25 Middlegame Strategies Any Chess Player Must Know

25 Middlegame Strategies Any Chess Player Must Know

Players always need to have a strategy in mind. In the middlegame strategy guides us to our goals. A player can go for either an active or passive strategy. But in sequential games like chess, it is good to have an active strategy. But whether to go for an active strategy or a passive one is fully up to the judgment of the player.

However certain strategies are often repeated in the game. This means if a player has a database of successful strategies he has an advantage over his opponent.  If you know the correct or advantageous strategy in a position then you can efficiently use your resources by focusing on other important aspects.

Here are the top 25 Middlegame strategies that any chess player must know:

1. Restrict enemy pieces

Restricting enemy pieces is just as powerful as improving one’s pieces. This is because Chess is a zero-sum game. One’s gain is another player’s loss. Therefore we must be on the constant lookout to restrict enemy pieces whenever possible.

In many openings, White uses the b2-c3 pawn structure to restrict the Bishop on g7.

Middlegame Strategies

Let’s take a look at another instance.

play c7-c6 and restrict the Knight from using the d5 square

In these structures, it is typical to play c7-c6 and restrict the Knight from using the d5 square.

2. Using flank pawn to restrict fianchetto

This is a modern strategy to fight the fianchetto structure. You advance the h-pawn to h6 square. The pawn on h6 restricts the King and the Bishop is stuck on the a1-h8 diagonal. You can use this restrictive strategy to generate an attack and use the reduced mobility of the dark-squared Bishop. However, it is a double-edged weapon because the pawn is so far advanced that it can become an object of attack.

3. Use flank pawn to drive away pieces

This is a common strategy of restricting a knight with the flank pawns. In this scenario, the Knight is on the b/g line and aims to infiltrate the enemy position using the 4th rank. However, we can restrict the mobility of the knight.

In the following position, White plays the move g3 to take away useful squares for the Knight.

Middlegame Strategies

Now the next step is to play h4-h5 and drive away the Knight.

Use flank pawn to drive away pieces

We can use this strategy is disrupt the coordination in the enemy camp.

4. Using flank pawn to activate the Rook

A modern way of playing with the Rooks is to activate the rook from its initial square. We can do this by playing a4-a5-a6. Even if your opponent stops the pawn in its tracks by let’s say a5 then we can use the Rook like Ra1-a3 to activate the Rook.

Middlegame Strategies

5. Exchange defenders when attacking

If you are on the offensive then the first step is to get your pieces near the opponent’s King. After all the pieces have been well placed you should look for a decisive blow. However, in many cases, the opponent holds together his defenses and prevents an immediate strike. In such a situation, an effective strategy is to exchange important defenders that hold the position together.

In many cases, there is one piece that effectively holds together the enemy’s position. If you can identify and remove it from the board then your attack will be decisive.

6. Reroute the Bishop – Bishop Bounce

We’ve talked about restricting enemy pieces. The other side of the coin is to improve our pieces. A standard maneuver for the Bishop is to move it from one diagonal to the other.

In this position, the Bishop is not doing much. We can improve it with the following manoeuver.

Reroute the Bishop – Bishop Bounce

7. A fearsome Knight

A Knight is the most powerful when it is deep inside enemy territory wreaking havoc. However, most often the Knight doesn’t have a stable base of operations. If we can provide the Knight with a stable base on the 6th rank then it can cut the opponent’s position in half.

Middlegame Strategies

The knight is powerful in this position and there is not much the opponent can do. He would have to give serious concessions to eliminate the Knight.

A preliminary strategy to achieve this is to exchange the piece that controls this square.

8. Pawn storm in the opposite castle

The Pawn Storm is a powerful strategy in opposite-side castles The idea is to launch a direct assault on the enemy King. With the pawn storm, we have two core objectives:

  • Gain space for our pieces and place them in forward posts
  • To open lines so that our pieces can infiltrate into the heart of the enemy King’s position.

9. Exchange the Fianchetto Bishop

The Bishop is a vital piece in the Fianchetto structure. The pawns on f7-g6-h7 are all placed on the light squares. The Bishop controls the dark squares and it protects crucial entry points for the enemy pieces. Together they form a cohesive defensive structure. This is part of a broader strategy where one takes control over a color complex.

If we can exchange this Bishop then we can use the weakened squares around the King for our pieces. A common strategy of going about this is to form a battery with the Queen and Bishop and then play Bh6 to exchange the Bishop.

Exchange the Fianchetto Bishop

10. Control the open file

Open files are like highways to the heartland of the enemy position. With one single move, a piece can infiltrate the position and cause problems. Therefore it is useful to fight for the open file. There is a common method you can use to control the landing point of the major pieces.

Middlegame Strategies

We play Ba3 to control the critical square.

This prevents the enemy major pieces from contesting our Rooks. We can then slowly build up our position to infiltrate at the opportune moment.

