Chess: Learn The Strategic Ideas For Middlegame

Chess: Learn The Strategic Ideas For Middlegame

Did you now, that on the very 1st move, either side has a choice between 20 possibilities over the chess board?

Soumya SwaminathanUpdated: Sunday, May 26, 2024, 12:49 AM IST
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Did you now, that on the very 1st move, either side has a choice between 20 possibilities over the chess board? That’s a whole lot of choice! The options keep increasing as we move forward. From the first pawn push to the final checkmate, players keep choosing between different possible moves that eventually impact the game's outcome. How does a chess player know which move to say yes to, and which ones to reject? Knowing what to aim for is the most effective way, and Strategy in Chess is knowing this ‘What’.

Optimal Piece Configurations

Over the last month, we have discussed the strategic concepts of Outpost, Open Files and Diagonals, and Connecting the Rooks as a part of enhancing the activity of our pieces, and looked at ideas to Checkmate the Castled King! Piece configurations such as forming a Battery with a Queen and Bishop, or placing our rooks on the 7th rank can help us optimise the dynamism of our pieces. Let's see how:

Battery: Queen and Bishop on the same diagonal or Queen and Rook on the same file.

A Battery in chess refers to the alignment of two pieces having the same ability along the same file, rank, or diagonal, to amplify the pressure on specific squares, target a weak piece or pawn, or create a checkmating attack. The most common types of batteries involve the Queen paired with another piece, such as a Bishop or a Rook, as a Queen functions both as a Bishop as well as a Rook. 

(Diagram1)Battery!

(Diagram1)Battery! |

We looked at this position a fortnight ago while discussing the idea of delivering a Checkmate on h8. (If it looks familiar to you, treat it as a sign of pattern recognition!) Look at the configuration of the White Queen and Rook on the ‘h’ file. They both are aligned on the same file, targeting the same squares, and as a result, able to create a strong idea of Checkmate with Qh8! This is a great example of creating an efficient battery with a Queen and a Rook. Do you notice that if the Rook and Queen’s positions were swapped, the White Rook would still deliver a checkmate on h8?! Such is the power of this Battery. In the same position, the Black Queen and Bishop on b7 are placed on the same diagonal a8-h1, forming a Battery. Due to their combined pressure, the White King feels the heat on g2. If it were Black’s turn to play, he could deliver Checkmate in 1 move by bringing his Queen all the way to g2, with the support of his Bishop! Black has another Battery in the position: both his rooks are placed on the e-file, supporting each other and exerting control over the open file. Yes, ‘doubled’ rooks too form a Battery. 

Rook on the 7th Rank: Placing a rook on the 7th rank is a strategic manoeuvre that aims to create threats against the opponent's position. After all, the Rook already enters the opponent’s territory on the 7th rank (applicable from White’s point of view, the 7th rank from Black’s point of view would be the 2nd rank from White i.e. the 2nd rank as per notation). A Rook on the 7th rank may attack our opponent’s pawns or pieces placed on this rank. It will be closer to the opponent’s King, helping to create Checkmate ideas.

Now imagine, if you were to have both your Rooks on the 7th Rank! In this case, not only would two of your powerful forces be in the opponent’s camp, but they would also be connected! How much havoc would they cause together?

(Diagram2) Both Rooks on the 7th Rank!

(Diagram2) Both Rooks on the 7th Rank! |

In this position, the material is equal, but White’s Rooks are much better placed than their counterparts, thus handing white the advantage. Due to the combined force of the 2 White Rooks, Black’s kingside has weakened drastically. If it is White’s turn to play, White can force Checkmate in 3 moves by a series of checks: 1. Rg7 Check, Kh8 2. Rh7 check Kg8 (unfortunately for black there is no ‘i’ file so the King has to come back!) and now we leave the Rook on h7 where it is, so that it can control the h8 square, and bring the other Rook, i.e. the a7 Rook to give a Check on g7. After 3.Rag7 i.e. giving a check on g7 with the Rook on a7, both the Rooks together control all the squares of the Black King, resulting in Checkmate!

Queen and Knight combination, and Pair of Bishops are more examples of a strong configuration of pieces. A Queen works like all the other pieces except for a Knight, so the Knight compliments her perfectly. For a similar reason, a Pair of Bishops i.e. both the Bishops complement each other: each Bishop is limited by itself as it only covers the squares of it’s own colour, but both of them together cover the squares of all colours, thus creating more threats. They are whole by themselves, but better together!

Use these ideas about different piece configurations effectively and outplay your opponent in your next game! 

(Soumya Swaminathan is an International Master and Woman Grandmaster in Chess. She has been World Junior Champion and Commonwealth Gold Medalist)

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