Over the last few weeks, we looked at The Italian Opening’s first few moves, applying the opening principles to our examination of this specific opening. This week, we’ll take the knowledge we’ve acquired since the start of this series of articles and apply it to the analysis of an actual game. I should note that opening analysis can be extremely complicated and beyond the skill set of beginners. With that in mind, we’re going to keep our analysis simple, applying only the most basic ideas that form the opening principles. In short, we’ll approach this game through the eyes of a beginner who has just learned the opening principles rather than a seasoned player who is well versed in opening theory. With that said, let’s start!
Our game was played in 1867 between Samuel Loyd (White) and Samuel Rosenthal (Black). While this is an old game, it demonstrates the use of the opening principles clearly. Yet, within this game, we’ll see some of the things we don’t want to do during the opening. This is a variation of The Italian Opening not very often played in modern times,due to better variations having been developed. We’ll work through the entire opening and stop when reaching the start of the middle-game. However, you should play through to the end. As each move is made, think about the opening principles you’ve learned and how they apply to that move. Let’s dig in!
The game starts with 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6 and 3. Bc4, indicating that White is most likely playing The Italian Opening. I say “most likely” because this opening can transpose or change into another opening depending on what Black does on move three. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, White’s fourth move will depend on Black’s third move. In our game, Black plays 3…Bc5. It was not uncommon to find moves that appeared to mirror one another (symmetrical) in classical openings played during this period. Black isn’t trying to merely copy White’s moves. Black is trying to maintain equal control of the center. White now plays 4. d3, which cements this as a variation of The Italian Opening. We looked at this move in an earlier article and I noted that it was passive. Yes, it defends the e4 pawn from attack and gives White’s c1 Bishop access to the board, but do we really need to defend a pawn or piece that’s not being attacked? Better would have been further development of a minor piece, such as White’s b1 Knight. There’s a name for this specific version of The Italian Opening. It’s called the Giuoco Pianissimo or “the very quiet game.”
After 4. d3, Black makes a more practical move, 4…Nf6. This move clears Black’s starting rank for King-side castling and moves the Knight to a powerful, centralized square. Remember, we want to get as many of our minor pieces on centralized squares as possible during the opening. The minor pieces are more powerful than the pawns and thus have the ability to control more squares when moved towards the board’s center. You should always determine who has greater control of the center when considering moves. As it stands, both White and Black have equal control of the center. However, it’s early in the opening and things can easily change. White’s fifth move is dreadful! It may come as a surprise to the beginner reading this but even players with a high skill set can make seemingly bad moves. White plays 5. Be3. What’s wrong with this move?
While e3 is a square that centralizes White’s Bishop, it’s also controlled by Black’s Bishop on c5. This means that Black could trade the Bishop 5…Bxe3, forcing White to capture back with 6. fxe3 which would weaken White’s King-side pawns should White wish to castle on the King-side. When castling, you always want to maintain your pawns on their starting squares to shield the King from an enemy attack. Instead of trading Bishops, Black plays 5…Bb6. This move may be difficult for the beginner to understand, so let’s look at Black’s fifth move in more detail:
Black doesn’t want to trade Bishops but can’t leave the Bishop on c5 because White can capture it and it would be a free piece. Black could move either the b7 or d7 pawn to b6 or d6 to defend the Bishop. However, Black decides to move the Bishop to b6 with 5…Bb6. If White wants to trade Bishops with 6. Bxb6, Black could capture back with 6…axb6, giving Black’s Rook on a8 access to the board along the “a” file. Play continues with White playing 6. Nc3 and Black 6…d6. White’s sixth move follows the opening principles by bringing another minor pieces into the game. Black’s sixth move allows the c8 Bishop to enter the game. However, White’s Bishop on e3 is still problematic. White now makes a move that beginners might feel is a bit odd, 7. h3. This move was made to prevent the newly freed Black Bishop on c8 from coming down to g4 where it would pin the White Knight on f3 to White’s Queen on d1 (we’ discuss pins and other tactics when we look at the middle-game). If Black’s c8 Bishop now moves to g4, it will be captured by the White pawn on h3. Black plays 7…Na5 which attacks White’s Bishop on c4. However, Black is moving the same piece during the opening which you shouldn’t do if possible. There’s another problem associated with this move by Black. There’s an old adage in chess, “Knights on the rim are dim.” This means that Knights lose power when placed on the board’s outer edges. You want to centralize your pieces because when those pieces are on the edge of the board, they lose some of their power.
White’s c4 Bishop is trapped so it moves to b3 with 8. Bb3 and Black trades Knight for Bishop with 8…Nxb3. While this is an even trade, minor piece for minor piece, it allows White to capture back with 9. axb3, which gives the Queen-side Rook on a1 access to the board. Don’t capture pawns and pieces unless it helps your position. Black’s capture actually helps White. Black further develops his minor pieces with 9…Be6, which gets the Bishop closer to the board’s center and allows it access to two good diagonals. White plays 10. Nb5. As you can see, there’s a few instances of moving the same piece twice during the opening, which you generally want to avoid. However, a strong player will likely make such a move to help strengthen the control of a specific square. White might be planning on pushing a pawn from d3 to d4. Now, Black decides to trade Bishops with 10…Bxe3, which White responds to with 11. fxe3, creating some problems on White’s King-side. I had a beginning student remark, when reaching this position, “wow, these guys play as badly as we do.” This game was played during chess’s romantic era when players took sometimes insane chances to make things more exciting and interesting. You won’t see this in today’s often stodgy play.
Black responds with 11…c6, using the “c” pawn to chase the Knight away. Pawns are great for going the boot to pieces due to the pawn’s low value. White responds with 12. Nc3, wasting tempo or time, another thing you don’t want to do during the opening. Black now plays 12…Qc7, which allows Black to castle on either the Queen-side or the King-side. Whites next move, 13. g4, indicates that White is planning an attack along the King-side. Black plays 13…a6, preparing for a push down the Queen-side. I want you to play through the rest of this game. With each move, first determine why the move was made and second, see if you can find a better move. As a beginner, this is a tough job that I’m asking you to do. However, you’ll learn a lot of the game if you try. Even if you can’t figure out each player’s reasoning behind their moves, you’ll start to build up your analysis and calculation skills. Next week, we’ll look at an opening for Black. Don’t worry, there’s no game to enjoy until next week because the one you’ve just been through is enough torture for the week.