The Giuoco Piano

by ChessBase
5/21/2004 – In this week's ChessBase Workshop, ChessBase columnist Steve Lopez hits a "mid-life chess crisis" but finds the antidote in an unexpected form. Read his preview of the new opening training CD The Giuoco Piano by Reinhold Ripperger in the new ChessBase Workshop.

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previewed by Steve Lopez

Do they still publish chess books for beginners? I haven't looked at one in ages.

That seems like a strange way to open a ChessBase Workshop column but there's a method to the madness; stick with me for a moment while I woolgather. I don't look at beginner's books anymore so I don't know what openings the authors recommend these days as good ones for a tyro's first efforts. But "back in the day" (the late 1960's and early 1970's) when I was a beginner, one opening was almost always suggested in novice books as a good starting point: the Giuoco Piano. We played a lot of Giuoco games back in junior high and most of us, those of us who stuck with chess as a hobby, moved on to other openings as we got older.

This consequently led to a certain anti-Giuoco bias among members of my generation. I remember a decade ago when I was crazy in love with the Evans Gambit; I'd play 3.Bc4 and my opponents would exclaim, "The Giuoco! Why are you playing that old thing??!!?? I outgrew it years ago!"

That's why I was surprised to see the Giuoco as the topic of a new ChessBase training CD: The Giuoco Piano by Reinhold Ripperger. I've grown accustomed to seeing training CDs on popular opening systems or highly-specialized variations, not on openings like that hoary old chestnut the Giuoco!

All right; those were my preconceptions. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. And now on to the CD's preview. I'll start with the summation: if you check out this CD, I think you'll be surprised. There's apparently life in the old girl yet.

It's unfortunate that many of my generation write off the Giuoco Piano as a "beginner's opening". There's a reason why it's recommended to beginners, and it's for this very same reason that old warhorses like myself really ought to return to the Giuoco every now and then. As Ripperger says in his CD's Introduction:

...the Giuoco Piano is a double-edged opening, in which the struggle for the initiative is conducted above all along tactical lines. At the heart of most variations is the idea of setting up a powerful white pawn centre, in order then to attack the weakest point in the black camp - the f7 square. In the very opening stages, White does not shrink from losses, willingly sacrificing pawns and even from time to time pieces, just in order to get well ahead of his opponent in development and to seize the initiative for himself. The plethora of attacking and counter-attacking possibilities proves attractive to many chess players who use the Giuoco Piano, since in it demands are regularly and concretely made on the player's ability to create combinations.

The Giuoco is a good opening for beginners because it forces a player to think about tactics. But that's exactly why some of us older, experienced players should renew our acquaintance with it from time to time -- we get complacent, our styles of play start to ossify and, in short, we start to get lazy. The Giuoco is a good opening to use as an occasional "booster shot" to liven up our stagnating chess play.

Ripperger begins his electronic book by giving us an appreciation for the age and history of the Giuoco Piano. In his Introduction he includes an annotated game from the early 17th Century -- in fact, it's one of the earliest known bits of chess analysis, handed down to us by the renowned Greco. He then proceeds to the deceptively-titled Contents chapter. While this text does indeed serve as a table of contents for the rest of the CD's instructional database, it also provides us with an overview of the basic ideas behind the Giuoco.

For the two or three readers who haven't yet encountered the Giuoco Piano, the opening moves are 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4; this last move puts pressure on the weakest square in Black's camp (f7), the only square which is defended by just the King. Ripperger divides the opening into several categories (although he doesn't make a big production out of the organizational aspect, the training in this opening does fall into several rough groupings). The first is offbeat third moves for Black, each of which is illustrated by a single annotated game (these replies are, after all, offbeat so there's no reason to beat the reader over the head with an excess of material). These games are extremely well-annotated, providing the reader with the ideas behind the moves for both players.

After the offbeat is dispensed with, Ripperger moves on to the standard move order: 3...Bc5 4.c3. Here the author takes another slight detour to examine several Black sidelines, with 4...d6 examined in some detail (with several White seventh move options after 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ each getting an annotated game of their own).

But the main course of The Giuoco Piano comes after 4...Nf6. Here the CD divides into four major (and one minor) chapters:

  • The Greco Variation 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3
  • Nicolas Rossolimo (brief biographical profile)
  • The Rossolimo Variation 7.Bd2
  • The Cracow Variation 7.Kf1
  • The Modern System 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3

Each of these chapters has its own extensive introductory text, containing plenty of plain language explanation and links to lots of annotated games. Here again, the annotations are provided in plain text and serve to explain the ideas behind the moves instead of just giving symbolic evaluations at the ends of variations.

After the main lines are examined, Ripperger then turns his focus to an early deviation for White: my beloved Evans Gambit. I haven't played the Evans in ages, but it's like an old girlfriend -- the kind of old love you sort of drifted away from instead of ending the relationship in an explosion of bitter acrimony. In other words, there are a lot of fond memories here for me.

But why just memories? Seeking an answer to that question is why this CD really sank a hook into me. The Evans Gambit is actually a pretty good opening, providing lots of action, adventure, and tactical fireworks. Looking back on my days as an Evans Gambiteer was a lot like looking back at myself as a younger man; "Hey, whatever happened to that guy? I miss him!"

And that's why I say that The Giuoco Piano by Reinhold Ripperger is worth a look no matter what your level of experience as a chessplayer. Beginners will appreciate the plain language explanations the author provides, explanations which focus on ideas instead of just moves. Old grognards (like myself) will appreciate the new look at an old opening -- and maybe decide to revisit their days as up-and-coming tacticians as a means of "freshening up" their chess play. It danged sure can't hurt to rekindle the old tactical spark, and this CD makes it pretty easy.

As for the technical details, the CD consists of four databases. The main instructional database (which we've just examined in this preview) has 256 games and texts -- all of which contains plain language instruction in the form of text annotations. Two additional databases provide a wealth of supplementary material. The first covers ECO codes C50 to C52 and has 27,229 (mostly unannotated) games. The second database covers C53 and C54, and has 16,984 games.

The fourth database is the Training database. This one has forty games, each of which contains timed training questions which you must answer to test your knowledge of the opening. And the CD also has a copy of ChessBase Reader (so no other software is required; the CD is self-contained), but if you own ChessBase and/or the Fritz family of playing programs you'll want to use them instead of the Reader so that you'll have access to the full range of features these programs provide.

So toss aside your preconceptions. While the Giuoco may seem awfully "Reinfeld-esque" to players of my generation (who came up during the Fischer era), there's actually a lot of good reasons for playing it, at least occasionally. And I'm sure you'll be surprised at how well-conceived and well-written The Giuoco Piano by Reinhold Ripperger is; the author does a fine job of explaining the opening's ideas and of making the learning process as painless as possible.

Order "The Giuoco Piano"

Until next week, have fun!

© 2004, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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