The Italian Chess Opening: Your Secret Weapon Against 1…e5

The Italian Opening is becoming the chosen chess opening weapon of top players facing 1…e5 today.

Over time, this opening has proven itself to be a reliable and effective weapon for White.

Winning Strategies in the Giuoco Piano

In many chess openings, if Black can play the moves …e5 and …d5, he obtains at least equality. Thus, it makes sense for Black to play an early …d5 against the Italian Opening at the earliest opportunity.

One of the main differences between the Italian Opening and other chess openings is that White can make it extremely difficult for Black to maintain equality.

Even entering a variation leading to an endgame doesn’t help Black find easy equality!

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The Italian Opening Endgame Variation With 8.Re1

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0-0

Italian 5...0 0
Italian Opening 5…0 0

Black must not play …d5 too early in the Italian Opening, or he will do nothing but rush into a loss. For example, 5…d5 6.exd5 Nxd5 7.Qb3! gives White a significant advantage no matter what Black plays.

6.0-0 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Re1

Italian 8.Re1
Italian 8.Re1

From this position, the moves leading to the endgame are easy to remember. 

8…Bg4 9.Nbd2 Nb6 10.h3 Bh5 11.Bb3 Qxd3 12.Nxe5 Bxd1 13.Nxd3 Bxb3 14.axb3 Be7

Italian 14...Be7
Italian 14…Be7

White’s primary alternative is 8.a4 which avoids entering the endgame arising after 8.Re1. However, if strong GM Harikrishna, rated 2723, couldn’t hold the endgame with Black, you can expect your opponents to find this task incredibly challenging. 

Considering how little attention is given to chess endgames by most intermediate and club players, it makes sense to play opening variations leading to an endgame. This gives you a safe, secure path to an endgame you are almost certain to know better than your opponent.

Remember you are playing for two results while Black is doing his best to hold on for a draw. 

Giri, A. – Harikrishna, P., 1-0, 3rd Du Te Cup 2019

The next game clearly shows the importance of studying the endgames that arise from the Italian Opening. This game was played between two grandmasters rated over 2600, and both misplayed the endgame.

Black could have prevented White from gaining more than a slight advantage with 20…Rd6 and White could have kept a significant advantage with 25.Nb5.

Van Foreest, Jorden (2614) – Ragger, M. (2687), 1/2-1/2, World Rapid Championship (12.33), 2018

The Modern Approach: 8.a4

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 0-0 6.0-0 d5 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.a4

Giuoco Piano 8.a4
Italian 8.a4

This moves gains space and provides a safe retreat square for the bishop. This is a flexible move because, in some variations of the Italian Opening, it defends the bishop after Bb5.

8…a6 9.Nbd2 Nb6 10.Ba2 Bg4 11.h3 Bh5 12.a5

Italian 12.a5
Italian 12.a5

8.a4 is a flexible move that might cause your opponent to play …a5 and give you the chance to occupy b5 with your bishop. Of course, if Black doesn’t block the advance of your a-pawn, you can simply advance it all the way to a6.

When Black plays …a6, White can simply drop the bishop back to b3 or a2.

Against the almost always played …Bg4, it helps to remember you can drive the bishop to h5 with h3 and then attack it with Ne4-g3!

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made effective use of the b5 square in his game against Levon Aronian. Instead of 8…a6, Aronian played 8…a5 allowing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to play 11.Bb5.

Stevic had a more challenging battle against Bosiocic, who chose to play 8…a6.

Stevic, H. – Bosiocic, Mari, 1-0, 24th TCh-CRO Div 1a 2015

Final Thoughts on the Italian Opening

With the help of chess engines, almost every opening line is theoretically playable, but in practice, they can be challenging and uncomfortable to play.

There is nothing wrong with asking your opponent if he has the technique needed to hold a theoretically equal position in practical play.

The Giuoco Piano is quiet in name only as many Black players have found to their cost.

White’s play might look modest, but it involves a steady build-up of pressure that slowly gains irresistible momentum.

White’s moves are easy to understand and remember in this opening where knowing the strategies for both sides will lead you to the right move.

When you play the Giuoco Piano, you get a good position with White to outplay your opponent in either the middlegame or endgame.

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