Progressive Training Middlegame

Middlegame Strategy

Be sure and click the Middlegame tactics link at the bottom of this page.

After the opening follows the central stage of the chess game. The "middlegame". In contrast to the opening and the endgame, where the game these days turns into a exact reproduction of concrete moves and variations described in text books. In the middlegame the chess player is compelled to be more creative. In view of its complexity, this phase of the game is not so throughly investigated, and consequently here is a player left to himself and has to rely on his own skills, on his own understanding of the game. Only the general principles of positional play, developed on the basis of the experience of numerous master games can be a help to him.

The opening has passed, your army is mobilized and ready to start the battle. What to do then? Beginners often rush their pieces into an attack, begin to advance their edge Pawns and undertake mysterious sorties with their Queen. In other words they make aimless moves.

To avoid this, once the development is complete, (or even better-during development) it is necessary to assess the resulting position and make a game plan. Of course this is not easy because one has to know and take into account a number of positional factors (features of a Pawn structure, presence of a Pawn structure, presence of open and semi-open files, weak and strong squares and find other imbalances, etc. You also have to know how to apply various methods of positional play in situations where these factors will work. Just these few basic things are the basis of a chess players strategical skills in the middlegame.

A thought underlying a combination, is called an idea, a thought underlying a positional play is called a plan. An idea is momentary. It sharply changes a situation. A plan has imposing to us breath and depth of an intention, which by gradually realizing gives positions a certain structure.

It is rather difficult to learn how to play a game by the above balanced plan But without mastering this skill a chessplayer can hardly aspire for higher goals.

What is a plan in a chess game and what should it be based on? A plan is a set of strategical operations which follow each other and are carried out one at a time according to one's independent intention and the requirements of the position of the board. In order to make a plan you have to analyze and evaluate the position. You actions can be presented in the following very simple scheme.

		  ANALYSIS             EVALUATION             PLAN

To evaluate a position it is first of all necessary to carry our a quantitative and qualitative analysis of a situation. The quantitative analysis is actually a comparison in strength of the chess forces of both sides. It is very easy because all you have to do is count the available pieces and pawns.

Much more difficult is the qualitative analysis, where it is necessary to strip down a position to its elements or factors, and then study each of them individually.

What factors are we talking about? These are arrangement of pawns (especially in the center of the board) possession of open and semi-open lines, piece activity, strong and weak squares, pawn structure, King security and many others.

Usually the detailed analysis and evaluation are made during the critical moments of the game, when the direction of the struggle is changing. The calculation of a variation, when we try to foresee events which will come about within some moves, also cannot do with out such an evaluation, It is by no means necessary to carry out the detailed analysis of a position before each move, but it is necessary to do it each time when you do a strategical plan.

To learn all this at once is rather difficult. Therefor for the beginner I would recommend to use a technique of positional analysis including only the key factors.

1. The center and arrangement of Pawns. 2. Piece activity. 3. Lines and diagonals. 4. Strong and weak squares. 5. The Kings location

Each of these factors may differ in importance depending on the situation. Therefore it is not necessary to follow a specific order.

The evaluation of a position gradually arises in your head when you are analyzing it. Usually it is expressed in categories like, better or worse. In chess literature you may have already seen signs designating such an evaluation. For example: +/= ,White stands slightly better, =/+ ,Black stands slightly better, etc.

When analyzing and evaluating a position you reveal the strong and weak aspects of both sides of your own position and of your opponent. The outstanding theorist grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch wrote, All operations must be put into practice following a definite purpose, an object of attack. Navigation without a purpose is strategical discomfiture. Such purposes are cleared up just while evaluating a position. And when they have been determined, it is necessary to plan the concrete operations, which allow you to use the strengths of your position and the weaknesses of your opponent.

In chess the amount of plans is indefinite. They can be very simple or very complex. They can include a essential regrouping of forces or extend themselves over only a few moves.

Don't be afraid of mistaken plans, but of playing aimlessly. Playing with out a plan very rarely leads to success, more often it leads the player into a dangerous situation. Therefore just remember this; it is far better to play according to a bad plan than to play without a plan at all.

