An Old Giuoco Worth Repeating

By Michael Goeller

The revival of the Giuoco Piano at the highest levels of competitive chess has been a pleasure to observe for amateur players like myself committed to heirloom openings. In the Corus torunament at Wijk aan Zee, White players in each of the three groups (Sergei Movsesian in Group A, Nigel Short in Group B, Tiger Hillarp Persson and David Howell in Group C) have scored impressive victories with the old Giuoco, going 4-1-0 (or a stunning 90% for White), while their peers committed to the "Spanish torture" have racked up a score of only 11-23-6 (still not bad at 56%). I predict that we will be seeing a lot more of the Giuoco Piano, including of the older and less "quiet" lines that Movsesian and Short employed. Perhaps GM John Emms will lead the way with his forthcoming book Beating 1.e4 e5 (Everyman 2009), which will likely include coverage of the Max Lange lines (which he covered very well in Dangerous Weapons: 1.e4 e5).

I have already annotated Movsesian's impressive use of the antique Max Lange Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O Nf6 5.d4). Today I take a look at Nigel Short's impressive play in a game that might have gone in a similar direction if Black had not chosen the safer 4...d6 (which Mark Morss once described as a "Lost Variation"). But the result was still the same, thanks to some fine play by White in a fascinating ending, worthy of study in its own right. Short has always been an "opening hero" of mine, especially with his frequent forays into the Evans Gambit. At Corus, his experiments with Romantic openings like the Four Knights and Giuoco Piano were an important addition to his score. Let's hope he continues to forge interesting paths through the forgotten opening lines of the past.

Nigel Short (2663) - Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2687) [C54]

Corus B/Wijk aan Zee NED (7) 2009

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O d6

Movsesian - Adams from an earlier round of the same tournament (also annotated here) saw the dangerous Max Lange Gambit after 4...Nf6 5.d4!? The "lost variation" 4...d6 is supposed to be a safe way to avoid complications, but that doesn't mean White doesn't get any pressure.


5. c3 Nf6

In my notes to Movsesian - Adams, I had mentioned this move, which is recommended by John Emms in Dangerous Weapons: 1.e4 e5 as Black's safest route to equality. I'm not sure that the current game contradicts that. The more classic alternative is 5...Bg4, which was analyzed extensively by Lev Gutman in Kaissiber and by Mark Morss online (see link below).


6. d4 Bb6


7. a4

By creating potential tactical threats against the Bishop at b6, White hopes to induce a weakness in Black's structure. White probably only gets an equal game with the more direct alternatives:


a) 7. dxe5 Nxe5 8. Nxe5 dxe5 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Bg5! (10. Nd2 Ke7 11. a4 a5 12. b3 Bc5= is equal while 10. Bxf7?! Rf8! 11. Bd5 c6! 12. Bc4 Nxe4 is a bad idea) 10... Ke7 11. Nd2 c6?! (better 11... h6! 12. Bh4 Be6 (or perhaps 12... Rd8!? 13. Nf3 Be6! 14. Nxe5 g5 15. Bg3 Nxe4 16. Rfe1 f5) 13. Bxe6 Kxe6 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Nc4 f5 16. exf5+ Kxf5 17. Rfe1 f6 18. Rad1 Rhd8= with about equal play) 12. Nf3 Bc7 13. Nxe5! Bxe5 14. f4 Bc7 15. e5 Be6 16. Bb3! Bxb3 17. axb3 Ke6?! (necessary was 17... Rhe8! 18. exf6+ Kf8) 18. exf6 gxf6? 19. f5+! Ke7 20. Rae1+ (20. Rfe1+! is more precise) 20... Kf8? (20... Kd7 21. Rd1+ Kc8 22. Bxf6 Bb6+ 23. Kh1 Re8) 21. Bh6+ Kg8 22. Re4 Bb6+ 23. Kh1 1-0 as mate was unavoidable in Albin,A-Gossip,G/New York 1893. A great classic game that makes us recognize 7.dxe5 as a valid alternative; but Black can likely equalize with best play.


b) 7. Bg5 h6! 8. Be3 (8. Bh4?! g5 9. dxe5 gxh4! 10. exf6 Qxf6) 8... O-O 9. Nbd2 Bg4 10. d5 (10. Qc2 exd4 11. Nxd4 d5=) 10... Ne7 11. h3 Bd7= 0-1 Tartakower,S-Wolf,H/Vienna 1907 (60)(11... Bxe3 12. fxe3 Bd7 13. Qb3 b5!).


