What is it that allows Grandmasters to outplay untitled players with ease? What secrets do they know about chess strategy that others don’t? One answer to this question is that Grandmasters are familiar with the most important chess principles of high quality strategic play. In the following article, we are going to reveal the secrets of chess strategy at the highest level. We try to give some helpful insights into strategical failures of club players and show ways you can improve in this area.
First of all, it is important to become aware of the fact that the majority of club players love tactical positions and hate slow manoeuvring. Focusing on fine details is exactly where most amateur chess players struggle. They don’t realize that chess is about paying attention to small things first. Club players readily ruin their pawn structure during minor piece exchanges, awkwardly position their knight on the rim of the board and lose tempi for no reason.
They think that those issues are not as important as chess tactics, losing material or getting checkmated, and this is true. However, once your opponent accumulates many small advantages, bigger consequences will follow. That means he will be able to obtain a positional advantage, which in turn will lead to a strong initiative and eventually you will suffer material losses.
It is key to understand that as you become a stronger chess player, the advantages you get in your games will be smaller than before. Whereas beginners might always look for chess tactics and aim to win a piece to guarantee a win, at higher levels often a strategic advantage is all that is needed. Knowing what to aim for and how to assess a position is enough to give you a winning position against even strong players if their assessment isn’t as accurate. Therefore, following the best chess strategy tips becomes more and more important at higher levels.
If you’re still a beginner with a rating below 1200, we advise you to read this article on chess strategy principles for beginners first in order to better understand the following chess strategy techniques.
What Is Chess Strategy?
“The tactician must know what to do whenever something needs doing; the strategist must know what to do when nothing needs doing.” – Savielly Tartakower
Every chess players knows what chess tactics are. With chess tactics, players think of short-term combinations including pins, forks, skewers, double-attacks and so on. However, many chess players struggle to give a clear answer when they are asked what chess strategy means.
The Oxford dictionary defines strategy as “a plan designed to achieve a particular long-term aim”. It becomes obvious that strategic thinking is complex. First of all, you need to evaluate the position correctly. Secondly, you need to set goals of what you want to achieve in a certain position. Finally, you need to come up with a good plan to reach your goals.
Essential Chess Strategy: Evaluation of Positions
“Chess mastery essentially consists of analysing chess positions accurately.” – Botvinnik
Before you can come up with a constructive plan, you need to figure out what the position itself is calling for. You need to properly evaluate the position. Therefore, strong chess players go through a list of key strategic elements in their head. They search for imbalances in the position. Here are some key factors and chess principles you need to consider when evaluating a position:
Chess Strategy Factor #1: Material
When assessing a position, you should start with the material evaluation. The question is simple: does one player have a material advantage, or not? It’s a common occurrence in chess that one side has a slight material advantage, but has to suffer with a passive position. A good illustration of this is the Miller-Barry Gambit in the French Defense Advance Variation. White gives up one or two pawns in order to get the initiative.
Chess Strategy Factor #2: Superior and Inferior Minor Pieces
By starting to compare your minor pieces to your opponent’s minor pieces, you’ll learn about one key strategic factor in every chess game – the decision of which chess pieces to exchange and which to keep. When you face a decision of exchanging a pair of pieces, you usually compare your piece with your opponent’s piece. You’ll ask yourself questions like: is my piece active or can I bring it to an active square within the next few moves? Is my opponent’s piece active or passive and does he have any concrete plans to activate his chess piece? Based on this evaluation, you either exchange chess pieces or not.
Often, knowing which pieces you want to exchange helps you to find the right plan in the position. Let’s take a look at a classic example:
Chess Strategy Factor #3: Pawn Structures
Being able to deal with different pawn structures plays a crucial role for good chess strategy. Every experienced club player has heard of terms like doubled pawns, isolated pawns, backwards pawns, passed pawns, hanging pawns, pawn islands and so on. It is key to understand that pawns can only move forward, never backwards. By moving pawns forward, you inevitably leave some holes behind you. Sometimes, these weakened squares can turn out to become decisive factors in the game. Most of the time, it is not possible to classify a pawn structure as good or bad – it depends on the position of the chess pieces on the chessboard.
