Many ways can help improve at chess, but most players tend to prefer studying openings. It is the easiest way indeed: the exact moves you prepare at home are likely to happen in one of your future games.
With middlegames, it is more complicated. It is impossible to predict exactly what positions you will have on the board in your future games. You can’t memorize middlegames. You have to understand them.
It is not a secret that passed pawns are one of the most powerful weapons on the board. A passed pawn can promote into a queen and this is something that happens in endgames more than often. But in middlegames, things are usually a bit different. When there are many inhabitants on the board the road for the pawn is not sweet and full of roses at all. Pawns rarely promote in middlegames; a more seen scenario is that it gets blocked or surrounded by enemies.
The game can be divided into two big parts – chess strategy and tactics. There are games that can be classified as positional and games where the tactical, attacking ideas dominate. However, most of the times, the two go hand in hand, and a game that had a slow, quiet start, could finish with a beautiful sacrifice. In the same way, a game that started in a dynamic way could be finally won with the use of strategic ideas. Moreover, tactics can be used to gain a certain positional advantage.
The study of basic chess strategy is one of the things that will help you improve your level and become a better player in time. It is amazing to see how many times strong masters win their games against lower-rated opponents by applying the very basics of chess strategy and showing a better positional understanding, overall. When replaying through their games, many of the moves will seem “easy”, but they only make it look so thanks to the hours they have invested in studying and then practicing and polishing their positional skills. It requires a lot of hard work, but the feeling of being in control throughout the whole game and understanding where your pieces should go and why is worth all the effort. [Tip: Missed our post on Chess Strategy for Beginners, well here it is.]
Sacrifices are usually known as the main tactical mean of getting an immediate advantage. The concept is clear – you momentarily sacrifice material in order to get bigger gains or deliver mate a few moves later. Except for the intuitive sacrifices that usually give great initiative and a strong attack, sacrifices can usually be calculated almost until the end.
We often stress how important it is to pay great attention to pawn moves, as they usually leave behind unpleasant weaknesses.
These are small pluses that can be developed during the game – they give something to play against and develop a plan around. In positions where there are no important weaknesses in the opponent’s camp one common idea is to provoke them by creating threats that can only be parried with a pawn advance. Even if this may not look like a big achievement at first, slow play can be developed around them.
Having a deep positional understanding is one of every chess player’s goals and one of the features that make a difference between a master and an amateur. But the strategy is not only about weaknesses and pawn structures; it extends to the pieces on the board as well – a chess player must be able to asses which of his pieces are better and recognize different patterns present on the board.
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself in which positions you feel comfortable? I know that for a long time I did not.
It is all too easy to get carried away with your repertoire, you choose to play the King’s Indian because you have seen a few beautiful games ending in some spectacular mating attacks. Or you go for the Marshall Attack because you get to attack. The variations are so exciting and they require memorization and understanding so the whole effort goes in that direction.
Weakness is probably the most important part of the chess game. Most of the ideas that can surface in a position are usually based on some kind of weakness. Whether it is a pawn, a square or a whole bunch of squares, weaknesses are something we try our best to provoke in our opponent’s position and then exploit at the maximum.
This is one of the most problematic aspects of learning when it comes to playing good chess. If the acquisition of tactical skills is more or less straight-forward: just solve an infinite number of tactical puzzles and you will be fine, the study of positional chess and improving your understanding is less concrete. I will write here about what worked for me. There are probably other ways to achieve a high level of understanding and positional play, especially involving modern technology, but it is always best to talk about something that is personal and actually worked in practice.