Thursday, June 5, 2014

Chess Strategy And The Middlegame

In Chess the middlegame is the most complex of all three phases. In due diligence to not take away from the depth of the opening and endgame, it could be said that the middlegame requires more raw ability. You can call on your knowledge of opening and endgame theory, but here you put your abilities to the test. The most common lacking component in the average class player’s game is undoubtedly the art of planning. In fact this may be the single most important factor in separating class players from their goals of chess grandeur. 

The Extreme Importance of Planning

            Those who fail to plan, plan to fail; and planning in chess is positional understanding in practice. It has been said that a player could reach the 2000 level with chess tactics alone, but this must be taken with a grain of salt. Often many players think of planning in terms of calculating different variations. No doubt calculation is a huge part of chess strategy, but without knowing what to calculate it loses focus. The truth is that in good planning, calculation comes last, and often is not very deep at all. Think about how candidate moves are decided. When a player selects which moves to consider, where does this information come from? For most players this comes from intuition, based on positional understanding. There is no doubt that an advanced chess player has developed some ability to plan. That being said, when I was 1600 – 1800 strength I had horrible planning abilities. When a player focuses too much on calculation and not the overall plan of action they get stuck in little details and miss the big picture.

A great summary of planning chess strategy
has already been written online saying pretty much everything I could say on the subject.

Referenced readings in the article:
How to Reassess Your Chess – Jeremy Silman
The Amateurs Mind – Jeremy Silman
Planning – Neil McDonald

A few more good sources for developing your positional game:
Winning Pawn Structures – Alexander Baburin
Complete Chess Strategy II - Principles of Pawn Play and the Center – Ludek Pachma (if you can get past the old school notation)
Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy – John Watson (Sort of a follow up on My System)
The Art of Positional Play – Samuel Reshevsky

            So you have done your intense reading and you feel like a pro; now what? Reading is great but, you have to practice what you have learned. Obviously playing chess is a good way to work on your positional understanding, but aside from that there are two excellent training methods you can use.
  • Chess Mentor is an excellent piece of software you can use to practice chess strategy. It walks you through entire positions, explaining certain aspects as you select moves. It also will tell you why the move you selected was either right or wrong. There used to be a stand-alone version of Chess Mentor, but I think they did away with it.
  • The second method you can use is to go through Grandmaster games. As you go through the games take your time at each move and pretend you are the player behind the pieces. Consider positional ideas, and try to get in the head of the player who actually played the game. If you decided to play a move different than what was played, consider why the move was played instead of your alternative. An important note should be that it would be ideal to go through games of the opening systems you have chosen. At Chess Ebook they have a great tool in their "Play like a GM" section that provides a great way to practice this.
  • Another exercise you may want to consider is learning all of the Chess mating patterns. This is something that is often overlooked, but can be great when considering a plan of action

Chess Calculation

            In “The Extreme Importance of Chess Planning” section I said that the lack of being able to create solid plans may be the single most important factor separating class players from their goals of chess grandeur. A player’s ability to calculate different variations is an essential skill that separates the strong from the weak, however easier to develop than the art of planning. An important thing to note is that a players chess calculation abilities are a separate skill from their tactical ability. Most chess players don’t really have a method to their madness; they just kind of calculate variations that fit their probably half-baked plans.
            The super sad fact of calculation & tactics is that there is no awesome way to learn either one. Good chess calculation takes tons of practice, and good tactical ability comes with tons of exposure. Some class players do have strong tactical ability, however they are held back by other areas of the game. For most of us though, pulling out awesome tactical shots on our opponent does not exactly come easy. A lot of books on tactics discuss calculation, but it’s normally just a small section. Most of us just practice our calculation by solving problems or playing, however there are a couple methods you can use to aid in your training.
  • First, two excellent books on the topic are
Think like a Grandmaster – Alexander Kotov
Play like a Grandmaster – Alexander Kotov
  • Playing OTB games, but playing several moves behind. What makes chess calculation hard is not envisioning the pieces move, it’s holding a position that is not actually on the board in your mind. If you are considering a candidate move; you play through a few moves and very quickly several sub-variations must be considered. When you start a game you don’t make the first few moves. While keeping notation to check yourself, you are forced to visualize and calculate a position that is not on the board. This is a great exercise that forces you to visualize. The better you get the more moves you can push from behind.
  • Blind Chess is another great way to practice visualization, however I think it’s less effective than the first method. Although it is a great way to force yourself to visualize, there is one little problem. When you play blind Chess there are no pieces at all. When you are in a real game not only do you have to picture positions, but what you picture must be incorporated with what you are actually seeing on the board.

Chess Tactics

            I look at chess tactics kind of like graduating. When practicing tactics you are no doubt practicing your visualization and calculation abilities, but if you can’t do these well already than tactics are out of the question. An advanced Chess player should be well versed in chess tactics, and be ready for more advanced material. There is really only one way to practice tactics, and that is by becoming familiar with them.
  • As far as practicing chess tactics, Chess Tempo is about as good as it gets. You can do a bunch of random problems, or you can do a bunch of problems that have been categorized into different tactical motifs. If there are some motifs that you excel at, work on what you are not so good at. Practice is key; like an insane amount of it.
  • An alternative is an awesome program known as CT-ART 5.0. This program also separates problems into tactical motifs, but has a unique feature. In some ways I like CT-ART better than Chess Tempo due to, when you make a mistake the problems are broken down into similar, but less complicated versions. After you solve the miniature version, the original problem is presented again for you to make a second attempt.
  • Lastly, two good books to consider if you are looking to take it that much further.
Art of Attack In Chess – Vladimir Vukovic
How to Become a Deadly Chess Tactician – David LeMoir (
focuses a lot on sacrifice)

No comments:

Post a Comment


Blogger news