In modern times, the chess middlegame is where the real game begins.
Due to the advancement in chess opening theory, thanks to engines, any patzer can memorize the lines and variations, which have now been thoroughly analyzed and are more or less fixed.
So when the opening ends, both players have to start thinking on their own.
Sure there will be some games where you’ll be better from the opening itself. But if your opponent is well-prepared (which is not something you can control) you won’t get an opening advantage.
So here you’ll have to fight them in the middlegame to have better chances.
Hence, practicing middlegames and getting better at them is important. Successful handling of fresh positions shows your metal as a well-balanced chess player.
Read this lesson further to gain more insight on how to play chess middlegames!
Learn and Implement Key Positional Ideas
Being positionally sound is a trait that is extremely helpful in the long run. This is because as you progress and face tougher opponents, there are higher chances that your games will be long, positional battles.
Hence, building fine positional knowledge is necessary.
I’ll share some of the main strategic concepts that you can learn and implement –
In simple terms, this means to ‘think what your opponent is thinking.’ This is a great way to find a good plan for yourself.
It was the favorite strategy of world champions like Tigran Petrosian and Anatoly Karpov.
The point is: When you eliminate or counter all of the possibilities available to your opponent, you can proceed with your own plan. This frustrates your opponent!
In the above position, the move h3 is a good example of prophylaxis. It avoids the irritating pin of f3-knight by preventing Black’s Bc8 coming to g4.
2. Avoid having Hanging Pawns or Pieces
One of the important things I learned is “loose pieces drop off first!”.
It means that the more unsupported pieces you have, the more chance there is that your opponent can create a double attack threat.
In the above example, Black can simply play Qh4 and exploit the fact that it can simultaneously threaten mate on h2 and capture the bishop on h5. The bottom line is – always keep your pieces and pawns as protected as possible!
3. Do Not Create any Pawn Weaknesses
Pawns can be directly attacked from afar and hence are very vulnerable. This threat intensifies when the minor and major pieces are developed.
If they support each other then pawns can create powerful chains. But if they are isolated, doubled, or backward, pawns can become a big weakness.
In the above position, all of Black’s pawns are weak. They are either isolated or doubled. Even if black manages to save them in the middlegame, they are most likely to drop off one by one in the endgame.
When fewer pieces are left on board, it becomes more difficult to defend your weaknesses because of a simple reason – ‘Who will watch the kids if the adults are absent?’
4. Occupy Open or Semi-Open Files with your Rooks
Rooks are powerful pieces with tremendous potential. If placed on correct squares, they can wreak total havoc. However, they need open files or clear ranks to unleash their full power.
So whenever you get the chance to occupy an open or semi-open file with your rook/rooks, grab it!
The most popular example of this can be seen in the Sicilian Dragon variation. The Black rook occupies the c8-square to control the semi-open ‘c’ file to create some serious threats.
5. Do not have any Weak Squares in your Camp
Think of your side of the position as a fortress. Would you leave any weak spot in your fortress? No, right?
Because your enemy could convert it into his stronghold and use it to his advantage.
Similarly, in chess, weak squares in your position can allow your opponent to exploit them and station their pieces there. By doing so, they can control crucial squares in your camp which could hinder your own pieces.
Here, Black has created some serious weaknesses in his camp like the h6 square and the a1-h8 diagonal. Such mistakes can cost you the game so make sure you avoid them!
6. Keep Improving Your Pieces
Often it so happens that the initial square on which you develop your piece stops serving its purpose. In such situations, you should improve your piece placement by maneuvering them to a better square.
You should identify a square where they could perform better and control more area. And then find a path to get them there.
In the above example, the White knight was initially developed to d2. However, it stopped serving its purpose and in fact became a hindrance to the queen.
So White maneuvered the knight to g3 via f1 where it functions in a much better fashion, controlling crucial squares like f5 and h5.
These are some of the important strategic concepts that will be a great guide for you to comfortably play good moves in the middlegame.
When you can handle quiet, closed positions well, you can handle almost anything!
At the same time, you should be able to handle complete chaos as well. This is where being good at tactics comes in handy!
Always be Alert for Tactical Possibilities
One of the best parts about being tactically alert is that you can get a decisive advantage or even deliver a mate instantly.
Having good tactical skills and being able to see complex combinations can greatly help you get an edge over your opponent.
Here are some important tactical concepts that you must know and implement in order to comfortably play middlegames –
A piece can be called pinned if it stands between an opponent’s attack and a major piece or the king. Pins can be pretty irritating as they can immobilize crucial pieces that you’d rather use in other ways.
In the above example, White’s queen is pinned by Black’s queen as moving it from the a7-g1 diagonal would lead to an attack on his king. This is also an example of double pin as the Black rook on c8 threatens to capture the rook on c1 if White plays Qxb6 right now.
White is lost in the above position.
