One of the questions we receive most often from our students is “when do I know when to play for an attack and when to stay quiet and follow the strategic path?”
The answer to this question is always contained in the position you have in front of you.
There is no rule that tells you when to do one or the other, but there are certain things in the position that usually point to the path you have to follow during your game.
1. Scan the position for tactical possibilities
This is something you should be constantly doing throughout the game. Misplaced or unprotected pieces, an open king, mating ideas – these factors are usually the triggers for sacrifices or simple tactics. Besides this, don’t forget about the typical sacrifices in certain types of positions!
2. An advantage in development
This factor is always a trigger for dynamic play since it is a short-term advantage. You have to act quickly, otherwise, your opponent will get his pieces out, get his king into safety and your advantage will suddenly fade away.
In such positions, you have to play dynamic, keep your opponent tied up and hit him with as many threats as possible. He will have to keep defending instead of developing, while you will have time to develop more pieces and build your attack. Here too, be on the look for tactics and be prepared to sacrifice material in order to open the rival king up.
3. A weak king
If your opponent’s castle is weakened or his king is not safe, this is usually a sign that you can start an attack. However, you should make sure first that you are prepared for it. One of the most important rules is that your pieces have to be placed on good squares and cooperate with each other.
Don’t just start throwing your pawns at your opponent; you may risk weakening your own position and end up being worse instead of getting the desired attack. If you want to find out more about this subject, make sure you read our previous articles on what to do before starting an attack.
4. The pawn structures
The pawn structure is an important feature throughout the whole game, as we normally build our plans around it. If you don’t know on which side to play during a game, it’s also the pawn structure that can tell you this.
In positions with a closed center, the pawns point out the flank where you should start taking actions. For example, a pawn chain that is oriented towards the kingside, such as c3-d4-e5, indicates that you should play on the kingside. On the other hand, if the spear’s head is oriented towards the queenside (f3-e4-d5), then it’s on the queenside where you should look for dynamic ideas.
5. The piece balance
Usually, if you have more forces on a flank than your opponent, it is safe to start an attack on that side. By forces, we don’t refer only to the pieces that are on that flank, but also those that point towards it.
Take a fianchettoed dark bishop on b2, for example. Even if it isn’t placed on the kingside, where you’d like to start an attack, it still can prove to be an important help to the rest of your army. However, make sure also that your opponent won’t be able to quickly regroup and fend off your attack easily.
6. You are worse from a static point of view
If you have many weaknesses in your position and you realize that you will be slowly, but surely outplayed by your opponent if you do nothing, then you should look for dynamic moves. Try to find counterplay at any cost and put problems to your opponent.