When making a plan take into account not only the results of your analysis, but also your playing style. This is especially important if you have several plans of equal value.

You plan may include trying to create some weakness on your opponents kingside and then exploit this weakness by mobilizing your forces for an attack. Or you may try to increase the pressure in the center. Which ever suits your style of play is best. If you are a tactician and good at tactics and a attacker, it may be better for you to plan around this idea. If you prefer a more quite, strategic struggle, you should plan for this type of play.

In order to learn how to estimate a position and make a plan, the basis of the chessplayer's strategical skill, you first have to understand the positional factors we have just talked about.

The Middlegame Struggle

The phase of the struggle which is called "middle game" is the scene of aggressive and defensive maneuvers, in contrast to the opening phase, which should be devoted solely to the mobilization of the pieces. In reality the two phases are not very strictly divided from each other, because players will quite often go in for an attack before they have completed the development of their forces. You have learned to consider such an action to be premature However, situations do exist in which a temporary interruption of the developing process can be justified. This is the case mainly when an ill-chosen developing move by a player has created a weakness which his opponent feels he must exploit immediately to prevent its correction. Such a weakness is usually due to an injudicious Pawn move which permits the occupation of an important square by hostile pieces, or which opens a file or diagonal in which such pieces can work up an attack on the King.

When experts oppose each other, such situations occur only rarely. Experts develop their forces properly and keep constantly in mind the danger of producing a weakness in their Pawn structure. Thus, by the time they are ready to start middle-game operations, usually after ten or twelve moves have been made, the position is in most cases fairly even, though more ofen White, being a move ahead of Black, will have slightly better winning prospects. That is why in important international tournaments contestants often meet each other twice, so that they can play one game with the white and the other with the black pieces. In contests between players of lesser strength the privilege to move first is not of such great importance. They rarely maintain for very long the advantage which that privilege gives them, because they do not clearly appreciate that in the last analysis the tactic is to keep threatening something in order to confine the opponent to defensive play for a long time. Naturally, this does not mean attacking a piece here and another there just to make it move elsewhere. Such threats would be utterly meaningless if the attacked piece can withdraw to a square on which it has equal mobility unless it was needed on its post for some important defensive duty

Most threats which are purposeful in the early middle game are of a positional nature. They may be designed by a player to obtain control of more space for his pieces, or to cramp the opponent's pieces or to undermine his hold on the center, all by way of preparing to bring superior force to bear on a part of the board where the enemy is least likely to be able to resist a break-through. Or they may aim at Pawn exchanges which would produce a Pawn majority on the Queen wing or result in a passed Pawn and thus lead to a superior end game. What strategy to choose, whether to play for an attack on the King or for a favorable end game, naturally depends mainly upon the exigencies of the position. But the player's temperament, or his style if you will , has a good deal to do with the decision. There is little question that most chess players prefer to win a game by dint of a checkmating attack rather than by reaching an ending in which they can finally force the promotion of a Pawn.

But whether or not a checkmating attack will be successful, even top-ranking masters cannot always tell. Although they may feel that it will win the game, they may forgo it as too risky in the event that a sacrifice of material is necessary to break through the opponent's defenses and they haven't enough time left on their clock for exact calculation of all possible variations. Tournaments are played for money prizes, and glory remains a secondary consideration for players who are not financed by a chess organization. Fortunately, from the view point of the chess fan, there are always a number of masters who will take considerable risks for the sake of glory. They are ever the favorites, whether they win or lose.

Chess amateurs, who play the game for the enjoyment they get from this intellectual pastime, often go to the other extreme: they will make wild sacrificial attacks on the slightest provocation, with out justification by any of the positional characteristics which develop an attacking style. It produces a much more enjoyable kind of chess than the jockeying for infinitesimally small positional advantages with which today's master playing against their equals, must satisfy themselves in most of their games in order not to endanger their point score. However, always let reason temper aggressive tendencies. If your opponent has emerged from the opening with as good a position as you have, that is, if his pieces and yours are equally mobile, if he has as much control of center squares as you, and if he has not weakened his Pawn structure in front of his King in a manner which would facilitate a close approach of your pieces, it would obviously be foolish to plan a checkmating attack. Its chance of success would be practically zero. To make sense in an even position, plans have to be much less ambitious. They might envisage the provocation of a weakening Pawn advance or the provocation of a Pawn exchange which opens a file for invasion of the seventh or eighth rank by the Rooks; or other threats of positional nature. It is plans like these, besides typical preparations for an all-out attack on the King, which form the basis of sound midgame play.

