Chess Strategy for Beginners
The strategy, that great unknown of beginners. Photo from Freepik.

Chess Strategy for Beginners


In this post I am going to explain what strategy is to beginner players, who already know how to play, start to make fewer tactical errors, but find that they do not know what to do in the middle game, or when something strange is played in the opening.

We are going to see what it is, what is strategic play (also called positional play), how to train it, and at the end I will propose videos and books to expand knowledge, and I will talk about the winning strategy in chess.

(Blog of the month in January 2021!  You can read it in spanish in:

As it is a very long publication, I leave you an index to facilitate reading. The first 4 points are the basic ones, the rest is to deepen and improve. If you don't want to see the game (point 5), at least watch the lessons (6)


  1. ¿What is strategy? ¿what is tactic?
  2. Famous chess players quotes
  3. Strategic factors
  4. Example of chess opening strategy
  5. A game explained move by move.
  6. Game lessons
  7. Videos
  8. Books
  9. Winning chess strategy!

1. What is strategy? What is tactic?

First of all, let's clarify what strategy, tactics and calculation are, because I know that there may be doubts.

  • I would not know how to define the concept of strategy, but strategy refers to the medium and long term. It is about the plan, about the objectives to be met, for which tactics are often used. It is based on the current position (which is why the strategy game is called positional, and I will use both words synonymously). In the strategy you have to look at the pawn structure, the position of the pieces, the safety of the kings, etc.
  • Tactic, in chess,  refers to the immediate, to the specific moves that are used to achieve an advantage, usually material, sometimes positional / strategic. It is based on defenseless pieces, insecure kings, coordination of pieces, etc..
  • Calculation is sometimes confused with tactics, but calculating does not imply winning material, it is only moving the pieces mentally. Improving the calculation (and the visualization) improves the level in tactics mainly, but also helps to follow long variations when thinking about plans.

Therefore, strategy is the main thing (the first move is already strategic), and tactic is the tool that is used to achieve the objectives established by the strategic plan (get a square, an open column ...), or to punish a serious mistake by the rival (win material). It is important to clarify that both are complementary and are found in all games.

Making an analogy with football, the strategy would be to attack on wings, to center and that the striker finishes off, and the tactic would be the walls, dribbling, bicycles ... that get the winger to reach the goal line to center, and the technique of the striker to be able to finish off, and define correctly.

We must not confuse strategy vs tactic with positional play vs dynamic play. The former are concepts, the latter are ways of playing. I highly recommend reading this blog from GM Illingworth where he explains what tactical (dynamic) and strategic (positional) play are, and how positional chess is played. I will not explain much more because it would be to repeat what he says .

two ways to play chess. positional and dynamic
¿Positional play or dynamic play?
Image from GM Illingworth's article

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2. Famous chess players quotes

There are many famous quotes that explain in a few words what I just said. For example:

E. Znosko-Borovsky:

It is not a move, even the best move that you must seek, but a realizable plan

Although it is true that it is a matter of opinion. For example Purdy prioritized tactics:

Examine moves that smite! A good eye for smites is far more important than a knowledge of strategical principles. 

Tartakower gave us one of the best definitions:

Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do, while strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.

In conclusion, what is certain is that both are necessary, although the evolution of positional play is what transformed romantic chess into "modern" chess with Steinitz, the first official world champion, who changed his own style, from the typical tactical of his era (the romantic style, where players must sacrifice material, and accept that sacrificed material) to the positional, discovering many strategic principles.

From Steinitz is the following quote

Capture of the adverse King is the ultimate but not the first object of the game

That is, although the objective is to checkmate the enemy king, you need to establish many other objectives, through one or more plans, because as Frank James Marshall said:

A bad plan is better than none at all.

And it is true. Watching beginner games, it is seen that they move the pieces without any specific plan, they simply develop them and only think of creating direct threats, which although it is a good thing in certain positions, not in others. The best thing is to have a plan, even incorrect, that make the game have a "common thread" (a chess game should be like a story), and it will suggest moves to the player.

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3. Strategy factors

I am going to comment on some positional factors, these are only a few, but I think that by commenting on a few you will get the idea . To know more, go to the videos and books part of this post.

