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$page_utitle CHESS STRATEGY
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Basics   Pieces   Tactics   Openings   Middle Game   End Game   Glossary  
After most pieces have been developed, the game enters the middle game. Players should continually try to improve their position by taking control of open lines, attacking important center squares or squares near the opponent's king, and bringing their pieces to squares where they are most effective.

When your pieces have reached their ideal squares, and not before, it's time to move a pawn.

Every pawn move, even good moves like the advance of a center pawn in the opening, permanently weakens the squares that the pawn had previously defended. Unlike piece moves, pawn moves cannot be undone because pawns cannot move backward. It's especially dangerous to advance the pawns in front of your king's castled position. While it's common and reasonably safe to castle on a side where a bishop is fianchettoed, or where the edge pawn has advanced one square, a castle in which no pawn has moved is the most secure. Pawn moves around the castle should only be made when absolutely necessary.

Pawns can be advanced to drive enemy pieces from their best squares, to open lines of attack, and to exchange opposing pawns that are shielding the king or other pieces from attack. As pawns are moved and exchanged, players should try to keep their pawn structure as strong as possible. That means avoiding doubled pawns, backward pawns, and the creation of holes--squares that a player can never attack with a pawn, and which the opponent is likely to exploit by occupying with a piece, especially a knight.

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In the following position, White's doubled a pawns are easily restrained by Black's lone a pawn, and so are hardly worth more than one pawn. Black's e pawn is backward, unable to advance with the support of another pawn; and a result, Black has a hole at e6. If White can post a knight there that Black cannot exchange off, it will be at least as valuable as a rook.


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Less serious a weakness than doubled pawns or holes are isolated pawns, such as Black's a and c pawns and White's e pawn (and doubled a pawns) in the previous diagram. If the opponent has an isolated pawn, a player should aim to restrain it (keep it from advancing), blockade it, and attack it. If you can keep the opponent's pieces busy defending a pawn, you'll have an advantage.

In the middle game, players should analyze the position as objectively as possible to determine each side's strengths and weaknesses, then form an plan that takes advantage of their own strengths and exploits the opponent's weaknesses. A player with an advantage should attack, or risk losing the advantage. A player with a disadvantage should think defensively; attacking from a position of weakness is an easy way to lose quickly.

After coming up with a plan, a player must focus on finding moves that will further that plan. At the same time, it pays to try to figure out the opponent's most likely plan and to make it hard for the opponent to execute it. Once a player has found two or more moves that look good--sometimes called "candidate moves"--he or she should try to choose among them by analyzing the likely sequence of moves that will follow from each move. The player must then mentally compare the resulting hypothetical positions and pick the one that seems best. If this sounds hard, it's because it is, but remember: Your opponent has the same problem.

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When in doubt, win material. Being a pawn ahead in the middle game is usually enough to win a game in theory (practice is another matter, since it's hard to play mistake-free)--provided the other side does not have compensating advantages. Many things can compensate for the loss of a pawn, however: greater mobility, a better pawn structure, a safer king position, control of key lines or squares. It's much harder to compensate for the loss of two pawns, and extremely hard to make up for a lost piece.

Here are a few other principles of middle game play:
  • The stronger your control of the center, the safer it is to expose your king.
  • If your opponent attacks on a wing, counterattack in the center.
  • Overprotect key squares, such as vital center pawns. If one of your pieces or pawns is defended by one more piece than is necessary to protect it, then each defending piece is free to move away, which means many more options.
  • After deciding on your move, before making it, give the board a final glance as if looking at the position for the first time--just to be sure you're not overlooking something major.

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