Chess: Some Strategies For The Middlegame

Chess: Some Strategies For The Middlegame

A game of Chess can be divided into three parts: The Opening, The Middlegame, and The Endgame

Soumya SwaminathanUpdated: Saturday, April 27, 2024, 02:02 PM IST
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A game of Chess can be divided into three parts: The Opening, The Middlegame, and The Endgame. The Opening comprises the first few moves of the game, which involve center control, development of our pieces, and bringing our King to safety with castling. We looked at these elements of the game in the first article of the year.

The next phase of the game is the Middlegame. This is where players transition from the preparatory stage into the intricate dance of dynamics and strategy. Piece activity plays a key role in this phase. We activate our pieces by finding or creating optimum squares for them. What do we mean by that? Every piece in Chess has a unique character. Even though a Knight and a Bishop carry the same material value of 3 points each, a Knight cannot do what a Bishop does, and vice versa. Not appreciating this difference, and simply judging each piece for its material value, would be a grave injustice.

Once we learn to appreciate each piece’s strengths and identify their weaknesses, we can create ideal squares and/or situations that enhance their potential. Here are a few strategic concepts that aid us:

1.  The Outpost: the Knight’s Best Friend!

An outpost typically refers to a square on the board that can be securely occupied by one of our pieces. If this square is beyond the 5th rank (from white’s point of view), then such an outpost acts as a fortified position that our army captures deep within enemy territory! For a square to be an outpost, it is either difficult or impossible for our opponent to attack it with a pawn. Usually, this square is controlled by our pawn or other pieces. It is possible to place any piece on the outpost, but it is ideal to post a Knight there, due to its dynamic ability to jump over pieces! From here, the Knight either directly attacks the opponent’s pieces or controls important strategic squares helping our other pieces launch an attack.

2.   The Open File: This is a Rook’s favourite hangout!

A file on the chessboard that does not have any pawns on it, is called an Open File. Rooks are long-ranged pieces, so they thrive on an Open file, as no pawn obstructs their range. From here they directly attack or limit the scope of our opponent’s pieces, support our pieces to occupy important squares on the file, and enter the opponent’s side given a chance. A corresponding concept is a Semi-Open file, where only one side’s pawns are present. It is in our favour if the pawns present on the semi-open file are our opponents’ so that we can attack them directly by placing our Rook on that file.

Since a Queen also works like a Rook, even she could be decently placed on an Open or Semi-open file.  Similarly, Bishops, which are long-ranged pieces that move diagonally, work very well on Open, Semi-Open, or Long Diagonals.

3.  Doubling the Rooks: In this arrangement of pieces, we place one of our Rooks behind our other Rook, either on the same file or on the same rank, thus supporting each other. This allows the Rooks to work together to control the file or rank, enter the opponent’s side, and add pressure. Doubling the Rooks on Open Files is a good way of exploiting the open file. When the Rooks support each other on the first rank, they are called ‘connected’ and not ‘doubled’ since they are already on the first rank at the beginning of the game.

Q: In the Diagram, it is a Middlegame position with White’s turn to play. How do we come up with a move?

First, we evaluate the position. Both sides have equal material. But what about the quality of the pieces? White’s Knight on e3 has access to a fantastic Outpost on f5. As you can see, it is a square on the opponent’s side of the board. Since black’s ‘e’ and ‘g’ pawns have already advanced to e5 and g4, the f5 square cannot be attacked by Black’s pawns anymore. Remember, Pawns don’t move backward! Our Knight will create havoc from this strong outpost on f5 since it is so close to the opponent’s King and attacks the Bishop on g7 and pawn on h6 at the same time. Additionally, White’s Bishops are also well placed, with the Bishop on b3 targeting the pawn on f7, and the Bishop on h4 targeting the Knight on f6. Black’s pieces are not performing as important functions as White’s and their range is stifled. They are nowhere near the White King. We can conclude that White has the advantage. We can chose to play 1. Nf5, with the idea to capture the Black pawn on h6 with the support of our Queen on d2. We also threaten to capture the f6 Knight with our Bishop on the next move.

In the same Diagram, we can also observe that the White Rooks are Connected.

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