In games of players who are matched unevenly, an occasion for a direct assault on the King will sometimes present itself while the struggle is still clearly in the opening stage. As a rule, this can happen only if a player weakens his King's position by an early advance of the King Bishop Pawn or if he fails to provide adequate protection for the square KB2, his congenital weakness, when the opponent prepares a multiple attack on it.

Minor Pieces in the Middlegame What is the significance if you have two Bishops or a Bishop versus a Knight? Many would say so what. Why should such a simple little thing be of any great importance? The fact is that games are constantly won or lost due to one side having a superior minor piece. However, this doesn't just happen. Such a difference has to be carefully nurtured if you want it to obtain decisive significance. Many have won countless games by following the simplest of planning shortcuts. First they create some difference to work with, say a Bishop versus the opponent's Knight. Next they create an atmosphere in which the Bishop will thrive, a non-locked pawn structure so that the Bishop will have open lines, getting his opponents pawns on the color of his Bishop so that they will be vulnerable in an endgame, taking away advanced squares from his opponents knight so that his minor piece remains inactive. When all this is done, they steer the game into an ending in which the speedy Bishop eats his opponents gimpy knight alive. In other words they create an imbalance and devote all their energy into making it a positive force.

Solving Middlegame Problems

For players who can't stand the memorization that the openings demand, and who become bored when faced with endgames, the middleame is what real chess is all about. Of course, to become a chess master, you must become proficient in all three phases of the game. Nevertheless, the middleame's possibilities have captured the imaginations of millions of players over the centuries, and this where most amateurs firmly plant their attention. It is at this level, that we have attacks, combinations and a certain air of mystery. At the higher levels too, this phase of the game has many pleasing characteristics; primal kingside attacks are created, subtle strategic plans are put into motion, and preparations for the endgame are quietly begun. Many games don't get past the middleame. A checkmate ends matters in no uncertain terms, huge material losses convince experienced players to resign the contest in disgust, and the specter of a lost endgame can also lead a player to tip his king over in defeat.

The problems in the middle game run the gamut from quiet positional maneuvering to attacking in earnest. It's up to you to feel the ebb and flow of the position, to understand whether static or dynamic play is called for, and to make use of the imbalances at all times. Without these things you won't be able to find the correct solutions. Certain general bits of knowledge are also needed to correctly answer the true and false questions.

Let us ask some questions about the middlegame . Many of these questions are from what we have learned from the previous lessons..If you have not studied them do so now before going any further.

1. What is an imbalance?
2. Name the seven main imbalances?
3. What are the main components of the middlegame thinking technique?
4. What is a plan?
5. What is the difference between a static and dynamic advantage or imbalance?
6. What is the difference between a good and a bad Bishop?
7. Can a active Bishop also be bad?
8. What are the three cures for a bad Bishop?
9. What do Knights need, to reach their full power?
10. Explain Steinitz's rule on how to beat Knights?
11. If your opponent has two Bishops, what should you do?
12. Why are two Bishops usually superior to two Knights?
13. Why is extra territory a good thing?
14. What should the side with less space do to make the situation more acceptable?
15. Why is a full pawn center a good thing to have?
16. How can a player make use of a full pawn center?
17. What must you do if your opponent creates a full pawn center?
18. Are doubled pawns always bad? If not, what are their good points?
19. How does one make use of an isolated d-pawn and how does one play against it?
20. Do Rooks always stand well on open files?
21. When you triple on an open file with two Rooks and a Queen which takes up the rear, what is this called?
22. A static plus, usually calls for slow play while a dynamic plus, usually calls for fast play (often fast play leads to the creation of a static, long lasting advantage) . With this in mind, figure out if you must play fast or slow when you possess:

a. A lead in development.
b. An isolated d-pawn.
c. Play against your opponent's backward pawn.
d. The initiative.
e. A superior minor piece.
f. A superior minor piece.
g. Play against a weak square in the enemy camp.
h. An advantage in space.

