Study Plan For Intermediate Players: Strategy!
Target Skill Range: Intermediate (Rated 1400-1799)
Learn to develop long-term, strategic plans and outplay your opponents!
- Learn the basics of positional chess: pawn structures.
- Learn the basics of positional chess: weak squares.
- Learn about space and "building strength" in chess.
- Learn more about "good versus bad" pieces and piece power.
- Learn to balance the "initiative" versus the "concrete" factors of a position.
- Practice evaluating chess positions.
- Learn about defense and prophylactic thinking.
- Learn advanced planning.
- Take the quiz!
After introducing yourself to the most fundamental strategic ideas in our Study Plan for Beginners, you will now truly take the first steps toward understanding how long-term factors really dictate the outcomes of chess.
It's time to evolve your knowledge of pawn structures!
You learned about the most commonly reached pawn structures and the basic plans associated with them when you watched this video in Study Plan For Intermediate Players: the Opening! Now, if you feel unclear about any of the concepts in that Video Lesson, please review the material. Here we will focus more on pawn structures, but taking a slightly deeper and more advanced look.
First, let's learn about Isolated Queen Pawn ("IQP") play by
- Reading this article: The Art and Science of the Isolated d-Pawn by IM Jeremy Silman
and watching these videos:
- Isolated Queen Pawns Completed: Intro! (review) by IM Daniel Rensch
- Isolated Queen Pawns Completed: d4-d5 Breakthrough by IM Daniel Rensch
- Isolated Queen Pawns Completed: Role Reversal by IM Daniel Rensch
- Fireworks: IQP Battle Against FM Adamson! by GM Dejan Bojkov
Now, learn about the plans associated with common structures by watching these videos:
- Pawn Structure 101: Intro/Complex by IM Daniel Rensch
- Pawn Structure 101: Orthodox/Minority Attack by IM Daniel Rensch
- Pawn Structure 101: The Stonewall by IM Daniel Rensch
- Pawn Structure 101: Caro-Slav 1 by IM Daniel Rensch
- Pawn Structure 101: Caro Slav 2 by IM Daniel Rensch
Finally, review your own games—focusing on the pawn structures reached via the openings you play, and the ensuing middlegames—and ensure that you understand the basic plans for both white and black given those pawn formations.
If the pawn structures most commonly reached through your openings/middlegames have not yet been covered in this video series yet, make a note to stay in touch with the "Pawn Structure 101" video series, as well as this study plan for updated links.
Pawn structure and weak squares are closely related. Every "outpost" square, hole, and "weak color complex" was essentially created by a pawn move or capture of some kind (or lack thereof in some cases).
In this task, we will dive further into the concepts of outposts and weak color complexes. We will also introduce you to ideas such as the "positional exchange sacrifice," and you will begin to see how strategy and tactics work together to create powerful ideas.
- Weak Squares and Color Complexes by IM David Pruess
Then watch this video on the subject of the "exchange sacrifice" in chess:
- Meeting GM Khachiyan: Exchange Sacrifice by GM Melik Khachiyan
Then read these articles:
- The Power of Exchange Sacrifices Part 1 by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
- The Power of Exchange Sacrifices Part 2 by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
- Attack and Defense with Opposite-Colored Bishops by IM Bryan Smith
Finally, solidify your understanding of these concepts by watching these two videos:
- Opposite Colored Bishops in the Middlegame by GM Melik Khachiyan
- Opposite Colored Bishop Domination by GM Dejan Bojkov
The space of a position or "your space" is the number of safe squares available to your pieces at any given time. Essentially, your pieces have more freedom (or more options) when you have more space.
Space is dictated by pawn play in many ways, and "your space" is essentially all the squares you control behind your most advanced pawns (or pawns within the enemy's territory).
Learning to correctly use space and "build strength" in your position is critical. Most amateur players have little knowledge of how to use a space advantage (or how to play against an opponent's space advantage). For instance, many players trade pieces soon after achieving a space advtange. This is a big mistake, as the player with more space generally wants all possible pieces on the board.
There are countless more examples of "misplayed space" and many specific themes within the concept of space. Though you will not master these concepts for some time, now is the time to get started!
Watch these videos:
- The Basic Element of Space by IM David Pruess
- How to Exploit a Space Advantage - Part 1 by IM David Pruess
Then move onto GM Alex Lenderman's series on Space when you feel comfortable with the fundamental ideas of this concept. Work through his video series at your own pace.