7... a5

a) 7... exd4!? might be a good alternative when 8. cxd4 (8. Nxd4 Ng4!? 9. Nxc6? Qh4!) 8... O-O (8... Bg4!? 9. d5 Ne5 10. a5 Bxf3 11. gxf3 Bc5) 9. d5 Ne5 10. Nxe5 dxe5 11. Nc3 a6= looks ok for Black.


b) 7... a6 has done well in practice, keeping open the option of queenside castling for Black: 8. a5 (8. dxe5=) 8... Ba7 9. Be3 Qe7 10. Nbd2 Ng4 11. Bg5 f6 12. Bh4 h5 13. h3 g5 14. Bg3 h4 15. Bxh4 gxh4 16. hxg4 Bxg4 17. Qb3 O-O-O 18. Bd5 h3 19. g3 h2+ 20. Kh1 Bd7 (20... Qe8!?) 21. Nc4 Rdf8 22. Ne3 Qh7 23. Qc4 Ne7 24. Nh4 Nxd5 25. Nxd5 Bb5 26. Qb3 Bxf1 27. Rxf1 Qxe4+ 28. Ng2 Qe2 29. Nde3 exd4 30. cxd4 Bxd4 31. Qd5 Bxe3 32. Nxe3 Re8 33. b4 Rxe3 34. Qf5+ Re6 and I have no idea why Black would have accepted a draw in this position in Karpov,A (2651)-Leko,P (2741)/Moscow RUS 2008, 1/2-1/2 (perhaps incorrectly recorded in the database).


8. dxe5 Nxe5 9. Nxe5 dxe5 10. Qf3

10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 is attractive at first glance, but Black is fine after 11. Nd2 (11. Bxf7?! Rf8! 12. Bd5 c6 13. Bc4 Nxe4) 11... Ke7 12. b3! (12. Nf3 Nxe4 13. Nxe5 f6 14. Nd3 Re8 15. Re1 Bf5! 16. b3?! Kd7!) 12... Bc5 13. Nf3!? Be6! 14. Nxe5 Bxc4 15. Nxc4 Nxe4= and the position of Black's King and Knight cannot be exploited due to the pressure at f2.


10... O-O 11. h3 h6

11... Qe7!? 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bxf6 Qxf6 14. Qxf6 gxf6=.


12. b3 Qe7 13. Re1

13. Ba3 Bc5 14. Bxc5 Qxc5 15. Ra2!?.


13... Rd8 14. Ra2 Be6 15. Ba3! Qe8

15... Bc5 16. Bxe6!


16. Nd2 Rd7 17. Bxe6 Qxe6 18. Nc4 Rad8

19. Qf5! Qxf5

White keeps Black under more pressure after 19... Re8 20. Rd2! Rxd2 21. Nxd2 g6 (21... Qxf5 22. exf5) 22. Qxe6 Rxe6 23. Nc4.


20. exf5 e4?!

It's difficult for Black to defend his e-pawn in the end, so it was probably best to go immediately after White's c-pawn or f-pawn as an exchange: 20... Rd3! 21. Rc2 Nd5 22. Nxe5 (22. Rxe5 Nxc3 23. Nxa5?! f6!) 22... Rxc3 23. Rxc3 Nxc3 24. Nc4 seems only slightly in White's favor after 24... Rd3.


21. Kf1

Fritz suggests the plan of 21. Rae2!? followed by Nxb6, c4, Bb2 and Bxf6 gaining a pawn and structural advantage.


21... Rd3 22. Be7! R8d5 23. Bxf6 gxf6 24. Rc2 Rxf5 25. Rxe4 Rd1+ 26. Re1!

26. Ke2 Rb1


26... Rd3 27. Re8+ Kg7 28. Ke2 Rd7 29. f3 Bg1


te has transformed the position in his favor and has a significant edge in the ending due to his better minor piece, more centralized King, active Rook on the eighth rank, and (most significantly long term) Black's damaged structure. Short's conduct of the remainder is simply brilliant.


30. Rd2 Rfd5 31. g4 Rxd2+ 32. Nxd2 f5

Black tries to repair the damage by trading one of his pawns, but White's pieces use the unbalanced moment to mobilize.


33. Re5 fxg4 34. hxg4 b6 35. Ne4! Bh2 36. Rf5 Re7


Black still has the weaker structure on the Kingside, and White now induces a weakness on the queenside in order to create targets of attack for his more mobile pieces. The remainder of the game is a textbook illustration of converting a positional advantage in the endgame.


37. b4! Re5 38. Rxe5 Bxe5 39. bxa5 bxa5

40. Ke3! c6 41. f4 Bc7 42. Ng3 Kg6 43. Ke4 Bd6 44. Nf5 Bc5 45. Nh4+ Kg7 46. Nf3 f6 47. Nd2 Bb6 48. Kf5 Kf7 49. Nb3 Kg7 50. c4


[Michael Goeller]

download pgn

Game in PGN

Works Cited

Emms, John. Beating 1.e4 e5. (Everyman Chess, October 2009).

Goeller, Michael. Max Lange Gambit Revived (Movsesian - Adams, Corus 2009). The Kenilworth Chess Club website.
Analysis of Movsesian - Adams, Corus 2009, which featured 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O Nf6 5.d4!? (the Max Lange Gambit -- which can also become the Max Lange Attack after 5...exd4). See also my blog entry by the same name.

Morss, Mark. Lost Variations. The Campbell Report (online).
Analyzes 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.O-O d6 5.c3 Bg4, which goes unmentioned by most recent works on the Giuoco Piano.

Hillarp Persson - Holzke, Corus 2009

Copyright © 2009 Michael Goeller