How do I respond to the Italian Game here?

[FEN ""]
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bc4 Nf6
4. Ng5 d6 (I kind of got lost here)
5. Nxf7 1-0

What should I have done against this as Black? For reference me and my opponent are rated about 1000-1200.

I blundered bad, but without taking my queen out early I can't see another line.

I've seen some stuff that suggests giving a pawn for other stuff, but I really would like to maintain material equality in the opening without extremely losing initiative / space / development.

  • 1
    If you're going to play the two knights defence, you'd better learn some theory.
    – Qudit
    Apr 1 '19 at 6:03

4.Ng5 is a provocative move, threatening to take on f7.

The main line is 4...d5, and after 5.exd5 the best move might be 5...Na5. After 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 Black has sacrificed a pawn but has gained a slight lead in development. If instead you play 5...Nxd5, White will often play 6. Nxf7 Kxf7 7. Qf3+ Ke6, known as the Fried Liver. White has a very good attack despite being down material. At your level, White is probably wanting and expecting the Fried Liver when he plays Ng5, so I wouldn't give it to him.

The other common response is 4...Bc5, known as the Traxler Counterattack. Black is allowing White to take on f7 but is trying to get his own attack on f2. These games can get wild.

None of these really fit your criteria; they involve sacrifices by one side or the other. If you prefer material equality, I suggest you avoid this line altogether by playing 3...Bc5, going into the Giuoco Piano instead of the Two Knights as your response to the Italian. White cannot then play 4.Ng5 because you could take the knight with your queen.

[FEN ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 (3... Bc5 {Giuoco Piano}) 4. Ng5 d5 (4... Bc5 {Traxler}) 5. exd5 Na5 (5... Nxd5 6. Nxf7 Kxf7 7. Qf3+ Ke6 {Fried Liver}) 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 *

As others have correctly said, once you have played 3..Nf6 there is no going back. A very reasonable alternative is the Hungarian Defence 3..Be7, against which White cannot launch a wild attack. If he plays too quietly (c3, h3..), you can often take the initiative by playing ..d5.

Books will you that ..Be7 is a bit passive, but at your present level your opponents may not be capable of exploiting that.


Responding 3...Nf6 to the Italian Game initiates the Two Knights Defense. This isn't an opening to play if you're looking for a calm positional game with material equality; in fact, it's been suggested that the name "defense" is inappropriate and the opening should've been called a "counterattack" or even "gambit" instead. White playing 4.Ng5 practically wins a pawn by force, and it's up to Black to demonstrate compensation.

After 4. Ng5 there are two lines: the Traxler variation with 4...Bc5 invites White to take on f7 with either piece. Black gains superior development as compensation. The resulting positions are very tactical (even by the Two Knight's standards) and complicated. Entering this line without preparation is asking for trouble, but at amateur level, you can outprepare your opponent especially if they naively go for 5. Nxf7.

The other line goes 4...d5 5. exd5 Na5 (5...Nxd5? is a "well-known bad move"; White can just play 6. d4 intending O-O and a straightforward attack) 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6. This is the same line given by D M in the other answer. White is up a pawn and has a much superior pawn structure, but Black is way ahead in development and has many moves that develop with tempo available. To illustrate Black's initiative, if White plays to grab more pawns with 8. Qf3, then after 8...Rb8 9. Bxc6+ Nxc6 10. Qxc6+ Bd7, the lead in development widens even further. Against the more conservative 8. Be2, Black still has 8...h6 9. Nf3 e4 10. Ne5, followed by 10...Bd6, Qd4 or Qc7 to drum up an initiative. Note however that after these moves, Black is still a pawn down with inferior pawn structure! If Black doesn't make use of his development advantage and attack, he will go down in flames.

[FEN ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 d5 5. exd5 Na5 6. Bb5+ c6 7. dxc6 bxc6 8. Be2 (8. Qf3 Rab8 9. Bxc6+ Nxc6 10. Qxc6+ Bd7) h6 9. Nf3 e4 10. Ne5

The upshot of all this is do not play the Two Knights if you're looking for a calm positional game with material equality. Play 4...Bc5 instead. The Giucco Piano can also become sharp and tactical if White goes for the Evans gambit (5. b4), but at least then you're the one with the material advantage.


4...d5 5. exd5, Na5 is not only fine for black but probably equal. Black's active piece play is enough compensation for the pawn.

In chess, you need to learn how to play actively. I've never seen anyone get past the 1400-1500 level without understanding that.

Me personally, I don't feel like I play my best unless I'm down a pawn. I would choose the black side in this line and so would likely every GM alive. There's a reason this isn't played at GM level. If you want to prove the entire chess wrong play the white side of this against sf until you get the point.

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