As a chess trainer, I always like to focus on chess planning before tactics, endgames or anything else "less pure" than a true understanding of the game. Although most of my students below 1500 (Online Chess) are not quite yet ready to be suffocated by positional terms and ideas, I still try to integrate some less in-depth concepts in our lessons. The point of this post is to teach you a way of planning that will allow you to assess any position you are given. Chess is based around positional differences. This method of planning teaches you how to recognize and make use of these differences. Anyway, back to the question that I'm sure you are wondering. "How can I plan, and what are positional differences?" Well, it is very simple. The main positional differences are as follows:
Material (of course).
Minor Piece Play. (Two Bishops, Bishop vs Knight etc.)
Pawn Structure. (Doubled, isolated, backward, Q-side majority, K-side majority etc.)
Control of a Weak Square. (where it can't be defended by a pawn)
Control of a Key File.
Lead in Development. (Who currently has more active pieces out and in the game)
Initiative. (Whoever is making the opponent react to your threats has the initiative)
Now that we know what the positional differences are, what do we do with them? Do we just make a point of listing them just to say we did, and then toss them in the trash can? Or continue a pattern of self-defeat and tell yourself "Oh well, I've done well enough without knowing about these pesky positional differences, so they can just sit there and rot for all I care!" These two often tried methods of chess improvement have proven ineffective. So what do we do then? Well first list what both sides have, (positional differences above) and then make a plan that improves your differences, and weakens your opponent's. Sound hard? It really isn't, it just takes time and practice and is very logical. I mean, what isn't logical about improving your position and destroying your opponent's ? Anyway, listing the differences won't get you anywhere if you don't know what to do with them when you have them. I'll just give you a brief overview of the strategy of each positional difference.
Material: The side with more material should try to trade to reach a favorable endgame. The side with less should try to keep as much as possible on the board, thus increasing chances of a successful attack (an endgame is probably not the way to go when you have less on the board)
Minor Piece Play: Bishops are best in positions with an open board (without a locked pawn center) Knights are best in closed positions (With a locked pawn structure). The two Bishops are considered an advantage against two Knights or a Bishop and Knight because they work well together. In endgames, Bishops are best when pawns are on both sides of the board. Knights are better when pawns are on one side.
Space: Space is good to have because it gives your pieces room to breathe, while your opponent's are suffocating. If you don't have as much space, you should look for ways of attacking your opponent's pawn center, and keep your eyes open for weak squares.
Pawn Structure: isolated pawns can be weak, but also give you an open/half open file. Doubled pawns have a bad reputation, but can actually help you control squares. Backward pawns can be awful if they are on an open file, (the rooks can kill them) but if they can't be attacked, they aren't a big deal. If they are vulnerable, a good plan is to trade them off by pushing them. Passed pawns are good to have most of the time, but not if they can easily be blockaded, (usually by a knight) where they can actually be bad for your game and block your pieces.
Control of a Weak Square. What is the point of controling a weak square? it gets you a good post for a piece, particularly a knight. A square is only weak if it can't be defended by a pawn. A weak square may not sound important, but whole games can be won or lost because of one.
Control of a Key File: Obviously the point of controlling an open file is to increase the activity of your rooks on that file and give you increased attacking potential.
Lead in Development: This is typical of the opening phase, but often occurs in the middlegame as well. Basically, it is where one side has better developed pieces, or more pieces out. This rarely lasts more than a few moves, (or until the opponent can catch up in development) So you should make use of it quickly or else it will be lost. The best way to make use of it is to try to make an attack of some sort before you lose your lead. There will as often as not be no way to do this, so after thinking about ways to use your lead in development if you can't find anything, just go on with your plan. Just make sure you gave it your all. For the other side, 1. make sure your king is safe 2. develop your own pieces.
Initiative: If you have the initiative, you need to use it in a similar way as a lead in development. If you don't make use of it quickly, your initiative will evaporate. Look to make use of it in the way of an attack or combination. The opposing side should just take cover and wait for the tactical bombs to stop falling before surveying the damage and looking for any weaknesses the opponent's onslaught has left behind (for either side.)
King Safety: If your king is safely castled and your opponent's is stuck in the center, then try to blast it open with all the firepower you have! The opposing side should just dodge the shrapnel while his/her king rushes to safety.
Now that we have listed the main positional differences, let's see how to make use of them to formulate a plan.
This game was just a random position that I chose to demonstrate the thought process required to play good positional chess. The thinking technique used however, can actually be applied to any position that you are handed. Although after reading this post your chess thought process should improve, there is only so much I can reasonably fit in a blog post, so to master this technique, I would recomend that you do these things. 1. play 30 min+ games here on Chess.com using this technique. 2. annotate games at random from your favorite database using this technique. 3. Get Jeremy Silman's book How To Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition. I have never written a whole book on the planning method mentioned in this book because I don't have time to, but of all the books that focus on strategy and planning, that one is the closest to the method described here. I would also reccomend any other of his books as well. 4. practice the planning method as much as possible by doing the above things.
Hope you enjoyed my post! Feel free to check out my blog for other articals like this one. Thanks,