Study Plan for Advanced Players: Strategy

Study Plan for Advanced Players: Strategy

| 10 | Strategy

Target Skill Range: Advanced Path (Rated 1800-1999)


  1. Learn the power of the pieces!!!
  2. Improve your knowledge of dynamics and tension in chess.
  3. Know how to exploit exchanges.
  4. Improve your prophylactic thinking and defense!
  5. Relate structures and plans.
  6. Master the exchange sacrifice.
  7. Know your classics.
  8. Review 50 games.

You've heard that chess is 99% tactics, right? First, that's false. Sorry! Second, tactics arise from superior positions. How do we get to superior positions? That's what strategy is all about.

Strategy at the advanced level is filled with subtlety. You'll need to master transformations, exchanges, dynamics, and structures. What do those words even mean, and how could they lead to won games?!

Complete the following exercises to find out and take another giant step forward in your chess journey. Simon says!

1. Learn the power of the pieces!!!

An advanced player should be familiar with the “idiosyncrasies” of each piece. By now, you have likely spent more time with the chess pieces than all but your most intimate friends. Know their personalities. What are their likes and dislikes?

Further your understanding of the pieces by watching these excellent videos by GM Dejan Bojkov.

One of's favorite article authors, GM Gregory Serper, regular discusses the power of the pieces. Check out these articles which highlight the pieces at their most spectacular and powerful.

The flip side of this coin is learning how to act against and restrict your opponent's pieces.

Improve your understanding of restriction by watching these videos from GM Melik Khachiyan.

Also, read this article demonstrating maximum restriction against the most restrictable piece, the bishop.

2. Improve your knowledge of dynamics and tension in chess.

Many key mistakes in chess are related to mishandling dynamics and prematurely releasing tension in a position. Even grandmasters struggle with these issues. The only way to master dynamics and tension is through careful analysis and study of positions where such problems exist.

Begin your mastery of dynamics and tension with the following videos:

GM Melik Khachiyan never ceases to testify to the importance of dynamic play. In this four-part series, he espouses and demonstrates dynamic thinking in a variety of positions.

FM Alisa Melekhina demonstrates the recurring problems associated with managing tension based on her games from the World Team Championship.

Flesh out your knowledge with these articles which add depth to the video topics and examples.

Finally, test yourself with the following lesson dedicated exclusively to the initiative.

The Essence Of The Initiative by GM Sam Shankland

3. Know how to exploit exchanges.

No exchange is equal. A vital part of positional skill is knowing which exchanges are favorable and unfavorable to you. Hone your understanding of exchanges with GM Dejan Bojkov's, excellent video series, When To Trade.

GM Gregory Kaidanov's series, Lessons On Positional Play devotes part three, to the particular challenging topic of unusual exchanges.

Read the following article, in which IM Natalia Pogonina lays out the theory of exchanges in chess.

Finally, complete IM Jeremy Silman's course on the topic:

4. Improve your prophylactic thinking and defense!

Strong chess play consists of both finding strong play for yourself and identifying and neutralizing strong play for your opponent. At the advanced level, men and women are separated from boys and girls by their ability to think in terms of "prophylaxis." Prophylaxis simply means identifying and addressing potential play from your opponent. Factor their play into your analysis and plans.

Improve your prophylactic abilities with the following series by GM Sam Shankland who provides you with practical examples from his own play and that of other grandmasters.

Prophylaxis is closely related to thinking defensively and anticipating threats before they are critical. Check out the following article by GM Bryan Smith on the topic.

Hone your understanding to the max with GM Melik Khachiyan's video series on practical defense.

With these videos under your belt, expand your understanding with the following articles.

Finally test your thinking with positions from practical games. These lessons will give you plenty of opportunities.

5. Relate structures and plans.

How do you find a plan in a chess position? The first place you should look is the pawn structure. Certain structures suggest certain plans. At the Advanced Level, you should have a rich understanding of the plans inherent in most common structures. At the very least, you should have an intimate understanding of the structures and associated plans that are likely to arise from your favored openings.

Start by reading this article on planning by IM Jeremy Silman.

Then check out these tests which will help you evaluate your ability to find plans.

Learn what to watch for with every pawn with GM Simon Williams's awesome videos.

In some structures, many different treatments are possible. Watch this incredible treatment by GM Dejan Bojkov of the extremely important Carlsbad Pawn structure. He shows you how four different elite grandmasters chose to approach the position.

Watch this mammoth series by GM Melik Khachiyan on evaluation and planning to see how all of the diverse factors in a position are balanced in deciding on the right plan.

Finally, round out your knolwedge with these articles all of which are by IM Jeremy Silman.

6. Master the exchange sacrifice.

The exchange sacrifice (giving up a rook for a bishop or knight) is common in chess, yet it mystifies many players. To properly execute exchange sacrifices in your own games, you must be able to dig deeply into the position, looking past the tangible material count and considering intangible factors like piece activity and quality. Begin by inspiring yourself with GM Daniel Naroditsky's article on the undisputed master of the exchange sacrifice, World Champion Tigran Petrosian.

Next, check out the following articles which illustrate various exchange sacrifices, the motives behind them, and the proper evaluation of their worth. Start with GM Bryan Smith's article on the theory of the exchange sacrifice.

Continue with Smith's article on the Sicilian Exchange Sacrifice in the endgame and GM Gregory Serper's pair of articles on the thematic exchange sacrifice on e6.

Include these additional video perspectives from GMs Dejan Bojkov, Melik Khachiyan, and IM Tiger Lilov.

Lastly but not leastly, here are some written perspectives on this idea which provide unique insights from the authors.

With all these perspectives in hand, you should have a tremendous theoretical knowledge of the exchange sacrifice. Now go play some in your own games!

7. Know your classics.

Strong players draw heavily on their mental library of classic games to make decisions and evaluations in their games.

Grow your mental library by familiarizing yourself with the games of these influential chess players from before World War II.

8. Review 50 games.

Review and analysis of your own games is one of the most important ways to improve. Go over 50 of your own games with a chess engine and, in every game, try to find a long term weakness or positional factor you missed or perhaps underestimated.

This is a difficult exercise. Key strategic errors—like selecting the wrong plan—won’t often result in massive swings in the evaluation of a position. However over a series of moves, the impact may be decisive. Pay careful attention to inaccuracies pointed out by the computer, and take special time to understand proposed exchanges and transformations.

For each game, identify one strategic error and a superior alternative. Write down the error, the improvement, the ramifications, and why you made the mistake. For example …

  • After ...Bd7, I was left with a bad bishop that was a problem for the remainder of the game.
  • With the move ...Ba6, I could have exchanged my bad bishop for the good bishop on d3.
  • This error resulted in a clearly worse position for Black. After the correct ...Ba6, Black has a fully equal position.
  • I believe I made this error because I am reluctant to exchange pieces. I need to be more attentive to opportunities to trade my bad pieces for my opponent’s good pieces.
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