7 Most Important Middlegame Principles

7 Most Important Middlegame Principles

Most chess players have a general idea of how to play the opening.

However, they have problems understanding the middle-game strategies because it is not very straightforward and does not have a simple “opening idea” of developing pieces, putting the king to safety, etc.

After reading this article you will learn seven most important principles of the middle-game.

1. Centralize your pieces

It is a well-known fact that in the center, pieces control a lot more squares than elsewhere. This is an especially important rule to remember when dealing with the knights. The knights can control as many as 8 squares when centralized, while only 2 squares if in the corner.

Chess is a terrible game. If you have no center, your opponent has a freer position. If you do have a center, then you really have something to worry about!

– Siegbert Tarrasch

Bishops can indeed be very effective from the flank.

However, in the center, they are more mobile and control both parts of the board. The same goes for the queen. If it is safe, bishops and queens should be centralized as well as knights.

Notice how white has centralized four of his pieces.

Middlegame Principles

White to move

2. Trade your flank pawns for the central pawns

The central pawns are generally considered to be more valuable than the flank pawns.

This is because central pawns allow controlling important central squares (d4-d5-e4-e5) which can be used to support pieces and develop a strong attack not only in the center but also on the king’s or queen’s side. At the same time, central pawns provide space and increase pieces of mobility.

Therefore, it is recommended not to trade your central pawns for the opponent’s flank pawns. In fact, you should do the opposite and exchange your flank pawns for the opponent’s central pawns.

White should play fxe3 to create a strong pawn center with e-d-c pawns.

Middlegame Principles

White to move

Useful Tip

Аccording to Aaron Nimzowitsch, the following are to be regarded as the elements of chess strategy:

1. The center
2. Play in open files
3. Play in the 7th and 8th ranks
4. The passed pawn
5. The pin
6. Discovered check
7. Exchanging
8. The pawn chain

3. Avoid pawn weaknesses

A pawn weakness is something that can give your opponent an instant edge and allow him an easy game by exploiting them. That is something that can turn an otherwise equal endgame into a loss. To avoid endgame trouble you need to take care of the pawn structure right from the opening and middle-game.

The Pawns are the soul of the game. They alone form the attack and defense.

– Francois Andre Danican Philidor

Avoid doubled, backward, and isolated pawns.

In the position below both white and black have serious pawn weaknesses. White has doubled and backward pawns, while black has isolated pawns.

Middlegame Principles

White to move

4. Avoid creating weak squares in your position

A weak square is a square that cannot be protected by a pawn.

Weak points or holes in the opponent’s position must be occupied by pieces not Pawns.

– Siegbert Tarrasch

Weak squares in your position are perfect candidates for becoming strong outposts for your opponent’s pieces. The closer the weak square is to your king’s position or to the center, the bigger trouble it usually creates. Always be careful with pawn advances, since that is what creates the weak squares. Pawns can’t go back.

On the diagram below white has a weak f3 square right next to his king’s position. This can be soon used by the black Knight and Queen to create mating threats.

Middlegame Principles

Black to move

5. Always blockade your opponent’s isolated pawn with a knight

An isolated pawn is a powerful weapon and can be used by your opponent to launch a strong attack because it supports pieces and provides extra space.

The isolated Pawn casts gloom over the entire chessboard.

– Aaron Nimzovich

Another danger of an isolated pawn is that it can be pushed forward at the right time causing many problems.

That’s why it is very important to always blockade the opponent’s isolated pawn to avoid complications. The best piece for this purpose is indeed the knight.

Middlegame Principles

Black to move

6. Occupy open files with your rooks

It is no secret that rooks work best on open files.

If there is an open file available your instinctual move should be to occupy the file with your rook. The next step should be to double your rooks on the open file. If there are no open files available, you can occupy a semi-open file that you can force open later.

In the position below white has a serious positional advantage because he is controlling the open file – the main element of the position.

Middlegame Principles

White to move

7. Keep the bishop pair

The bishop pair is very powerful in most positions. Only if the position is totally locked up the two knights may be stronger than a bishop pair.

The bishop pair is a potent force in open positions.

– Wilhelm Steinitz

Avoid giving up one of your bishops in the opening or early middle-game just to create doubled pawns in your opponent’s pawn structure. In most cases, the attacking potential of the bishop pair overweight the pawn structure defects.

In the position below white has a serious positional advantage due to the possession of the bishop pair.

Middlegame Principles

White to move

The diagram

Here is the mindmap for the most important middlegame principles. Save it and use it at your convenience.


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Updated 06.15.2024


Mihretu Menamo:
Can anyone be best chess player? How can I find a free class chess ?
you'll find problems with that once you get better
not an very good thing to do. you lose a bishop pair and your middlegame is weaker.
Zirintuusa Mike:
I love exchanging one of my bishops with a Knight early in the game.
I am a beginner in chess. I liked your article; it is very informative and useful. Thank you.
Thank you very much. It helps me not to resign earlier in the game
Yury Markushin:
It is not that you "have to" keep the bishop pair, but generally, it is considered superior to the knight + bishop especially in the open positions. There are always exceptions. Sometimes it makes sense giving up one bishop for one or another reason.
Thanks a lot but i do not understand why we have to keep the bishop pair
Zulkifli Salleh:
Looking forward to the knowledge and skills from this.
Hello Hassan, good question. Marko gave a partial answer below. I would like to add that the blockade often happens in the center of the board, with the position not always being wide open. So, the knight is typically a superior piece to block the pawn since it works best in the center and that's generally where you want to keep the knight anyways.
In general, knight is better because it protects squares where opponent's pawn can support passed pawn. In this case d5 and f5 squares. If we move knight on f6, f7 pawn is ready to protect passed pawn by move f5.
Great article guys. I don't understand though why an isolated pawn should be blocked with a Knight and not a bishop. Bishops work best at a distance and will be able to coordinate with the other pieces easily just sitting there whereas the knight will become somewhat passive.