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Middlegame Training

MiddleGame Training

Ok the opening phase is over now what?

The middlegame is extremely difficult to play correctly. Quite often, players who are otherwise quite good at the game find themselves unable to navigate these murky waters adequately. They may know the opening principles and understand where to put their pieces initially but after those moves these players are at a loss as to what to do next.

But don't despair, especially if you find yourself among the ranks of the middlegame challenged, for the middlegame, too has its own governing principles. If you bone up on your tactics and stick to these principles, you can play this phase of the game quite well indeed.

The elements of piece mobility and king safety take priority in the middlegame. The rapid mobilization of your forces enables you to attack your opponent, and if you can induce a weakness, or imbalance in the enemy King's position, you may be able to win material or play directly for checkmate. Even if your opponent safeguards the King, you still may be able to force some other sort of concession, which is usually enough to pave the road to victory.

Chess is not a game that you can easily reduce to the simple sum of its parts. You may understand each element in isolation but still struggle to put the total package together or come to the correct understanding of any given position. Nevertheless you must be able to judge a position correctly, or at least adequately before you can hope to formulate the correct plan. If you can't plan well in chess, you end up aimlessly shuffling pieces about, hoping for a glaring error from your opponent. Players who fall into this non-planner category are referred to in chess circles as woodpushers. Don't be a woodpusher.

Jose Capablanca once wrote in his A Primer of Chess that "you may be behind in all three of the other elements, Material, Space and Time, and yet have a winning position. This does not mean that you should neglect any of the other three elements but that you should give preeminence to the elements of a position.

Today we conceptualize this idea a bit differently and rarely refer to a position as an element of chess but the point remains the same. Every position must be judged on its own merits. The rules of chess have so many exceptions that a blind adherence to any formula is doomed to failure. Checkmate can contradict any rule of thumb. Some players may wail that no justice is to be found in chess because they can be doing everything right according to the basic principles of chess and still lose. The more mature among us refer to this as "the equalizing injustice of chess" by which we mean that the exception that spoils your plan today may be the exception that spoils your opponent's plan tomorrow.

Ludek Pachman in Modern Chess Strategy, writes: "To judge a position correctly and recognize its peculiarities is an essential prerequisite for finding a suitable plan. "In other words, one must evaluate the position correctly before embarking on a plan, and to be successful, the plan must correspond to the demands of the position.

Pachman gives us the following factors to consider in evaluating a position.

1. The material relationship, that is, the material equality or the material superiority of either side.
2. The power of the individual pieces.
3. The quality of the individual pawns.
4. The position of the pawns, that is, the pawn structure.
5. The position of the King.
6. Cooperation among the pieces and pawns.

A superiority in material tends to be a lasting advantage, as does a superiority in pawn structure, while an edge in piece placement may be a more fleeting advantage. Pieces can move around quite quickly and change the nature of the game. Plans may need to be adopted or dropped if this type of change occurs. You can't stick to a plan that your opponent has thwarted, you must readjust yourself to the new position instead. This sort of thing may occur many times in a single game.

The pawns are less mobile than the pieces, and so you can more really fix the placement of pawns than pieces. The conclusion, therefore, is that the essential characteristic (mobile, locked, and so on) of the pawn structure at this point in the game is your most trustworthy guide to the feasibility, and your adoption, of any particular plan.

The ability to correctly adjust and re-adjust your plan is a rare one, however, and you can achieve many fine victories if you simply evaluate a position and attempt to come up with the appropriate plan for that position. Think to yourself something like the following. :I'm going to advance my pawns and weaken my opponent’s pawns and then attack them with my pieces," After you decide on the plan, you're no longer faced with a bewildering array of possible moves, but have narrowed your choices down considerably.

Any time you don't know what to do in a chess game, just tell yourself to make a plan. Decide which move helps you best carry out that plan and make that move. After every move, (your own and those of your opponent), reevaluate the plan in light of the changed situation. Perhaps the original plan is still appropriate, but maybe a new idea occurs to you that's even better. Try not to switch aimlessly back and forth between plans, but have a real reason to either stick with the plan or change to a new one. If the new idea seems about the same as the old one stick with the old one.

