Sports & Games

Chess Middlegame Positions and Chess Strategy Tips

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 28, 2019 • 4 min read

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Less easily defined or theorized than openings or endgames, the middlegame is still an important part of a chess game. Broadly speaking, the middlegame begins when chess players have moved their kings to safety and developed most of their major pieces. It’s the phase where each player’s positional understanding will be put to the test.

Note that it’s not always easy to mark the point where an opening becomes the middlegame. Likewise, the middlegame may transition seamlessly into the endgame.

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What Is a Middlegame in Chess?

There are a few factors that make the middlegame hard to define. For one, middlegames are difficult to study. Because middlegames are often messy and complex, with most (if not all) of the major and minor pieces still on the board, they don’t lend themselves to rigorous study or memorizable positions as with openings or endgames.

The nature of the middlegame will follow naturally from each player’s opening strategy. This makes it hard to speak in general terms about middlegame strategy or middlegame principles. If one or both players have methodically advanced their pawn structures then the middlegame may revolve around relatively closed positions. In these cases, knights may prove invaluable for hopping over ranks of tightly linked pawns. Here, players may spend a long time maneuvering for advantageous positions before launching attacks.

If the center is relatively free of pawns, however, then players may find themselves in an open game with wide open diagonals that favor bishops and queens. These games may end up being more aggressive, with both players sacrificing material for momentum.

3 Factors for the Middlegame

While it may be hard to talk about middlegames in a systematic way, there are still some basic principles you’ll want to keep in mind. Generally speaking, there are three factors to consider during the middlegame, though the exact balance of these factors will change depending on the strategy you’re pursuing.

  1. How safe is your king? In games where king safety is an issue, other factors will recede in importance. Remember, a well-timed attack on your opponent’s pieces can result in checkmate long before the endgame. The safer your king is, the more flexibility you have elsewhere.
  2. Are you maintaining your material? refers simply to your pieces. In the majority of endgames, a material advantage winds up being decisive, so you’ll want to make sure any trades you make in the middlegame are worthwhile. Material advantages tend to be especially important in highly positional play.
  3. Are your pieces mobile? Mobility is about giving your attacking pieces flexibility to threaten multiple targets. Opening up lines of attack (even at the loss of material) and establishing outposts may be key to establishing an advantage in a highly open game.
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5 Tips for the Middlegame

Remember, the key to the middlegame is to develop a plan and stick with it. Once you’ve developed an ability to read positions, it’s time to put your tactical knowledge in practice. That said, there are a few general pieces of advice that may be worth keeping in mind as you begin to explore the middlegame.

  1. Get your rooks chatting. One of the strengths of castling is that it gets your rooks connected. Rooks that are connected (also called “communicating” or “chatting”) have an open rank between them. This frees them to patrol the rank, supporting other pieces freely while protecting one another.
  2. Watch your weak squares. A weak square is one that can’t be easily defended from an attack. Generally speaking, these are “holes” in your defense that a canny opponent can exploit, perhaps to create an outpost from which to launch their attacks. These squares are especially appealing for knights, and they tend to be especially effective along the center files.
  3. Try to keep your bishops together. One quality of bishops is that they tend to become more valuable than knights once your reach the endgame. If you can hang on to a bishop pair through the entire middlegame, you may find yourself with an advantage over an opponent who only has two knights or a knight and a bishop.
  4. Make sure your trades are favorable. Make sure every trade you make (or decline) fits into a broader strategy. What trades make sense will depend greatly on the nature of a game. In games with tightly locked pawn formations, even slight material differences can wind up being decisive. In more open games, however, it may be worth sacrificing a piece of valuable material for the sake of a devastating attack.
  5. Mind your pawn structure. The arrangement of your pawns will go a long way to determining what sort of middlegame you’re looking at. The better you’re able to keep your pawn structure intact, the more likely you’ll be able to pursue your chosen strategy. Remember, isolated, doubled, or backward pawn moves tend to create permanent weaknesses that your opponent may take advantage of.

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