Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scachi et de li partiti, and later Gioachino Greco in his manuscripts.

The opening remained popular throughout the ages, appearing consistently in top-level play. Nowadays, elite players like GMs Anish Giri, Wesley So, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are still employing the Giuoco Piano regularly with the white pieces.

Famous Games

As expected of an opening that survived for so long, there are several famous examples of the Italian Game. Below you can see four illustrative examples of this type of opening:

Anderssen vs. Dufresne, 1852 - The Evergreen Game

Steinitz vs. von Bardeleben, 1895

Carlsen vs. Nakamura, 2011

Kasparov vs. Lautier, 1994

Conclusion

You now know what the Italian Game is, its main variations, how to play it, how to play against it, its history, and more. Head over to our Master Games database to study this opening and learn even more about it!

Lesson
Popular 1.e4 Openings

Popular 1.e4 Openings

Explore the ideas behind three of the most popular 1. e4 openings in chess. 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 is the Italian Opening. Black can play the risky 3...Nf6 or the safer 3...Bc5. 3. Bb5 is the popular Ruy Lopez. The threat to play Bxc6 and Nxe5 isn't immediately dangerous, but Black must be careful and frequently replies with 3...a6 to have the option of later chasing the White bishop with b7-b5.
6 min
6 Challenges
Notable Game

Top Players