Old hands at the game have a saying in chess: If you have a temporary advantage, you must attack. Otherwise, the advantage usually slips through your fingers. Attacking is a fundamental part of the game, but you must not attack too soon. You first must build up your position to the point that launching an attack is warranted.

You have no hard and fast rules for deciding when to launch an attack. This ambiguity raises the level of decision-making involved in attacks into an art form. The great geniuses of the game seem to be an intuitive sense of when to commence and attack and how to punish one launched by their opponents, if the attack is in any way premature.

Attack Types.
1. The main action is not in fact an attack on the King, but the possibility of such an attack is possible in the position.
2. A Player's action really does contain a direct threat to the opponent's King, but his opponent can stave off this threat at a certain price, for example, by giving up material or spoiling his position.
3. The attacker carries out an uncompromising mating attack; a considerable amount of material may be invested in the attack as long as mate is certain in the end.
Attack however, involves risk, and some players hate to take risks. Yet one of the great joys of chess is to conduct well a difficult attack. The point is not to attack for attack's sake but to attack after you've made that appropriate preparation (secured your position and weakened your opponents).

Rules for Middlegame Attacking.

1. Attack if you control the center.
If you attack without controlling the center, you are exposed to a counter-attack in the center and your forces may be split.

2. Meet a flank attack with action in the center.
If your opponent attacks on either side of the board, your attack in the center divides your opponent's forces and conquers them.

3. Be prepared to develop quickly to any area.
your rapid deployment of pieces to one area of the board may be decisive if your opponent can't respond as rapidly

4. Place queens in front of bishops and behind rooks during and attack.
The bishop is not powerful enough to lead an attack and the queen is too powerful to risk, if the rook can do the dirty work in her place..

5. Don't place your knights on the sides of the board.
Knights control too few squares from the side of the board and their attacking power is severely reduced.

6. Attack in the case of opposite-colored bishops.
Because opposite-colored bishops can't be exchanged for one another or control the same squares, the attacker has what sometimes amounts to an extra piece.

7. Exchange pieces to help your defense.
You have fewer pieces to trip over one another if you exchange pieces and the attacker has fewer pieces to threaten you with.

8. Put the rooks on open files (and the same file)
Putting the rooks on an open file and then on the same file (which is called doubling) whenever possible is helpful. Other pieces can zigzag their way into enemy territory. The rook requires an open file in order to successfully invade. Two rooks acting together can control more territory than one alone.

9. Put rooks on the seventh rank.
Rooks on the seventh rank can usually attack opponent's pawns that have remained on their original squares; sometimes the rooks can trap the opponent’s King to the back rank.

10. Advance pawns to open lines.
The opening is the time to develop your pieces not to waste time with excessive pawn moves. Conversely, in the middlegame the pieces are already developed; it may then be appropriate to create weaknesses in order to open lines or create weaknesses in your opponents position.

11. Always guard against a counter-attack.
Never leave your King exposed! Chess players very often spoil promising positions in their zeal to attack because they forget to first take a few small precautions. Sometimes it's proper to take a move or two to safe guard your own King's position and only then resume your mover aggressive pursuits.

12. Use knights in closed positions and Bishops in open ones.
Bishops need open lines in order to profit from their long-range attacking abilities. Knights are more effective in skirmishes at close quarters, and closed positions are more apt to produce that sort of skirmish.

If you attack wherever you control more space, you have more room to maneuver your pieces, and your opponent has less. You then have more squares to choose from when posting your pieces and you may be able to swiftly shift your pieces from one point of attack to another while the defender struggles to meet your threats.

There is much more to say about the middlegame, but the best teacher, however, is experience. You can gain a great deal of experience by playing over the games of the masters, but you will find no better way to learn how to navigate a successful middlegame than simply to play several yourself. Over time, you will figure out when attacks will work and when they won't, and why. Remember that everyone fears a strong attacker. No one wants to end up on the wrong side of a brilliant win.

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