Strategic advantages:

  • Control of the center (normally the 4 central squares, but it can be expanded to 16): if you control the center you limit the mobility of the opposing pieces, and you get more space with your pieces. It is a key objective in the opening.

botvinnik occupying the center in a game
Position of a Botvinnik's game
where you can see the power of the center control.
  • Space: Refers to having pawns beyond the 4th rank. The more space you have, the more mobility your pieces have, and the less those of your rivals. This allows you to quickly create threats against which the opponent will have a difficult time defending.
  • Development advantage: Taking out more pieces than the opponent is usually good, since it allows you to have the initiative, or defend yourself from an early attack.
  • Bishop pair: If you have the pair and your opponent does not, you have a piece that your opponent does not have. Seize it.
  • Safer King: If your King is safer, you do not have to dedicate resources to defending him, and you will even have options to attack against the rival King (weaker)
  • Pawn delayed / isolated from the rival (they are not exactly the same, but the idea is the same): That pawn that cannot be defended by another. It is possible to avoid his advance (with the blockage), and attack him until it is impossible to defend him (or leave the opponent immobilized with all the pieces defending him). It is even weaker if you can attack from the column with the towers.
  • Open column: if you control an open column (one in which there are no pawns) you have the possibility of infiltrating the enemy rear, causing a lot of damage.
  • Semi-open column: It is one in which there is an enemy pawn, but none of yours. Your towers can press hard on it.
  • Outpost. A square in enemy territory in which to place a piece, ideally a knight.
Sicilian defense typical outpost
A knight ocupying an outpost in Sicilian defence

Others are double-edged:

  • Passed pawn: One that has no rival pawns that can stop it. He is always dangerous, but if he is isolated he is a weakness, and the more advanced, the more dangerous for the opponent, but the weaker for you.
  • Active king. The king is a powerful piece, but an active king is also at risk of being attacked, so it is only good to activate it in the end, and still you have to be careful.

And others are disadvantages:

  • Weak square: One that cannot be defended by a pawn. If an enemy piece is placed in it, it will be impossible to expel it.

The advantages of one player are usually the disadvantages of the other, but not always. For example, one may have space on one flank, but disadvantage on the other. In that case, the space advantage tells you where to play, but it does not give you an advantage in position.

In this position (typical in kings indian defence) black player has space advantage in kingside, but white player in queenside.

From the strategic elements, the plan is decided, and with this plan the most appropriate move is chosen. In general, by seeking to improve your position or worsen the position of the opponent, an advantage is achieved that ends up leading to a tactical combination. Let's see an example:

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4. Example of chess opening strategy

Let's see a short game of Tarrasch (one of the most dogmatic players in positional play), where you can see several factors that I just mentioned, focused on the opening:

You just saw the strength of positional play. As you can see, White won by seeking to improve his strategic factors, and Black lost by neglecting them. Black made a tactical error in his b6 + Bb7 plan, which delayed development and caused the loss of the bishop pair, and in the end White took advantage of a blunder to win by checkmate, using the tactic. In just 20 plays we have seen almost all the strategic elements that I explained before, and how tactic is very important.


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5. A game explained move by move

We are going to see an explained game move by move, so that you can see that from the beginning (1.d4!) the strategic concepts are followed, creating plans supported by some small tactic. The ending, as in almost all games, is a tactical combination. We will learn chess strategy after opening too.

I could have chosen the Botvinnik vs Alekhine game of AVRO 1938, but I have already discussed it extensively move by move (I recommend watching, of course, but it's only in spanish ). The comments will be similar, but this time I will focus more on strategy and thinking of beginners.

Again it will be a game by Botvinnik, which I think is one of the best to leant about positional play. In addition, you can see how the strategy and tactics work perfectly, since positionally the game is spectacular (and it relies on tactics), but the final combination... is one of the best ones of Botvinnik!

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6. Game lessons

  1. In the opening Botvinnik did not just develop his pieces. Plays like Qb3 or a5 bothered Yudovich a lot. It is about playing in such a way that the opponent cannot develop comfortably (usually it can be done with White more easily)
  2. The way to take advantage of a developing lead is to open up the position for our best placed pieces. Botvinnik took too long, a more dynamic player would have sought the d5 break more quickly.
  3. Advantages, such as space and center control was so great that Black's only plan was self-destructive, weakening the king. Pawn breaks are not always a good idea, but if they are poorly prepared, they could create nothing but weaknesses in your own position.
  4. It is usually a good idea to fix the weaknesses of your opponent's pawns so that they cannot move (Rc1). Not only does he avoid the opponent's counterplay, but psychologically it is very hard to defend passively.
  5. It is often better to have less pawn but with active pieces and threats than to be even in material if your opponent is in full control of the position (no counterplay for you). Possibly Yudovich must have thought of some pawn sacrifice that would give him activity.
  6. Strong positional play requires seeing little tactical tricks that keep you in control of your position. We have seen several moments where there were small combinations that allowed or prevented some plan.
  7. When we have considerable long-term advantages (eg a material advantage and another positional advantage), we may not need to radically change position. Botvinnik limited himself to improving his pieces. Up to Re1, centralizing his last piece, he did nothing "radical".
  8. As I pointed out in move 21, you always have to be calculating tactical shots when you have such an advantage, many times they will not work, but having patience at the end the combination will appear (the Nh4 + Ng6 + Bh5 final)
  9. I recommend watching the game several times, because there are many small details that I have not commented so as not to lengthen it more

