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Giuoco Piano Opening Explained: The Moves, The Why and Variations

The Giuoco Piano game in chess, an extension of the Italian Game, is an opening for white pieces but dictated by black’s bishop move on their third turn. It can be played by all levels of players, is easy to learn, and offers a wide range of possibilities. In this article, I will explain what Giuoco Piano is, the moves required to reach Giuoco Piano, some variations, and how to defend against Giuoco Piano when playing with black pieces.

The Giuoco Piano game in chess is an extension of the Italian opening for white with origins in the 16th century where white develops quickly to gain central control but dictated by black with the move 3…Bc5. Recorded in the ECO from C50-C54 the defining moves are 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5.

Animated Gif of how to arrive at the Piano Giuoco game in chess

This article will explain more about the opening so please read on and let’s find out what is so great about the Piano Giuoco idea that Magnus Carlsen used it previously when opening and managed to win against it in the 2021 World Championship albeit, taking some 49 moves to do so.

How To Reach The Giuoco Piano – The Moves

The Giuoco Piano opening is dictated by black in fact. When white plays the Italian opening up to and including 3. Bc4, black can immediately make it a ‘Quiet Game’ Piano Giuoco by playing their bishop to c5.

  • 1.e4 e5
  • 2.Nf3 Nc6
  • 3.Bc4 Bc5.

You can see all 6 moves in the animated gif above, and it becomes clear, that the Giuoco Piano is dictated by black responding with 3…Bc5 to the Italian game.

Why Play The Giuoco Piano?

Black plays the Giuoco piano to maintain the pressure and fight for central control white started with the Italian game. It remains a solid center board stand-off and is important to be played accurately, but the reason for it’s popularity again today is that it remains relatively easy to learn in many of its variations.

What Should white do when Black makes it a Giuoco Piano game?

When black plays 3…Bc5 moving into the Giuoco piano, there is one move and one move only that white should play, and that is 4. c3, no question no argument, this is the best move to support either the center attack with 5. d4, or Bird’s attack 5. b4, which without 4. c3 would have been the Evans gambit.

If you are adamant to not play 4. c3 the choices for white after 3…Bc5 in the Italian opening turning it into Giuoco Piano are quite varied, and in order of strength based on single move advantage as far as the engines are concerned the choices look like this…

  • 4. 0-0 – Castle
  • 4. d3  – Pianissimo variation
  • 4. b4 – Evans Gambit

I’ll run through these one by one, with a little warning for the castle move as there is a trap black can play if they are playing two knights variation defense when white castles early. Check the how to counter the Italian game here, for more details and how to avoid it.

Giuoco Piano Variations

Let’s take a look at the next three strongest moves for white for the fourth move in the Giuoco Piano when ignoring 4. c3 which include an early castle, an alternative pushed pawn, and a gambit on the b-file

4. 0-0 Castling

The Kingside early castle on move 4 is stockfish’s second-best move after Giuco Piano is reached and you should expect to be ready to play d3 as black will almost certainly play 4. Nf6 to attack your pawn on e4.

In fact, if black plays d6, then you’ll play 5. d3 too. Outside of those two moves, it is hard to imagine even a novice player playing any other move after the castle.

Should they do something crazy like play 4. Na5 and attack your bishop [and literally i only mention this because it was played against me just a moment ago as I played through for this article], then you have a simple capture of the back pawn on d5 which also protects the bishop which they should take but often don’t.

They will attack your knight now with a d6 which is too late, and you have 6. Nxf7 which can not be captured by the King and you have now won a rook to boot.

OK, so this is being prepared and playing someone who doesn’t know openings and is probably rated down in the 600-800 range at best – 

By the same token, some players in the same range will be prepared and there is a danger in Castling in the Two Knight defense scenario if d3 has already been played and the castle is now a consideration. 

I’m not going to argue with an engine that GMs will be crushed by, much less state that you shouldn’t make this castle move, but what I will state is be prepared for a very quick.

Be Aware 

Italian Game, Two Knight defense, 4. 0-0 depicted on a chess board

Here’s what to do. Capture the pawn with 4…Nxe4

The best move for white here is 5. Bb5 but again at lower levels this rarely happens, and 5. Bd5 is more common when white feels they’ve forked the Knights.

If this is the case just move your Knight back 5…Nf6 and the bishop on d5 looks silly and you’re still a pawn up and threatening the bishop who should now take the Knight on c6 but often doesn’t.

4. d3 Pianissimo Variation

If your fourth move in the Italian game, is 4. d3 you have entered the Giuoco Pianissimo, but only if it follows 3…Bc5 Giuoco Piano from black.

[NOTE: If black has played the two knights defense against the Italian with 3…Nf6, then white should still play 4. d3, this is the deferred variation]

Anyway, as Giuoco Piano is the ‘Quiet Game’, so the Giuoco Pianissimo position is the “More Quiet Game’ as there is a slow buildup and delay to the first exchanges around the center. Tension continues to build and preparation before white plays d4.

Looking at master games, Wilhelm Steinitz was a fan in his day as was Paul Morphy whilst Levon Aronian and Vishi Anand have been proponents in more recent times.

4. b4 Evans Gambit

When b4 is played after c3, it is known as Bird’s attack, if the c pawn has not moved it is the very popular Evans gambit.

Evans Gambit is the move 4. b4, offering the pawn to the bishop, to be accepted or declined.

The Evans Gambit is an aggressive line of the Italian Opening. This picture shows the move to start the gambit on a chess board
The aggressive and ‘never should be accepted’ Evans gambit

Plainly at this stage, there are two potential outcomes, the gambit is accepted whereby white initiates a strong attack and 4…Bxb4 is played, or there are many different moves black can make to decline the gambit but in doing so tempo is lost.

Please see my more detailed article on the Evans Gambit

Related Questions

Is Giuoco Piano a Good Opening

The ‘Quiet Game’ of the Giuoco Piano is a great opening for white in a game of chess following the Italian opening, as it develops pieces quickly, controls the center, and protects the most important piece on the board, the King. It is still used by some grandmasters in top games today.

Do Grandmasters play the Giuoco Piano?

While we find grandmasters looking at variations of Ruy Lopez as a more popular choice than variations of the Italian game where the Giuoco Piano firmly sits, one may still witness the very best players playing or facing the Piano Giuoco from time to time.

The world’s Number 1 player, Magnus Carlsen won in 41 moves against Hikaru Nakamura using the Giuoco Piano in 2010 and most recently Carlsen won against Ian Nepomniachtchi in 49 moves when facing the Giuoco Piano in a 2021 World Championship match.

How do you Counter Giuco Piano

When playing black and facing the Giuoco Piano main line in the Italian game from white, you can either switch the game to a less quiet event with bringing the knight to f6 or keep the tension on the center with a little queen move to e7.

History of Giuoco Piano

The Giuoco Piano is one of the most well-known openings in the Italian game. Damiano, a Portuguese player, introduced it in the 16th century, and Greco, who developed and wrote extensively on the Italian opening played it during the 17th.

It was still very popular at the beginning of the 20th century with over 10% of all games recorded, opening this way, it slowly fell out of favor with an all-time low usage for around 40 years between 1960 and 2000. It has, however, been steadily growing once more since the turn of the century, although with better defensive refinement, it is unlikely to become one of the more popular opening passages we will see for quite some time yet.

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