11. g2-g4 pawn sacrifice

An aggressive strategy that is seen in many openings. This involves a pawn sacrifice to gain the initiative and open lines. This is effective against a castled King.

g2-g4 pawn sacrifice

In this position, White plays g2-g4 advance to gain time and initiative.

12. Delayed Castling

In Chess, your opponent has all the information available to him. There are no ‘hidden variables’ that can affect the course of the play. Therefore, it pays huge dividends if we can hide our true intentions from the opponent.

You can use Delayed Castling in the same vein. The strategy is to keep the opponent guessing about the future of our King.

It’s risky as well because keeping the King in the center for too long can invite a central counterattack. So you ideally use it to gain as much information as possible from the opponent and then tuck the King away into safety.

13. Initiative in Opposite Colored Bishop Positions

When you are down to just a single Bishop for each side on the board then the player who has the initiative will have the advantage. The Bishop is an attacking piece in this scenario because it will be the sole owner of its color complex.

So we should structure our entire strategy on this Bishop and use it to maximum effect.

14. Pawn sacrifice to activate Pieces

Pieces should be active. If our pieces are passive then eventually the opponent will overpower our pieces and gain a decisive advantage. Therefore we must look to activate pieces even if it costs material.

A common strategy is to give away pawns to achieve this objective.

15. Secure important posts with Prophylaxis

It is not enough for a piece to be on a strong square. We must manage to stop our opponent from removing the piece from the strong square. A common method of play is to use the pawn to protect the piece from enemy pawns.

Middlegame Strategies

We play a4 to secure the strong square for the Knight.

16. Exchange defenders of weak squares

Another method where we can attack important squares is to exchange the defender of the square. One of two things will happen, now after the minor piece has been exchanged a major piece will take on its duty to defend the weak points.

Therefore we will manage to restrict enemy major pieces.

Exchange defenders of weak squares

17. Use Pawn Wedges

You can use small mobile pawn units to destroy sound pawn structures in the opponent’s camp. The goal is to either isolate the pawns or force pawn weaknesses. These weaknesses are often decisive because pawn exchanges lead to open files and major pieces can use these files to attack the weaknesses. The concept of minority attack stems from this.

In the following position, we can advance the b-pawn to attack the pawn structure. Here the b and c-file will be used to attack.

Middlegame Strategies

Here is another example of using a pawn phalanx (f5-f4 thrust) to attack a pawn triangle. The f-file will be opened to attack the pawn structure further.

Use Pawn Wedges

18. Destroy positions with Rook Sacrifice

Rooks have great destructive ability in certain positions and they have valued more than a single minor piece. However, we can use it in a reverse strategy. That is giving it away to increase the destructive ability of minor pieces.

This is the idea of the ‘Exchange Sacrifice’. You sacrifice the Rook to inflict weaknesses and strong posts for your minor pieces.

This works great in positions where the King is the object of attack.

19. King Safety Triumphs Material

This romantic strategy was all the rage in the 19th Century. The strategy is to permanently expose the enemy King and gain a long-term initiative.

The idea is to exchange Material for King’s safety. It often involves a Piece sacrifice to lure the King out.

This is still an effective strategy in the 21st century against club players. Club players don’t have the defensive ability of masters and such a strategy can easily prevail.

20. Centralize

One of the fundamental ideas in Chess. It is always good to centralize and give maximum potential to our pieces. Fighting for the right to centralize is the crux of many openings.

21. Gain the Bishop pair

Color complexes are always an important battleground in chess. The player controlling color complexes on both sides of the board can claim an advantage.

If you can gain the Bishop pair for free then it is almost always advantageous.

22. Piece out of Play

You should try to put the opponent’s piece out of play whenever possible. This increases your attacking force and gives you a material advantage in one sector of the board. This is an effective strategy in many positions.

In master games, this is seen when a player offers material as bait to move a piece out of an important duty. Then the game is played energetically to exploit the out-of-position piece.

23. Lure enemy pawns forward

This is an advanced strategy to gain strong squares for our pieces. Pawns do not move backward and thus when pawns move forward it is an irreversible change.

We can use this to our advantage by luring our opponent for short-term gains and straddling him with long-term worries.

24. Use Pawn moves to Open Positions

Pawn moves are irreversible and sometimes they prove fatal in the face of a direct attack. These little pawn moves can become an object of attack or targets by the enemy. These pawns are called ‘hooks’. A common example of a hook is the h6 pawn in the f7-g7-h6 pawn structure.

Often players provoke a ‘hook’ before employing the strategy of using it to generate an attack.

25. Force your way Forward

A psychologically destructive strategy is to attack where the opponent is strongest. We least expect a breakthrough where we have the strongest defense. But paradoxically in chess such advances work most of the time.

Breakthrough strategy is commonly seen in the Maroczy Bind structure where White has a clamp on the center.

You also might fancy 10 Winning Strategies for Club Players.

Next Step

Want to master your middlegames?

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You can watch the free preview and Learn from David Bronstein.

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Updated 06.07.2024

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