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How to train strategy

Nowadays it is very easy to study it. We have countless videos and books available. You can also analyze games of the great strategists, such as Tarrasch, Capablanca, Botvinnik, Karpov or Petrosian, wondering why they make each move.

7. Strategy videos

On YouTube you will find many videos where the strategic elements are explained, like this one by GM Eric Hansen.

You can also follow teachers who teach strategy on twitch. Sorry but i don't follow any one in english  Comment your favourite twitch streamers 

In general, any Master comments on some strategy in their videos, you just have to be attentive to those strategic details, which the Master may comment without giving it importance.

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8. Strategy books

There are numerous books where you can learn, study and train strategy. For example:

Basic books.

  • My System by Nimzowitch
  • Questions of Modern Chess Theory by Lipnitsky.
  • Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy  by John Watson.
  • Analytical and critical works by Mikhail Botvinnik 
  • Logical Chess : Move By Move: Every Move Explained by Irving Chernev
  • Understanding Chess Move by Move, by John Nunn.
  • Looking for Trouble: Recognizing and Meeting Threats in Chess by Dan Heisman

Advanced books:

  • Problemas de estrategia (aperturas cerradas), de Alfonso Romero Holmes
  • Problemas de Estrategia (Aperturas Abiertas y Semiabiertas) de Alfonso Romero Holmes
  • Excelling at Positional Chess, by Jacob Aagaard.
  • Dvoretsky’s Analytical Manual by Mark Dvoretsky
  • Endgame Strategy, by Mikhail Shereshevsky
  • Modern Chess Strategy by Ludek Pachman

I have posts talking about strategy even with exercises (in spanish)  to improve our level, like this one, with positional exercises. You can see more from my blog index (in Estrategia varia). 

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9. The chess winning strategy

Sorry for the clickbait , but it's something you should know. There is no strategy (plan) to win at chess. As we have seen, depending on the characteristics of the position, we will have one plan or another, and even depending on our style it can be completely different. If there was a winning chess strategy from the 1st move ... what would be the point of chess?

So, please... don't search for chess strategy to win fast, chess strategy to win in 4 moves...

If you have arrived here without reading the rest of the post, I recommend you read from the beginning

Some time ago I made a post with 5 plans to play in 1 single structure (only in spanish  ), all 5 are good (some better than others, but it depends on the style). 5 plans in 1 single structure! Imagine how many different structures there are, and how many different plans there are. Use your creativity to find a plan, do not copy "the winning plan" that they sell you. Finding a plan, executing it and winning with it is one of the best sensations in chess

Some final observations:

  1. Strategy is easy to understand, but it takes time. It is necessary to see many games of Masters, to understand the reason of their moves ... once your brain assimilates the concepts, everything becomes easier, and you see the strategic elements quickly.
  2. When all your chess pieces work together harmoniously, then tactical chances will evolve naturally and will be in your favor
  3. If you want a chess strategy to beat beginners, here is: To beat other beginners, apply the same method that a Grandmaster applies vs low elo players: just watch your position, take advantage of their strategic mistakes little by little and wait for the opponent to make a tactical mistake. You can analyze games between Great Masters and amateurs to see how to play
  4. With some practice, you will instantly identify weak squares each time your opponent advances a pawn and leaves a "hole". Look at the following example. Do you see why White has a clear advantage?
Holes everywhere in the black position
Black position full of "holes"

I hope you liked this post with the chess strategy explained for beginners, and understood the difference between strategy and tactics (in chess)

If you see an error, you do not understand something, you want to suggest a book ..., leave your comments.

And if you liked it, follow the blog, so you won't miss any publication (Most of my posts are in Spanish, but google translator can help you understand them well)

For more info:

Back to index Read it again!

Another english versions of my posts 

How to play with the bishop pair

Sacrifice Rule

My memorable games: Aronian-Popov

Bxa6 sacrifice!

The Sack of Rome. Magistrale di Roma, 1989. Zsofia Polgar!

Please, Do Not Bother the Hippo

How To Improve Your Chess Visualization?

The Sack of Rome. Magistrale di Roma, 1989.