Another method to reach 2000 USCF, Part 4: From the Opening to the Middlegame
In this part, I will give you a supremely effective "hack" for playing the middlegame strongly from a strategic perspective. I'm not the first to suggest this method.
First, let me provide my rationale for discussing strategy before tactics. After reading my Parts 2 and 3, should be in the process of choosing openings for White and for Black (or at least experimenting intelligently). Now I'll give you ideas on what to do when you're in the opening/middlegame zone. Yes, I will cover tactics eventually -- but I believe players should know what to do and how to think first. Blundering pieces and missing forks, skewers, and mates can be fixed rather easily, if painfully...
Anyway, the first thing you should do when you've chosen your openings is to begin looking for high-level games in those openings. Others will disagree with me -- what else is new -- but I would start with games from the 1940s through the 1980s or so, though this varies somewhat based on the opening -- the sharper the opening, the more modern games you should target.
I would not begin with the games of Aronian, Carlsen, or Nakamura (for example).
Contemporary chess has so much dynamic back-and-forth that it can be difficult to pin down what each side is striving for (unless you're very talented -- but remember, my series is intended to teach methods so sound even a caveman could do them).
Games from earlier times were much simpler strategically, and that's what we're going for here: an idealized picture of how you should play your chosen openings. We can build in the complexity later.
Look for games where 2600+ players beat 2400 players, or where famous players from earlier times beat lesser known or unknown players. If you happen to see a game in your opening where Botvinnik or Fischer beats somebody you've never heard of, great! (Botvinnik retired in 1970, a year before the introduction of the first FIDE rating list). Open tournaments didn't really exist in the past, so you can be sure that the "nobody" who lost such a game was a master-strength player competing in a round-robin tournament with 2.5 hours each for the first 40 moves -- in other words, the game was played under high-quality conditions. Botvinnik's opponent was strong enough to put up reasonable resistance, but likely not strong enough to prevent him from carrying out an ideal plan.
After playing through dozens of such games in your chosen opening (and trying to figure out the point behind any "strange" moves made by your role model), you should have an idea of your middlegame plans. And by the way, you should start to trim down your list of role models in each opening, perhaps to even one player whose interpretation you really like. As an example, recently I began reviewing some of GM Jan Smejkal's games in the Fianchetto King's Indian from the 1970s because I really liked his approach in that opening.
If you happen to be playing sharp openings, only NOW would I suggest looking at some modern games and/or studying a specialized book on your opening. Best publishers are Quality Chess, Chess Stars, and New in Chess; though you can use books by Gambit or Everyman Chess if you must. If you're planning on employing quieter or more positional systems, you can get away without studying any more theory for quite awhile.
After my Parts 1-4, you should be able to open a chess game, get to the middlegame in decent shape, and be able to play a good *strategic* middlegame. We haven't discussed tactics, or how to choose a move, or endgames, yet, but trust me, you are well on your way to reaching 2000 USCF one day.
To be continued...