The concepts that were introduced in this article and this video from the Study Plan for Beginners on Strategy are taken further in this task. You learned about pawn play and increased your ability to recognize a weak square in the first two tasks; however, learning where to place your pieces so that they can achieve their optimal performace, while maintaining maximum safety, is the key to strategical piece play.
First, watch these videos:
- General Strategy: When to Exchange Pieces by GM Dejan Bojkov
- Nominal and Absolute Power of the Pieces 2 by GM Dejan Bojkov
- Claustrophobic Rook by GM Dejan Bojkov
- The Empty Bishop by GM Dejan Bojkov
- Good and Bad Bishops; Averbakh v Furman, 1960 by GM Melik Khachiyan
- Restriction; Winter v Capablanca 1919 by GM Melik Khachiyan
- Restricting Bad Pieces 1 by GM Melik Khachiyan
Then, read these articles:
- Trapping Pieces by WGM Natalie Pogonina
- Giving Up the Dragon Bishop for the Noble Steed by WIM Iruna Zenyuk
- Foxwoods Battles: A Bishop Knightmare... by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
- Equestrian Dominance by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
And finally, test yourself by completing lessons 1-5 of the following lesson (again, try to score at least 70%):
- The Art of Exchanging Pieces by IM Jeremy Silman
The power and activity of your pieces, along with the ability to make threats against your opponent, is known as the "initiative" in chess. Often players are fighting for initiative, while at the same time, always striving for a material or "concrete" advantage.
Knowing how to value both the initiative and the more concrete factors (which can be seen as either material or large positional advantages, depending on the position) is a very difficult thing to do in chess: Should I sacrifice my knight here for two pawns and the initiative against my opponent's king? Is my one pawn advantage enough to win the endgame, even against my opponent's more active pieces? The list goes on...
Often it takes a master-level understanding to correctly weigh the initiative and the concrete features of a position, but it is time for you to take the first steps towards learning to balance these factors in your own games!
First, watch these videos and pay close attention to how the authors explain the critical moments of each game:
- Unbalanced Material: Minors vs Rook Part 1 by IM Daniel Rensch
- Unbalanced Material: Minors vs Rook Part 2 by IM Daniel Rensch
- Unbalanced Material: Minors vs Queen Part 1 by IM Daniel Rensch
- Unbalanced Material: Minors vs Queen Part 2 by IM Daniel Rensch
- Fighting for the Initiative by GM Melik Khachiyan
- Materialism and the Initiative in the Endgame by FM Charles Galofre
Now, work on a few lessons from this lesson, knowing that many of the puzzles/lessons are very advanced. Try to complete lessons 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 18 at the very least. Good luck!
by GM Sam Shankland
- Imbalances by IM Jeremy Silman
Now, play your next 25 practice games with a minimum time control of 15 minutues per side, and use Silman's recommended system for "checks and balances," weighing the tactical and positional factors of a given position. Get started now!
At the same time as you put all this new knowledge to good effect in your games, you must prevent your opponent doing likewise! The concept of preventing your opponent's plans and threats, in a long term sense (so not just their immediate threats), is known as "prophylaxis" or "prophylactic thinking".
You will learn more about this in more advanced study plans, but let's first establish some basic "defensive" approaches and techniques:
Read this: Exchanging While Defending by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
And then do this lesson with an expected score higher than 70%:
by FM Joel Banawa
If you've made it this far, you should have taken your knowledge of structures, positional chess, good and bad pieces, and the initiative to a much higher level! Complete this final task to consolidate all this knowledge by developing deep, strategically sound plans. Read these articles:
- Ideas on Planning from the Greatest Chess Coach by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
- What Does Dorfman have to Say on Planning? by WIM Iryna Zenyuk
This final section contains questions a player should know the answer to after completing this study plan.
Question 1: What does IM Silman say is Madhacker's "problem" in the game he reviews in his article on the subject?
Question 2: What does GM Bojkov say is a "bigger problem" when dealing with opposite colored bishops in the first minute or so of his video lecture?
Question 3: What move by black keeps both "c2 and c4" under attack and threatens to develop the c8-Bishop in Lesson 10 of IM Pruess's lesson?
Question 4: True or False: According to Zenyuk's article, she says that Dvoretsky believes in a "unified plan" approach, and that a consistent plan can be applied from start to finish in a high level chess game?
Question 5: What does WIM Zenyuk suggest black would be better "without" in the final diagram of the Dorfman article on planning?
Answers: 1. "that he views the isolated d-pawn as a weakness that needs to be swapped off by a quick d4-d5."; 2. "having the heavy pieces still on the board, and one of the opponent's is holding the initiative"; 3. "...Qa4"; 4. False; 5. "the queen".