GM Alex Colovic
How do you get better at playing middlegames? There is no simple answer; it has to be a complex study. To improve your middlegame play, you should work on your tactics, calculation, positional understanding, planning, and many other things. If there are any shortcuts, it is probably to study typical pawn structures.
Middlegame generally begins when all the pieces have been developed and the kings have reached safety. This is the part where each player’s understanding of the position is put to test.
For the players who are trying to improve, studying this part is crucial to their further development. So, why is the middlegame so important and why should you study it?
Here are a few reasons:
Positional Sacrifice is a very special kind of sacrifice in chess. The concept of sacrificing is quite common in chess. Players are usually happy to give up material in order to regain it with interest a few moves later.
There are sacrifices that lead to winning material, immediate mate, or mating attacks. In the latter category, we could include the Greek Gift sacrifice, the Double Bishop sacrifice, the sacrifice on f7, etc, but also many other tactics that are meant to open the opponent’s king wide open and then hunt it down.
Chess Middlegames can’t be memorized. 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 chess middlegames, it is more complicated. It is impossible to predict exactly what positions you will have on the board in your future games. 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.
Chess Strategy and Tactics are two big parts of this game. There are games that can be classified as positional and games where the tactical, attacking ideas dominate. However, most of the time, 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, you can use tactics 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.