23. True or false:

a. It's better to be behind in material than to have a position that's devoid of activity.
b. A Bishop should usually be considered as slightly better than a Knight.
c. Bishops enjoy open positions.
d. A Rook reaches the zenith of its power on the eighth rank.
e. A Rook on the seventh rank is often worth a pawn.
f. Two Rooks on the seventh are known as "roving eaters".
g. An attack against the enemy King is that most effective plan in chess.
h. Knights are most effective on the eighth rank.
i. A protected passed pawn is always a good thing to have.


1. What is an imbalance?
Any difference in the two respective positions. Try and create as many imbalances as possible if you think you can ultimately make them serve your cause. Don't allow an imbalance to be created if you think it will be to your opponent's advantage.

2. Name the seven main imbalances?
1.Superior minor piece; 2.Pawn structure; 3.Space: 4. material; 5.Control of a key file or square: 6.Lead in development; 7.Initiative. Note that a lead in development and the initiative are temporary imbalances while the others tend to be permanent features of the position.

3 What are the main components of the "Imbalance Thinking Technique?"
Figure out the positive and negative imbalances; figure out the side of the board it would be best to play on (King side or Queen side): don't calculate. Instead, make several plans based on the positions that you would like to achieve. You must then decide what the odds are of each plan working successfully based on your present position. You may use the point count system here to help you. Look at the moves you wish to calculate, called candidate moves. These are the moves that will lead to success. Calculate each candidate move to see which plan will be more to likely to succeed.

4 What is a plan?
Making positive use of the existing characteristics of a position. Note: you don't do what you want to do, you do what the position needs. There is often a big difference between these two things.

5 What is the difference between a static and dynamic advantage or imbalance?
A static imbalance is long-term plus, is usually high. in its positional nature. A dynamic imbalance is short-term and often tactical in nature.

6 What is the difference between a good and a bad Bishop?
A good Bishop isn't blocked by its own pawns. A bad Bishop is blocked by center pawns standing on its own color.

7 Can an active Bishop also be bad?
Yes a active Bishop can also be a bad Bishop. In general, toss terms like "good" and "bad" go out the window. The only thing that should concern you is the following question: "is your Bishop doing a useful job? If not find a way to get it into the game.

8 What are the three cures for a bad Bishop?
Trade it off for a piece of equal (or superior) value; get you pawns off the color of the Bishop; get your Bishop outside the pawn chain.

9 What do Knights need to do to reach their full power?
They need advanced, permanent support points. A knight is as good as a Bishop on the fourth rank, superior to a Bishop on the fifth, and often just as good as a rook on the sixth.

10 Explain Steinitz's rule on how to beat Knights
Take away all their advanced support points.

11 If your opponent has two Bishops, what should you do?
Close the position and turn the two Bishops into a liability; trade one off and leave him with one Bishop.

12 Why are two Bishops usually superior to two Knights?
A Bishop's weakness is its inability to control squares of both colors. A Knight doesn't have the mobility of a Bishop, but it can ultimately land on every square on the board. Two Bishops complement each other by covering both white and black squares. Two Knights can get in each other way. Such Knights often don't work well together.

13 Why is extra territory a good thing?
The side with less space often has trouble finding active squares for his pieces. Top players cover spatial gains because they hope to squeeze their opponent to death within the confines of his cramped position.

14 What should the side with less space do to make the situation more acceptable?
Trade off as many pieces as possible. This will give your remaining pieces more room to move about in.

15 Why is a full pawn center a good thing to have?
It gives its owner more space, and it restricts the movement of the enemy pieces.

16 How can a player make use of a full pawn center?
If you can make it indestructible, the opponent won't be able to create any counterplay and will likely perish due to his lack of space.