A fork is delivered by the knight when it attacks two or more pieces at the same time. The unique way in which a knight moves increases the possibility of forking the opponent’s pieces, especially in the middle game.
Remember, your knight can be an extremely powerful piece if it has free space to maneuver.
As you can see, Black played Nf6-Ne4 to deliver a fork to White’s king and queen. White cannot capture Black’s knight with his f3 pawn as it is pinned by the Black rook on e3.
3. Double Attack
Based on the positional principle of “loose pieces drop off first” that we learned earlier, the double attack is the tactical implementation of that rule.
It is when you attack two unsupported pieces at the same time. Sometimes, the pieces can be supported but the attacking piece is of lesser materialistic value leading to advantage either way.
Here Black’s queen on d4 attacks both the White king and the rook on b2. The Black rook on b8 has an additional attack on White’s b2 rook as well. There is no way White can save both the threats and hence will lose his rook.
Double attack possibilities can occur from a longer range, especially if you’re working on diagonals. Stay alert to them!
4. Overloading the opponent’s piece
Pieces are generally multifunctional. It means that they can carry out two to three tasks at the same time. But beyond that, it starts getting difficult to manage all the jobs at once.
Think of it like a person who has to work from home, while taking care of the kids, also do the laundry and keep an eye on the food that’s cooking! Hectic right?
Similarly, when you put too much pressure on a single pivotal piece, it usually ends up malfunctioning as it can’t keep up with all these demands!
White’s queen is overloaded in this position as it is preventing the mate on h1, protecting the pawn on c2 and also attacking Black’s e6 pawn.
By capturing White’s c2 pawn, Black temporarily sacrificed his rook to overload White’s queen. If the queen wants to continue to prevent the mate on h1, she must give up her rook on c8.
5. Discovered attack or check
Discovered attack is when you remove a piece from the line of attack of another piece to give a direct threat to your opponent. It can also be in the form of a check if you remove your middle piece to give a direct threat to the opponent’s king.
Such attacks are often pretty lethal and do lead to a lot of material loss or mate. Hence, always keep an eye out for them!
Black sacrificed his queen on g2, to get the White king in line of the b7 bishop’s attacking range. Now, Black will play Nf4, giving White a discovered check by the bishop, followed by Kg1 and then Nh3 mate.
Knowing these simple yet effective tactical concepts is going to benefit you a lot in the long run. The more you practice and improve your combination skills, the faster your calculations will be on board.
One important thing that I would like to tell you is that the tactical and positional concepts are often intertwined. It is very rare that only one idea is in play. When you are able to successfully combine your positional and tactical middlegame knowledge, you can find a vast array of good moves and threats on board.
Final Tips to Improve your Middlegame Play
All professional chess players know that how you play on board is largely due to how well you have practiced beforehand.
The chances of you playing good moves constantly in middlegames increases when you have prepared well how to deal with various positions.
Some ways in which you can do this are –
1. Solve a Lot of Puzzles
Your resourcefulness in the middlegame increases by multifold when you solve a lot of puzzles. When you undertake such an activity, you think in various ways and learn many new concepts. Your brain remembers these patterns and ideas and this reflects in actual tournament games.
You will feel the improvement in your understanding and knowledge when you consistently solve middlegame problems. Your calculations will be faster and your vision will be stronger!
2. Playing Practice Positions with a Training Partner
Having a training partner is always a great idea! You can set up middlegame positions that are equal and can start playing from that point onwards.
This helps you in getting a good insight as to how a human might respond in situations where a computer suggests a completely different move. After all, we have to play against another person right?
You can start by practicing middlegames arising out of your openings so that you can get better at familiar positions. And then proceed to other random positions as well.
3. Study Chess Classics
Chess classics are games that are played by former World Champions or elite players.
They form an invaluable resource as studying them gives you far more insight than any other material.
You can pause at crucial junctions while analyzing their games and try to think why they played a particular move. By doing so, you train your brain to be more inquisitive and think in ways you might have not thought of before!
All in all, I suggest you unleash your most creative self while playing middlegames.
Trust me, if you enjoy playing middlegames, you will fall in love with chess all over again! With prior practice and efforts, this experience will be even more enhanced as you can see for yourself how your game improves!
I hope this lesson gave you a good insight into how to play chess middlegames and also how to prepare for them beforehand!
Now get to work and create masterpieces!
Lesson #1: Chess Basics Introduction
Lesson #2: Basic Chess Terms
Lesson #3: Chess Board Structure And Setup
Lesson #4: How Chess Pieces Move
Lesson #5: Chess Pieces Value
Lesson #6: Basic Chess Rules
Lesson #7: Three Phases Of A Chess Game
Lesson #8: How To Play Chess Openings
Lesson #9: How To Play Chess Middlegames ( You are here 🙂 )
Lesson #10: How To Play Chess Endgames