Improve Your Middlegame: 7 Key Strategies Every Chess Player Must Know

improve your middlegame

After a successful opening, it’s time to move on to the middlegame. Your pieces have been developed, your king has been castled, and your rooks have been connected, but what comes next? 

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After the Opening comes the Middlegame. Photo by Corey Dupree from Pexels

Every participant in this middlegame phase must understand the concept of planning in Chess. A plan is essential since it serves as a guide and aids you in achieving your goal of checkmating the opponent’s king. Aside from a plan, you’ll need to understand certain basic strategic concepts that are common throughout middlegames.

Want to improve your middlegame? This article presents 7 key strategies and methods every chess player must know to start winning games quickly and decisively.

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #1: Ask yourself the following 5 questions.

Before making any move, ask yourself a few questions to ensure that you don’t lose a piece or miss an opponent’s free piece that could be taken. Asking yourself these questions in every game would help improve your middlegame skills positively. They include:

  • Do I have any hanging pieces that my opponent could simply capture?
  • Is there any hanging piece on my opponent’s board that I can simply capture?
  • What was my opponent’s last move all about? What is his idea?
  • Will this move make my position worse or better?
  • Are there any flaws in my opponent’s position that I can exploit?

Before moving any piece in the middlegame, master chess players have learned to always ask themselves these questions. They’ve done it so many times that they no longer need to have the list of questions in their heads; instead, they simply glance at the situation and instinctively answer all of the questions before moving.

These questions will assist you in avoiding chess mistakes. When a piece is lost with no significant recompense, it is called a blunder. Many beginners leave their capturable pieces hanging in the middlegame, which is one of the reasons why most of their games do not progress to the endgame phase, where the winner or loser is usually decided. Following this important rule will be significant in helping you improve your middlegame play.

Check out this example below;

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Improve Your Middlegame Principle #1: Ask yourself the following 5 questions.

From the position above, we can see that white just moved his knight from the f3 square to the g5 square threatening a mate in one. As black, it’s easy to panic in the face of an immediate checkmate but the 5 questions to ask should come to mind. A skilled player will immediately notice that the knight moved to a square that is undefended, which means its a hanging piece and can be captured by the queen. Doing this exercises will help you a lot as a chess player.

Also Check Out: How To Take Your Chess To The Next Level: 5 Practical Steps To Follow

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #2: Come Up With A Plan

Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, famously noted in his book “How Life Imitates Chess” that in Chess, having a terrible plan is preferable to having no plan at all.

This simply goes to show how important planning is in Chess. I’ve seen a lot of beginners play Chess, and when I ask them “why did you make that move?” or “what was your plan?” they typically respond, “I don’t have a plan, I’m just playing!” which is a really bad strategy. When you don’t plan, you’ll find yourself responding to your opponent’s plan since you don’t have anything specific in mind.

So how do one plan in Chess? Here’s the answer- You should sit back and imagine what you want to achieve once you’ve developed your pieces in the opening, castled your king, and connected your rooks.

You may have recognized that your opponent has weak pawns, so your planning and strategy would focus around them, or he may have a weakened king’s position, in which case the aim would be to get your pieces there to exploit the vulnerability and checkmate the king. 

It’s not at all difficult. All you have to do now is picture where you want your pieces to go and then put them to work. If your opponent has a weak square on d6 that may be occupied by a knight, for example, your interim goal could be to getting a knight to occupy that weak square, limiting the opponent’s activity and increasing your chances of winning the game.

Last but not least, given the goal of the game is to checkmate the king, your conventional strategy may consist solely of attacking the king. While this is a decent strategy, it does not always succeed. This is due to your opponent’s possession of other pieces capable of readily defending the king. In this situation, you can choose to attack minor weaknesses on the opposing side, with the intention of returning to the king after conquering that side. This is the second key principle you must observe to improve your middlegame skills.

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #3: Carefully Trade Pieces

In Chess, there are various rules that govern when a player should trade pieces and when he should not. For example, it is common knowledge that when you have a better position, you should trade pieces of equal or about equal worth, not when you are losing.

