Types of Centers and How to Deal with Those


The article on Center Control in Chess tried to show the importance of this aspect in any chess game. But the type of chess strategy and chess tactics used for wresting control of the game varies with the different types of centers that may arise during the middle game. In one of his books, Russian GM Alexander Kotov wrote in detail about this issue with a large number of examples and I liked the way he explained the methods to deal with different center formations.

For the sake of beginners who may find it difficult to go through all the details, I am trying to summarize in a single article the discussions which needed a pretty long chapter by the GM. Obviously, it has been possible to touch only the salient points. I hope that the beginners can benefit from the ideas to try to apply the principles in their games without getting bogged in details. Those who are so inclined can go for the in-depth study by going through the Master’s treatment of the subject.

The types of centers that can arise have been broadly divided into five categories.

  • Closed center
  • Fixed center
  • Open center
  • Mobile center
  • Dynamic center

Closed center:

This is characterized by:

  • Pawns of both sides face each other with none able to advance or to capture opponent’s pawns.
  • No files are open for Rooks to operate or even if there is one file open, neither side is able to take advantage of it.
  • Diagonals are blocked by own or enemy pawns, restricting Bishop movements.
  • There is no immediate prospect of opening a line or diagonal.

How to deal with such centers

  • Start actions on the flanks through maneuvering of pieces and advancing pawns.
  • This is usually started by the player who has the greater advantage in terms of space or availability of pieces on that flank.
  • The defending side either waits to see the action and then try to counter it, or start his own action often on the other flank.
  • Under favorable situations, try to break open the center. This is usually done through sacrifices to utilize the breached position.

Fixed center:

The central pawn(s) of both sides face each other and their positions cannot be changed without application of significant forces. This type of center may seem to be same as Closed center discussed above. But unlike Closed centers, all files and diagonals are not blocked and pieces can be moved around the pawn center.

How to deal with such centers

  • Attacking side will try to achieve superiority of forces around the center, forcing opponent’s forces to retreat.
  • Gaining this advantage enables attack on the flanks.
  • Defending side will oppose the above plan and try to neutralize the attack by exchange of pieces, if necessary. If this is successful, counter-attack can be planned on the wings.

Open center:

There are none or only a few pawns in the center files and those which may be present are not playing any important role.

How to deal with such centers

  • Instead of flank attack and attempt to surround enemy position as used in Closed centers, Open centers call for direct attack by using the pieces.
  • This is initiated by the player who has the greater advantage.
  • Identify and exploit weak positions or create weakness in enemy position and then attack those positions.
  • Pawn storming is usually avoided as the resultant weaknesses in the King’s position makes it very vulnerable with an open center.
  • The defense lies in warding off such attacks and trying to launch one’s own attack if the opponent overstretches his resources.

Mobile center:

When one player has a pawn chain at center with at least two united pawns whereas the opponent has none or only one pawn facing the pawn chain, it becomes a Mobile center.

How to deal with such centers

  • The player who has the strong center pawns should advance his pawns with aim to create a passed pawn.
  • If the above is not possible, then he should use his pawns to drive away enemy pieces from key positions to facilitate an attack on the flanks.
  • The tactics of the defending player is to block the center and to try to decimate it.

Dynamic center:

This is the situation when the pawn positions in the center have not yet stabilized into one of the aforesaid types. The position remains unclear till the moves by the players transpose it to a more definitive type. It behoves each player to assess the type of center that will be favorable to his position and try to achieve it by moving his pieces and pawns to that end. Once the center formation crystallizes, appropriate tactics can be followed as described above.