The Italian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d4)


The Italian Gambit arises from the standard Giuoco Piano, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 (unlike the previous gambits considered, this cannot arise via a 2.d4 move-order) 2…Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5, and now 4.d4!?.   Jude Acers and George Laven gave this line an extensive coverage in their book The Italian Gambit and a Guiding Repertoire for White- E4!, which is well worth buying for those interested in taking up the system (and indeed for those who are just after a light-hearted tour of various 19th-century gambits- Acers has an extremely enthusiastic writing style).  There are a few holes in their coverage, though, and I have endeavoured to patch these up in my coverage of the system.


Notes on the move-order with 4.0-0 intending 4...Nf6 5.d4

This move-order has received a fair amount of attention in recent years and often transposes to the same positions.  Lev Gutman has given this move-order a thorough coverage in Kaissiber volumes 23 and 24.  These are well worth picking up if you are interested in a really thorough analysis, as I provide a relatively thin coverage focusing mainly on the critical lines.  In Kaissiber 25 Gutman then addressed the problematic line 4...d6, recommending a positional approach, and Stefan Bücker summarised and improved on parts of his analysis at

The main advantages of this move-order are that after 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4 exd4, White gets into the Max Lange Attack with 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 8.fxg7 etc, and that 5...Nxd4?! is weak because 6.Nxe5 Qe7 doesn’t work as White has already castled.  However, as noted above, White has to play a positional line after 4...d6, as 5.d4?! exd4 leads into a bad variation of the Scotch Gambit. 

Since the 4.d4 move-order has generally received less attention, and Stefan Bücker has noted (in his aforementioned online article) that it is debatable as to which is better, I have chosen to cover the 4.d4 move-order.


Notes on 4.d4

After 4.d4, 4...Nxd4!? is much better than its reputation, as 5.Nxe5 (probably best) is met by 5...Qe7.  White’s best is then 6.Bxf7+ (rather than the obvious 6.Nxf7), a possibility which I first found out about at the Avler Chess messageboards, and it leads to interesting and equal play.  4...exd4 leads to an important line of the Scotch Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 (or 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nc6) 4.Bc4 Bc5.

4...Bxd4 is the most critical continuation.  White usually plays 5.Nxd4 (though 5.0-0 followed by 6.Nxd4 will usually transpose to 5.Nxd4, 6.0-0 lines).  5...exd4 is then dubious, offering White an improved version of the Göring Gambit, so Black should play 5...Nxd4.

At this point, 6.Be3!?, suggested by Acers and Laven in their Italian Gambit book, appears to be a fully viable alternative to the main lines with 6.0-0.  Their analysis holds up pretty well (if anything I think some of their lines can be improved further for White).  For those interested in taking up this line, the 4.d4 move-order is certainly the way to go, as 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4 denies White this possibility.

After 6.0-0, as Stefan Bücker notes, Black has the independent option 6...d6 7.f4 Be6!? 8.Na3 (I don’t trust Acers and Laven’s suggestion 8.Bxe6 Nxe6 9.f5 Nc5) 8...Qe7!?, though I don’t think this is too much of a problem for White.  Instead 6...Nf6 leads to the main lines that follow 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4 Bxd4 6.Nxd4 Nxd4.  White’s best continuation is probably the main line with 7.f4 d6 8.fxe5 dxe5 9.Bg5, with Nb1-a3 to follow in most cases, which appears to give White enough compensation for the pawn, while 7.Bg5 also appears sound.  However, I have to agree with Lev Gutman that 7.f4 d6 8.c3, the line recommended by Acers and Laven following 6.0-0 Nf6, is looking dubious for White.



1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d4


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Italian Gambit coverage


4th, 5th and 6th-move alternatives

4...Bxd4 5.Nxd4 Nxd4 6.0-0 Nf6