The Middlegame - What to Do

| 15 | Middlegame

After you played your opening, from memory or from good sound principles (control the center, develop you pieces, protect your king), now what? Now you are in the middlegame. Most players don't make it to the endgame, or if they did, they have a weaker position. For most people, games are won in the middlegame. Here is where the real thinking takes part.

In the middlegame, you would like to have the better position, try to win material, get in a postion to go into a winning endgame, or find a way to checkmate the enemy king. In the middlegame, you need to have an active position while defending against any weaknesses.

If you happen to lose a pawn, try to avoid exchanging your pieces, since you need them for counterplay. If you are up a pawn, you may want to exchange pieces and go into a favorable endgame, while avoiding any exchange of your pawns.

If your opponent seems to have undeveloped pieces or blocked pieces, keep them blocked while developing your pieces to better positions. It is not the time to exchange pieces that would free his game.

If your opponent did not castle or has an exposed king, threaten it with pieces and look for double attacks or checkmate patterns, even if you have to sacrifice a piece or two. This is the best time to look for tactics and combinations that your opponent cannot prevent or calculate as well.

If you have a pawn-side majority, actively try to advance your pawns on that side. If you have a passed pawn, try to push it forward as safe as possible. If you can back it up with a rook behind it, that is even better.

If you can double or isolate your opponents pawns, then do so. Two doubled pawns is like one pawn. But be careful as not to open up files for your opponent's rooks.

If your opponent is getting into time trouble, you might want to think about unexpected moves and make surprise threats that require some time calculating.

Watch out for a back-rank mate on your own king or look for a possible back rank mate on your opponent's king. Make sure your king has an escape route or can be protected. Make sure your king is defended before you attack. Too many times a player sees mate in three, but got mated in two instead.

Don't panic if a surprise move was made against you. It may look like you are lost or about to lose a piece, but calm down, sit on your hands, and calculate other counter possibilities. Don't make the first move that pops in your head. Look around you and look at everything on the board. In times of crises, look at tactics and combinations that may get you out of a jam.

If your opponent sacrificed a piece to gain some initiative, try to prevent that initiative. You may want to decline the sacrificed piece or may find a way to sacrifice back to gain the initiative and be on the offensive.

Be careful of your opponent's fianchettoed bishop that may strike anywhere on the long diagonal, especially if it is aiming at the side of a castled king. Think about fianchettoing your own bishop if the long diagonal is not blocked.

Don't waste a tempo and move a piece back and forth. Select a plan and play with a goal. if you run out of ideas, try to put a piece on a square that covers the most space or attacks the most squares. Avoid putting a knight on the edge or rim (less squares to attack), and get the knight in the center (a knight on the rim is dim).

If you are going to lose one of several pieces being attacked, give up the one with the least value and keep the piece that will be the most active.   For example, if you have to lose knight or bishop, keep the bishop unless it is blocked by your pawns.  At that point, the knight is stronger. 

If possible, try to get your rooks on the opponent's 7th rank. Even stronger, place both rooks on the 7th rank.

Avoid giving up a knight for a bishop unless there is compensation such as doubled pawns. In the endgame, the bishop is stronger than the knight in most cases. For example, two bishops can checkmate a lone king, but two knights cannot. The exception is if the bishop is blocked and cannot develop to attack the long diagonals.

Always ask yourself after every move by your opponent, can he checkmate me? Can he win any material? What is he threatening? Can he sacrifice something that I didn't see? Look for why your opponent made the move he did. After you have done that, and you feel it is safe, make your own plans for attack.

Capture pawns towards the center in most cases. Sometimes the rook pawn in the endgame can never win, but if it had been a center pawn, there are more chances of a win.

Opposite colored bishops has a high percentage of draws, even if one side is several pawns up. Be aware of that when it comes down to opposite colored bishops or when you are about to exchange or give up a bishop.

If you think you have found a good move, look for a better move as time permits. Come up with a couple of candidate moves, and rule out the bad moves.

Accept your opponent's sacrifice if you don't understand or can't justify why not to accept it. You may be able to survive the attack and get into a winning endgame if your opponent has not calculated all the winning moves from the sacrifice.

Don't drift in the middlegame. Forced concentration is the key to prevent drifting. Develop and execute a logical pattern as deep as possible. Calculate forced moves first.

Have a good pawn structure and seize control of the central squares as soon as possible.

If your opponent has castled on the opposite side that you castled, attack on the side of the enemy king and defend on the side of your king. Both sides are going to attack the king. Whoever gets there first usually wins.

Above all, have a plan and stick to it.


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