When we learn chess, we begin by learning the opening so that we know how to start our games. Then we progress to the middlegame and endgame phases.
Many chess players seem to stay focused on the opening, but learning how to play all three phases of the game is vital to becoming a strong player.
When you first learn to play chess, you can win games in the opening, but as you progress, you will discover that your games last longer.
If you learn chess by studying the games of master chess players, you will know how to play all three phases. You can see how they all connect and what strategies you can use in your games.
In this video, GM Damian Lemos shows you how to go about playing and analyzing games.
Learn Chess Principles and Triumph in the Opening
You cannot avoid memorizing moves when it comes to chess openings. However, you can also make sure you understand the opening principles.
- Develop your pieces quickly and towards the center.
- Pay attention to your pawn structure.
- Get your king to safety soon (usually by castling).
Don’t Underestimate a Lead in Development
When you learn chess, you realize very early on that, in most cases, you need more than one piece to deliver a checkmate. It would be best to get all your pieces active and within striking distance of your opponent’s king.
Winning in chess requires having greater activity than your opponent.
You can often achieve greater activity by seizing control of the center.
By developing your pieces on squares where they control the center, you get the most from your pieces from the start of the game.
Look at how Paul Morphy made excellent use of his development against Marache.
Marache – Morphy, 1857, 1-0
Precise Pawn Play Makes Winning Easier
Pawns can only move forward; if you are not careful where you place them, they can block your other pieces. One of the most common examples you will encounter when you learn chess is the bad bishop (see diagram to the right).
This position often occurs in the French Defense. The black light-squared bishop is called a bad bishop because the pawn blocks it on e6.
The black dark-squared bishop is called a good bishop because it is not blocked by the e6 and d5 pawns. You can bring it into the game or develop it much easier than the light-squared bishop.
Lose the King and Lose the Game
King safety is essential in chess. You can sacrifice any other piece and continue playing, but if the king is lost, it is game over!
The following diagram shows the final position in the game between Evgeniy Najer and Dimitri Bocharov. White was able to expose the black king and deliver a checkmate.
You can tell from a glance at the two kings which king is more likely to survive. The white pawn structure is much better and protects the king, but Black’s pawns are all isolated, and two are doubled to boot.
Do not stop after the opening moves, even if you use games to learn chess openings. In this game, you could be tempted to end your opening study around move ten.
It is helpful to see what position you want to reach in the opening, but knowing what to play in the middlegame is essential. If you play through the game, you will learn many other themes like deflection, opening lines with sacrifices, and mating attacks!
If these attacks can work against title players, think how much more success you will have using them against your opponents.
Najer Evgeniy – Bocharov Dimitri, 2018.07.09, 1-0
Castling is the most common way to safeguard your king in the opening, but you must not rush into castling. There are times when castling too early can cost you the game.
Black must deal with the threat of Nd5 before castling because 6…0-0 loses in this position. Notice that when Black tried the same tactic with …Bg4 and …Nd4, it was ineffective because White had not castled and could castle long.
Vassily Ivanchuk knew the danger of castling too early and demonstrated one way to play the position with Black. When studying opening theory, you will learn when it is safe to castle and which side to castle on.
Ivanovic, Bozidar – Ivanchuk, Vassily, 1999.10.11, 0-1, EU-Cup Gr6 Round 1, Budapest HUN
Learn Chess Middlegames and Make Mayhem
Although many games you study cover the opening, middlegame, and endgame, it is crucial to stop and take notice of the different themes. We learn chess development as part of the opening and not the middlegame.
If you find yourself with undeveloped pieces in the middlegame, it is a sign you need to work on your openings more.
Some opening themes like piece activity, pawn structure, and centralization continue through all three phases of your chess game. Your king will hopefully have found a safe home in the opening, and your pieces will be ready to implement your middlegame strategies.
Before deciding on an opening repertoire, learning the typical middlegame positions that occur from an opening is helpful.
If you like open positions with lots of sacrifices, gambit openings will suit you, but not those who enjoy playing positional chess.
