04 December 2013

Italian Opening: Developing Theory

For several hundred years, the Italian Opening was among the most heavily analyzed chess opening. Only the King's Gambit had a comparable number of complete games and opening variations in chess books published prior to Handbuch des Schachspiels (1843), the first comprehensive opening encyclopedia. In this volume, as well, the Italian and the King's Gambit occupied more space than other openings.

In Gioachino Greco's well-known and influential texts, the King's Gambit comprises the largest number of games, followed closely by the Italian. Later Italian chess authors--Ercole del Rio, Alessandro Salvio, and Giambattista Lolli--followed suit. Even François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795), who emphasized positional play over the tactics of the Italian masters, employed the Italian opening in his most important illustrative games.

The second illustrative game in Jacob Henry Sarratt, A Treatise on the Game of Chess (1808) explicates some of the leading attacking ideas in the Italian Opening in the early nineteenth century. I offer here Sarratt's comments interspersed with a few of my own (designated J.S.). Sarratt's main variations are presented as "Back-Games". I have retained his archaic language--"the Black"--and punctuation in most of the comments.

Although Sarratt misses a few key moves, one of which is almost obvious to class players today, his tactical analysis mostly hits the mark.

Second Game [C54]
A Treatise on the Game of Chess 1808
[Sarratt, J.H.]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6

This is the best method of defending the King's Pawn. It will be proved in several subsequent games, that if Black support his King's Pawn in any other manner, he must lose the game.

3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4

5.d3 is more popular today. J.S.

Black to move


5...Bb6 6.dxe5 Nxe4 7.Qd5 Bxf2+ 8.Kf1 Black loses a piece; being obliged to castle, or to play his Q. to his K. second square, to avoid check-mate; and in either case, you will take his K.Kt. with your Q. First Back-Game

5...Bd6 6.dxe5 Nxe5 a (6...Bxe5 7.Ng5 0–0 8.f4) 7.Nxe5 Bxe5 8.f4 Bd6 9.e5 and you will gain a piece; but if he were to play his Q. to his K. second square, you must also play your Q. to your K. second square, for if you were to castle, he would give check with his K.B. and then remove his K.Kt. Second Back-Game.

6.cxd4 Bb6

The Black loses the game by this move; he ought to have given you check with that Bishop. This will be analyzed in the second book. J.H.S.

This error appears in Greco's analysis as well. Both Howard Staunton and Wilhelm Steinitz played this move with success, calling into question Sarratt's assessment. Nonetheless, 6...Bb4+ is vastly more popular, and scores better for Black than 6...Bb6. J.S.


Black to move


7...Ng4 8.Bxf7+ (8.h3 is mentioned as an alternative by Sarratt, and is better than his main line (J.S.). 8...Nh6 9.Bxh6 gxh6 10.Qd2) 8...Kxf7 9.Ng5+ Ke8 10.Qxg4 and the White has a good game. Third Back-Game.

7...Nh5 8.Ng5 0–0 (8...g6 9.Nxf7) 9.Qxh5 h6 10.Nxf7 and you will very easily win the game. Fourth Back-Game.

7...Qe7 8.0–0 your situation would have been very advantageous.

Sarratt does not examine 7...d5, which is almost automatic among players today. Staunton played this move in 1853, and the game continued 8.exf6 dxc4 9.fxg7? (9.d5 and White has a better game) 9...Rg8 10.d5 Ne7 and Black won in 37 moves 0–1 Rives -- Staunton,H Brussels, 1853.  Staunton likely realized after this game that Sarratt was correct, and that he prevailed in this game merely because his opponent played badly. J.S.

8.Bd5 f5

8...Ba5+ 9.Kf1.


9.Nc3 is superior to Sarratt's recommendation. J.S.

9...fxe4 10.Bg5 Ne7 11.Nh4

Black to move


11...d6 12.Qh5+ g6 (12...Kd7 13.Qg4+ Kc6 14.Qxe4+ d5 15.Qc2+ Kd7 [15...Kb5 16.Na3+ Ka5 17.Bd2+ Ka6 18.Qd3#] 16.Nf5 White is clearly winning, but Sarratt's next moves lose quickly. [J.S.] 16...Re8 17.Nxg7 Rg8 18.e6+ Kd6 19.Bf4#) 13.Nxg6 hxg6 14.Qxh8+ Kd7 15.e6+ Kxe6 16.Qxd8. Sixth Back-Game.

11...h6 12.Qh5+ Kf8 (12...g6 13.Nxg6 Rh7 14.Nxe7+ Kf8 [14...Rf7 15.Qxh6 Rxe7 (15...d5 16.Ng6 Qd7 17.Qh8+ Rf8 18.Qxf8#) 16.Qg6+ Rf7 17.Bxd8] 15.Ng6+ Ke8 16.Bxh6 Rxh6 17.Qxh6 d6 18.d5 dxe5 19.Qf8+ Kd7 20.Nxe5#) 13.Ng6+ Kg8 b 14.Nxe7+ Kf8 15.Ng6+ and you will take his Q. with your Q.B. the next move, &c. Fifth Back-Game.

It is hard to understand why Sarratt missed 11...0–0, unless due to his purpose was to showcase Black's errors. J.S.

12.Nf5 gxf5 13.Qh5+ Kf8 14.Bh6+ Kg8 15.Qg5+

Black to move


15...Ng6 16.Qxd8+ Kf7 17.Qf6+.

16.Qf6+ Ke8 17.Qxh8+ Kf7

17...Ng8 18.Qxg8+ Ke7 19.Bg5#.

18.Qf6+ Ke8

18...Kg8 19.Qg7#.

19.Qf8# 1–0

Although the ChessBase database and other large collections contain analysis games from Greco and Philidor, this gem of attacking play is not in these collections. The two volumes of Sarratt's Treatise, as well as several other books by him, are readily available via Google Books and the Internet Archive. 

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