Italian Game

The opening is defined by the development of the white bishop to c4 (the so-called "Italian bishop"), where it attacks Black's vulnerable f7-square. It is part of the large family of Open Games or Double King's Pawn Games.

Chess Traps | Italian Game

The Italian Game is a family of chess openings beginning with the moves:

1. e4 e5

2. Nf3 Nc6

3. Bc4

The opening is defined by the development of the white bishop to c4 (the so-called "Italian bishop"), where it attacks Black's vulnerable f7-square. It is part of the large family of Open Games or Double King's Pawn Games.

The Italian Game is one of the oldest recorded chess openings; it occurs in the Göttingen manuscript and was developed by players such as Damiano and Polerio in the 16th century, and later by Greco in 1620, who gave the game its mainline. It has been extensively analysed for more than 300 years.

The term Italian Game is sometimes used interchangeably with Giuoco Piano, although the latter also refers particularly to play after 3...Bc5.

Main variations

Black's two main options are 3...Bc5, the Giuoco Piano, and 3...Nf6, the Two Knights Defense. They are about equally popular but the resulting positions usually have a very different character.

3...Bc5

Until the 19th century, this line was mainline of the Italian Game. Dubbed the Giuoco Piano ("Quiet Game") in contrast to the more aggressive lines then being developed, this continues 4.d3, the positional Giuoco Pianissimo ("Very Quiet Game"), or the mainline 4.c3 (the original Giuoco Piano) leading to positions first analysed by Greco in the 17th century, and revitalised at the turn of the 20th by the Moller Attack. 4.0-0 will usually transpose into the Giuoco Pianissimo after 4...Nf6 5.d3, while 4.Nc3 Nf6 is a transposition into the Four Knights Game.

Another option for White is the aggressive Evans Gambit (4.b4), a popular opening in the 19th century which is still occasionally played. The Italian Gambit (4.d4) may transpose into the Scotch Gambit after 4...exd4; however, this move order allows Black the option of 4...Bxd4, so if White wants a Scotch Gambit, 3.d4 is usually preferred. The Jerome Gambit (4.Bxf7+) is unsound.

3...Nf6

3...Nf6 is the more aggressive Two Knights Defense. This is more in the nature of a counterattack, and some (e.g. Chigorin) has proposed it be renamed so.

If White attempts to exploit the weakness of Black's f7-pawn with 4.Ng5, Black may try the knife-edged Traxler/Wilkes-Barre Variation (4...Bc5!?). After the more common 4...d5 5.exd5, Black generally avoids 5...Nxd5 allowing 6.Nxf7, the Fegatello or Fried Liver Attack, or 6.d4, the Lolli Variation, both of which are difficult to defend under practical conditions. The most common is 5...Na5, sacrificing a pawn for an active position. The very sharp Fritz Variation (5...Nd4) and the closely related Ulvestad Variation (5...b5) lead to wild positions with little margin for error for either side.

A quieter option for White is 4.d3 when Black's main options are 4...Bc5, transposing into the Giuoco Pianissimo, and the solid 4...Be7, which is likely to lead to similar positions to the Bishop's Opening.

Alternatively, White can play 4.d4, which may lead to the Max Lange Attack after the usual reply 4...exd4.

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