Chess Playing Styles Never Become Outdated
When you learn chess, it is vital to know your chess style. Once you know your style, you can find strong players who play similarly and study their games.
One of the greatest players of closed positions was a former world chess champion, Tigran Petrosian.
Pal Benko – Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, 1962.05.02, 0-1, Curacao Candidates Round 19, Willemstad CUW
Fighting Against and With the Fianchetto
Along with choosing the right openings that bring you to favorable middlegame positions, you can also learn chess strategies against the fianchetto.
When learning what works against the fianchetto, pay attention to the mistakes made by the defender. That way, you can avoid making these mistakes in your games.
If you play a fianchetto opening like the English Opening or King’s Indian Defense, knowing how to attack the fianchetto will help you learn what your opponent is likely to play ahead of the game.
Bobby Fischer enjoyed playing against the fianchetto. Look at how quickly he destroyed Black’s position in the 1962 Varna Olympiad.
Robert James Fischer – Sharav Purevzhav, 1962.09.18, 1-0, Varna Olympiad (Men) qual-B Round 1, Varna BUL
Of course, knowing how to play with the fianchetto is vital to get the most out of your position if you enjoy playing the Reti or the King’s Indian Defense.
One of the most famous examples of playing with the fianchetto is the game between Kotov and Gligoric in the 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament.
Alexander Kotov – Svetozar Gligoric, 1953.10.14, Zurich Candidates Round 25, Zurich SUI
Excelling at Endgames Ties It All Together
Even the world’s best chess players have lost points by misplaying an equal endgame. Many chess players lack the motivation to learn chess endings, yet you can earn valuable points in this phase of the game.
When analyzing your games, note the engine evaluation of the position at the start of the endgame. You will be pleasantly surprised at how many “lost” endgames you can hold.
Studying master games will help you learn practical endgames, but theoretical endgames require working with a coach, book, or course. You can learn chess endgames from the games of one of the best endgame players ever – Jose Raul Capablanca.
In his 1921 World Championship Match against Lasker, Capablanca reached this position with Black.
The position might look drawish but after 31.Kg1 Capablanca wrote, “This was White’s sealed move. It was not the best move, but it is doubtful White has any good system of defense.” One hundred years later, the chess engines agree with Capablanca and evaluate the position as at least -2.
Of course, it doesn’t matter what a world chess champion or the engine says if you do not know how to win this endgame with Black. Good endgame technique allows you to win positions that look drawn.
Many of your opponents won’t realize the danger until it is too late.
Familiarize yourself with some basic endgame concepts like activating your king, piece activity, and passed pawns, and see how many of them you notice in the game. Make a note of the winning motif and repeatedly play through the last few moves until you know the winning technique.
You can learn a lot by setting up the above position and playing both sides against the engine.
Here is how Capablanca won the endgame. Can you improve upon his play?
Emanuel Lasker – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1921.04.08, 0-1, Lasker – Capablanca World Championship Match Round 10, Havana CUB
Mastering the endgame is the journey of a lifetime, so do not rush the process. Make sure you learn the basics well and build upon this foundation as you improve in chess.
Pay attention not only to how an endgame was won but also to why it was lost.
Here is another endgame annotated by Capablanca for you to enjoy.
Aron Nimzowitsch – Jose Raul Capablanca, 1913.12.30, 0-1, Exhibition Game, Riga RUE
One of the most enjoyable and practical ways to learn chess is by playing through master games. Apart from the knowledge you gain, these games can inspire and excite you.
Many of us choose to learn chess because we find many aspects of chess attractive, and master games often make these qualities more noticeable. A good coach rekindles your love for the game and keeps your desire to get better alive.
Well-annotated game collections of great players and tournaments can be vital to your success as you learn chess. Do not focus all your attention on other players’ games and neglect to analyze your games.
Eliminating the mistakes you uncover in your games will go a long way to helping you become a strong player.
Top-notch chess instructions by a strong grandmaster is another way to shed the beginner label fast!
GM Damian Lemos is one of the best in the business when it comes to helping chess players improve.
Get six hours of the very best beginner chess instruction available today!