07.26.2024
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Stuck in the middlegame with no idea what to do next? Losing an endgame up material after being dominated by your opponent?

Or confused in the opening after leaving your preparation? If you have ever experienced these, you are not alone.

Many beginners struggle to win games because of these simple problems.

But what if I told you that these issues could be solved just by understanding the piece activity?

## 1. What is the Piece Activity?

Piece activity is basically the quality of your pieces.

You can measure it in terms of the number of squares your pieces control, or the amount of enemy squares they can attack.

In general, the plan for the game is to improve your piece activity to the maximum before proceeding with your plan, such as attacking the enemy king or converting an endgame.

How to do this?

Every piece has an “ideal square”, where it will have the most control of the enemy position and thus the most activity. By developing your pieces to these ideal squares, we can quickly and easily improve our piece activity.

## 2. Improving the Knight

The knight is one of the simplest pieces to develop because it does not have that much scope compared to the bishop or queen.

The idea is to put the knight in the center and support it with pawns, so in many openings, the knights will jump from f3 to e5 or d4, or from c3 to d5.

In fact, this is why we develop the knights to f3 and c3 in the opening!

The “Octopus Knight”

From here, the knight is like an “octopus” because it controls so many squares. Note that it also controls many enemy squares, and from here it can be a very useful attacking piece.

Let’s take a look at one example in the opening. In the London System, a common idea after achieving the setup is to play Ne5.

In the spirit of the London System, white develops the knight to its most natural square, claiming more space and maximizing the potential of the knight. Later on, White will support the knight with f4, and the knight will participate in the attack by exerting pressure on f7.

A position where White has played Ne5. which occupies the center and pressures the enemy position.

As you can see, developing pieces in the opening improves their activity and creates more ideas later on in the game.

## 3. Developing the Bishop

The next most important piece to develop is the bishop. A key rule is to try and maximize the number of squares that the bishop is controlling.

The “Wooden Shield”

Some examples of “good bishops” that control a lot of space.

This is what Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura calls a “wooden shield”, and he often refers to them as very strong pieces. Bishops with a lot of scope are very strong pieces!

To understand this concept, let us compare bishops in the endgame. You often hear the phrase “good bishop vs bad bishop” from grandmasters. But it might be very hard to understand if you have never been exposed to such positions.

This is a very famous endgame study by grandmaster Yury Averbakh. In this position, White’s bishop is much better than Black’s. Why? All of White’s pawns are on dark squares and cannot be touched by Black’s bishop, while White’s bishop is putting pressure on Black’s pawns. Black’s bishop is staring at its own pawns, and if it moves White will win one. Indeed, Black is in zugzwang; no matter what he moves here, White will win a pawn and breakthrough!

So here we clearly see that the key to improving the bishop is to place it on a square where it has a lot of scope, which maximizes its potential and leads to winning positions.

## 4. Improving the Rook

The rook is one of the pieces many beginners learn to develop in the endgame. Famous phrases like “rooks on the seventh” and back rank mate teach beginners how to use the long-range potential of the rook to attack weaknesses in the endgame. But how do we get the rooks to those strong positions?

### Winning the open files

The easiest way to improve the rook is to move it to open files or create open files for it. Most beginners already know how to do this. But if the opponent challenges our control, how do we win the file?

In this position, both White and Black are trying to control the open d file. If White were to win it, he would be winning, since the rooks can later invade down the center file. In this position White can seize the file with Bg5!, forcing Black to give it up.

Black can no longer hold onto the file. Even if you do not see a future plan for White, realize how Black’s rook is stuck on the back rank and cannot really develop. In contrast, White’s rook has a lot more squares, and thus more activity.

This can later be converted by planting the rook on d5, putting pressure on Black’s weak center pawn.

As we can see, Black will spend the rest of the game defending while White can try to put pressure on Black. You can see how easy it is to play when you have a lot of piece activity and well-developed pieces.

## 5. Improving the Queen

The queen is a difficult piece for many beginners to develop. After being told that the queen should not be moved too early in the game, many players choose not to move the queen, because they are scared that they will lose it. The truth is, the queen is your strongest and most valuable piece, and to truly achieve a harmonious position, you must maximize those 9 points of value!

### Centralizing the Queen

The best time to develop the queen is in the middlegame and endgame. Centralizing the queen is important; as a combination of the bishop and rook it controls a lot of squares, and so you must combine the concept of the open file and the wooden shield.

Look at how many squares the centralized queen is controlling. Even if you do not see a win for White, you can appreciate that White is controlling many squares and will therefore have a much easier time pushing the passed pawn.

Meanwhile, Black’s queen is poorly developed and in a poor position to generate counterplay. It cannot easily check White, nor can it move to another position to support the Black pawn since White’s queen is preventing it from developing. We can thus see how a centralized queen has more activity and how this leads to a winning position. So, to improve your queen, centralize it!

## 6. Improving the King

King activity in the endgame is often neglected by many beginners since they tend to prioritize king safety instead. However, king activity is essential to winning the endgame!

### Moving towards the action

In this position, the pawns for each side are stuck. White cannot just breakthrough by moving his pawns forward. So what else can he do? Move the king!

Now we see that White was first to the center, and now Black has no choice but to move the king and allow White in. After this breakthrough, White will simply gobble the pawns and promote! In this case, improving the king involved moving it closer to the pawns, where the battle was being fought. And by improving the king activity, White was able to turn a stuck position into a win!

## Conclusion

From these examples, you can understand how to improve your pieces and increase their activity, as well as how it may lead to more wins for you. Use these simple tips and you will win more games!

You might also fancy How to Evaluate a Chess Position (5-Step Process).

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Updated 07.26.2024