17 What must you do if your opponent creates a full pawn center?
You must prove that it's a weakness. Attack it for all your worth!

18 Are doubled pawns always bad? If not what are their good points?
Doubled pawns are often good because they give their owners use of a half-open or open file and also can offer extra control over important squares.

19 How does one make use of an isolated d-pawn and how does one play against it?
The isolated d-pawn, from White's perspective, gives its owner use of the e5-square, which can be used as a fine home for a Knight and a central space advantage. White will use these things to create threats against the enemy King. Black will fight to control the square in front of the d-pawn on d5. Then he will strive to trade all the minor pieces, effectively ending White's attack. Once this is done, Black can place a Rook on d5 and another heavy piece on d7 or d8, doubling against the d4-pawn. A timely.... c6-c5 or ....e6-e5 makes use of a probable pin along the d-file to force the win of the besieged pawn. In general, White will want to retain Queens early in the game, highlighting his attacking chances. However, if too many minor pieces get exchanged, White will want to trade off the Queens. This allows his King to safely come to the center and defend d4. He might also want to trade off the Rooks (if his attacking chances vanish) because without the Rooks. Black won't be able to put an optimal amount of pressure on d4.

20 Do Rooks always stand well on open files?
No. The open file is unimportant if you can't use it to penetrate into the enemy position. Place your Rooks on an open file if penetration points exist on it, or if you stop your opponent from taking control of it an ultimately penetrating into your position.

21 When you triple on an open file with two Rooks and a Queen which takes up the rear, what is this called?
Alekhine's Gun

22 A static plus usually calls for slow play while a dynamic plus usually calls for fast play, (often fast play leads to the creation of a static, long-lasting advantage) With this in mind, tell me if you must play fast or slow when you possess:
a. A lead in development
b. An isolated d-pawn
c. Play against your opponent's backward pawn.
d. The initiative
e. A material advantage
f. A superior minor piece
g Play against a weak square in the enemy camp
h. An advantage in space.


a. FAST. If you don't use it quickly, it will fade away.
b. FAST. The isolated d-pawn gives you dynamic compensation for it potential weakness. If you don't make fast use of that dynamism, the pawn's intrinsic weak points will begin to torment you.
c. SLOW. This is a static advantage. Take your time and build up your forces against it.
d. FAST. Having the initiative means having control of the game. You must make use of this before it fades away.
e. SLOW. Material is forever. If everything else is equal, you should win the game. Thus take your time and neutralize your opponent's compensation for his material deficit.
f. SLOW. This is a positional feature that can be used throughout the game.
g. SLOW. Take your time and make sure that your opponent can't wrest the square away from you. Eventually use it as a home for one of your pieces.
h. SLOW. Space lets you play for a slow, painful squeeze. The longer you take, the more your opponent suffers.

23 True or false

a. Its better to be behind in material than to have a position that's devoid of activity.
b. A Bishop should usually be considered as slightly better than a Knight.
c. Bishops enjoy open positions.
d. A Rook reaches the zenith of its power on the eighth rank.
e. A Rook on the seventh rank is often worth a pawn.
f. Two Rooks on the seventh are known as "roving eaters."
g. An attack against the enemy King is the most effective plan in chess.
h. Knights are most effective on the eighth rank.
i. A protected passed pawn is always a good thing to have.

A. TRUE: Material often takes a back seat to the possession of active pieces or an active plan.
B. FALSE. A Bishop and a Knight should be considered as equal. Every particular position holds its own answer.
C. TRUE. Bishops are usually better than Knights in open positions.
D. FALSE. The seventh rank is the Rook's promised land.
F. FALSE. They are known as pigs or hogs on the seventh because they tend to eat everything in their path.
G. FALSE. Central play is the most effective plan in chess.
H. FALSE. A knight is most effective on the sixth rank. It doesn't control as many squares on the seventh and eighth ranks.
I. FALSE. A protected passed pawn can actually be a disadvantage if the opponent manages to blockade it with a Knight before it gets further than the fifth rank. MiddleGame Tactics