What’s more, pawn structures often determine the right strategic plans for both players. A general rule of thumb, for example, is to play on the side of the board your pawns are pointing towards. Let’s take a look at the position on the right. You can see another typical pawn structure from the French Defense Winawer Variation.
White’s pawn chain points like an arrow towards the kingside. Hence, White should try to create an attack against Black’s king with moves like Bd3, h4, Nf3-g5 etc. Black’s pawn chain, on the contrary, heads to the queenside. White already has a clear weakness on this side of the board. Black should go for moves like …Qa5, attacking this weakness.
Chess Strategy Factor #4: Space
Space is another important strategic element in chess. The player who has more space controls a greater number of squares on the chessboard. In middlegame positions where there are many chess pieces still on the board, a space advantage can often be beneficial.
An important rule for chess strategy is that the side with more space should avoid exchanges. In contrast, the player who has less space should try to seek exchanges. The reason for this is that if you have less space and there are many chess pieces still on the board, it is hard to find good squares for all of your pieces. In these cases, the player with a space disadvantage has to place his pieces on passive squares. Once many pieces get exchanged, a space advantage can quickly become a huge disadvantage because there are simply not enough chess pieces left to control all the squares. Remember: Moving pawns forward always means creating holes behind you.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Chess Strategy Factor #5: King Safety
King safety is another important factor for chess strategy and the evaluation of a position. You can’t focus on positional ideas if your king is in danger. Evaluating the position of the two kings on the chessboard helps you to figure out if it makes sense to launch an attack against the opponent’s king. Many club players like to attack and even do so if it is not advisable. Here’s an example:
Chess Strategy Factor #6: Development and Initiative
Development and initiative are important elements to consider when evaluating a position. It is important to understand, however, that a development advantage and having the initiative are dynamic advantages, not static ones. Dynamic chess is all about momentum. The first World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, said: “If you have an [dynamic] advantage, you must use it immediately, or it will disappear”. Here is an example:
In the following position, White has a development lead, while Black still has to castle. Given the time, Black would play …Be7 and …0-0. Hence, in these types of positions it is important to create threats with every move, since our opponent only needs one or two tempos to find safety. It is important to stop our enemy from castling. White goes for the strong pawn break 1.c4! Black’s queen on d5 is under attack. If Black takes the pawn, the d-file opens and White already has a winning combination – 1…dxc4 2.Bxf6 gxf6 3.a4!. Black’s queen has to move and is unable to protect the d7-square anymore – 3…Qb6? (3…Qd5 4.Qxd5 exd5 5.Ng6+ +-) 4.Qd7#.
Chess Strategy Factor #7: Key Squares and Weaknesses
Last but not least, the control of key squares or groups of squares, for example on an open file or diagonal, as well as weaknesses are key chess strategy factors to assess a position. Good chess strategy requires that we try to create and exploit weaknesses in our opponent’s position while trying to avoid weaknesses in our own position. Here’s an example:
The position in the diagram on the right arose from the Grunfeld Defense. Black already managed to exchange queens and White has had to play d4-d5, because there was too much pressure in the center. Black enjoys a comfortable position. What’s more, by playing the move …c4, he can fix the weak pawn on c3. The bishop on g7 puts a lot of pressure on it. This pawn weakness becomes a clear target for Black’s pieces.
Chess Principles: The Principle Of Two Weaknesses
However, it is important to add that one weakness in our opponent’s camp is usually not enough to win the game. For this reason, the principle of two weaknesses is one of the most important chess principles of chess strategy. It has been successfully used by all the great players. Sometimes, we have a clear advantage, but still can’t find the way to convert it into victory; the opponent is still able to resist. In such situations we need to create a second weakness for the opponent. Let’s take a look at a classic example:
Conclusion – Chess Strategy Tips For Club Players
Many club players are unaware of the subtleties and chess principles that are of paramount importance for expert chess strategy. They focus on chess tactics training and forget about chess strategy training. For this reason, this article gave an insight into the 7 most significant chess strategy principles which help you to cope with any position in front of you on the chessboard.
Confidently evaluate a position, create the right plan and find the right moves – even in games where the best plan isn’t always easy to see.
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