It’s usually a smart idea to trade your piece for your opponent’s superior piece. For example, capturing your opponent’s rook with your knight would be a superior deal for you. There are exceptions to this rule, as when your knight is better than your opponent’s rook, and exchanges should be avoided in certain situations.

Sometimes, we have inactive pieces in our game due to poor positioning, thus swapping this piece for your opponent’s active counterpart makes sense. When you have an isolated pawn (a pawn that is separated from other pawns), exchanging pieces, especially minor pieces like knights and bishops, is considered a negative strategy since your opponent can apply pressure and win the pawn after defending pieces have been swapped.

Similarly, anytime you try to win by promoting a pawn, all the enemy pieces threatening your pawn should be traded to increase its chances of reaching the last rank successfully.

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #4: After the opening, establish a firm position.

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Establishing a solid position

You should aim to establish a good position after the opening. Your pieces should be placed on advanced squares to maximise their attacking potential. 

Outposts, ideally in the centre, should be manned by knights. A weak square in the opponent’s camp that cannot be defended by a pawn is known as an outpost. When a knight is placed at an outpost, it becomes a stronger piece with greater attacking opportunities. 

Because of their long range skills, bishops should be hoisted on open diagonals, while rooks should be put on open files and strive to get down to the opponent’s seventh/second rank. Your pieces should not stay at home, but rather advance to the enemy’s position to conquer it. Casual moves should be avoided in favour of attacking moves. Attacking moves frequently compel the opponent to retreat, resulting in a deterioration of his position.

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #5: Take charge of the initiative 

Always aim to make attacking moves throughout the midgame. Your opponent would be forced to retreat and hand over the initiative to you if you made these moves. The player who has the initiative is in a good position since he may justify attacking his opponent’s position and forcing him to place his pieces in a difficult defensive posture.

Passive and defensive play can seriously harm your position because a piece guarding a square has less freedom of movement than one attacking the same square. Maintain the initiative by making active moves in the middle of the game.

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #6: Amass a small number of advantages.

It’s rare to see games in which grandmasters defeat each other owing to hilarious blunders or errors. How do they still win against each other when the majority of their games are drawn? 

It’s simple — They aim to build up small advantages, which combine over time to produce a significant advantage, and this is how games are won.

Gaining control of an open file, occupying a weak outpost with a knight, having a protected and deadly passed pawn, and being able to build pressure against your opponent’s weak pawns are all examples of these advantages.

After gaining a few small advantages, gradually increase the pressure on your opponent’s pieces and king. Your opponent will be compelled to crack at some time, allowing you to take the victory.

Improve Your Middlegame Principle #7: Carefully Select Your Preferred Pawn Structure.

“Pawns are the soul of chess,” famous chess master Phildor once said in the 1900s. Pawns are the least valuable pieces on the board, yet they must be moved with caution because a pawn that has been pushed forward cannot be moved backward.

Every chess player should be aware of all of the different sorts of pawn structures that can occur in a game. There are pawn chains, which are diagonally connected pawns. In an opening like the French defense, a pawn chain is common.

Doubled pawns, tripled pawns, isolated pawns, hanging pawns, backward pawns, and advancing pawns are all examples of pawns. Doubled and tripled pawns are pawns that appear twice and three times in the same file, respectively. In general, doubled pawns are acceptable, but triple pawns are not, as they can be a severe flaw in your position.

Isolated pawns are pawns that have been separated from other pawns; these groups of pawns normally stand alone. Hanging pawns are pawns that have no other supporting pawns, making them vulnerable to attack just like the isolated pawn.

Regarding Backward and Forward pawns, the terms “backward” and “forward” are self-explanatory. If your opponent has a backward pawn, it can still be found on the lower ranks, unprotected by other pieces. It’s easy to apply pressure on these kinds of pawns. Forward pawns, on the other hand, have made significant progress; these pawns can be quite menacing and deadly because they are focused on reaching the promotion squares.

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