Chess Strategy Step By Step

Strategy is required to outplay your opponent in a chess game. While 90% of chess games are decided by tactics, strategy plays a crucial role in obtaining these winning tactics in the first place.

Without a clear strategy in chess, you would most likely make a lot of blunders as your moves will be random. On the other hand, a player with a clear strategy tends to make fewer mistakes and stands a good chance of winning the game.

In this article, we will look at the most effective chess strategy step by step in every phase of the game: Opening, middlegame and endgame strategy. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Step By Step Opening Strategy

Step #1: Push Your Pawns In The Center

The classical approach to playing chess openings is to occupy the center with your pawns. The center is the most important area of the chess board. Typically, if you can get control over the central squares as early in the opening, you will dominate the game.

The first strategy in the opening is to advance your e and d pawns 2 squares forward. This expansion opens lines for your pieces, thereby helping them to participate in the game.

chess strategy step by step

Advancing your c pawn 2 squares forward is another viable option and is a common strategy in openings like the Queen’s Gambit.

Once you’ve advanced at least 1 or 2 pawns in the center, follow the next step below…

Step# 2: Develop Your Knights First

This isn’t a set rule, but in most cases you should develop your knight before your bishop. The reason is because your bishop on the backrank is already developed as it stands. For example, if you pushed your e pawn in the opening, then you would have opened up the diagonal for your king’s bishop on f1.

Bring out your knights first: The bishop is already developed

Similarly, if you advanced your d pawn 2 squares forward, then you would have opened up the c1-h6 diagonal for your queen’s bishop.

Since you have already opened lines for your bishop(s), you should focus on developing your least active piece into the game, and that is to bring out your knights.

Move your knights to the 3rd rank, particularly the f3 and c3 squares. From these squares, the knights help to control the central squares which we know to be the most important area of the chess board.

Step# 3: Develop Your Bishops After

The next piece you must develop after your knight is your bishop. Since most games involve kingside castling, you should prioritize developing your king’s bishop, (that is the f1 bishop for white or the f8 bishop for black).

Bring out your king’s bishop

Failure to develop your kingside pieces such as your knight and bishop can sometimes lead to your king being stuck in the center (it’s initial position). This can result in all sorts of problems for your king. Your king could get attacked down the e-file and may lose the right to castle forever.

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Therefore, bring out your king’s bishop as early as possible so that you can castle on the next move to safeguard your king. This leads us to the next step…

Step# 4: Castle Your King

The number one priority in chess is king safety. This is usually achieved by castling kingside or queenside. The earlier you can castle is the better.

Castling not only allows you to safeguard your king, but it also helps to activate your rook in the corner. Usually after castling, you’re almost ready to go into the middlegame where you will construct an effective plan moving forward.

Castle your king

Click here to learn more about castling: Castling in chess

However, after castling there is one crucial step you need to finalize…

Step #5: Connect The Rooks

By this stage, you have developed all your pieces: knights, bishops, king, and rook. The only piece that is left to develop is your Queen.

The last phase of the opening is to get your queen off the backrank. By doing so, you connect the rooks and have completed your development. Now you can focus on your middlegame strategy. Read on to find out more.

Step By Step Middlegame Strategy

There is not one strategy in chess. The strategy you will deploy in your game will depend on the nature and characteristics of the position.

Your goal after the opening is to construct a winnning plan based on the weaknesses of your opponent’s position. There are different types of plans/strategies that you can implement. Here are the most important ones:

Target weak pawns

After you’ve completed your development, the first step in the middlegame is to look for any weak pawns in your opponent’s position. Weak pawns include: isolated pawns, doubled pawns and backward pawns.

Once you’ve determined the pawn you wish to attack, use your pieces to pile up pressure on that weak pawn. For example, if your opponent has a backward pawn on the open e-file, double your 2 rooks on the open file to mount pressure on the weak pawn.

Note: Targeting weak pawns is an easy and effective strategy. The hard part is to actually create these weaknesses.  

Play in the center (open up the position)

As we’ve stated previously, the center is the most important area of the chessboard. If you can get control over the central squares, you will dominate the game. Therefore, you should always seek to expand in the center whenever it is possible. This applies to both the opening and middlegame.

Your pieces get more open space and lines whenever you play in the center. This helps to add pressure on your opponent’s position.

Sometimes it’s best to prepare a pawn expansion in the center by bringing your rooks to the central file (That is the d and e-files). Placing your rooks along the central files will help support the pawn expansion in the center, thereby making it more effective.

White should play in the center with the move pawn to d4 as shown by the green arrow

All in all, playing in the center is by far the most effective strategy that you should opt for in the middlegame.

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Attack on the flank

Whenever you have control over the center, one common strategy is to play actively on the flanks. Play in the center is more effective than playing on the flanks. However, in certain positions where the center is closed or static, it’s a good idea to expand on the kingside or queenside.

Attacking on the kingside can sometimes be devastating for your opponent, especially if he can’t break through in the center. Flank attacks are common in openings like the Yugoslav attack of the Sicilian Defense.

Here, white launches a pawn storm on the kingside in hopes of opening the h-file for his rook and to checkmate the black king.

Yugoslav attack: Pawn storm

Launching a pawn storm on the kingside not only open lines in front of the enemy king, but it increases your spatial advantage as well. This brings us to our next strategy…

Grab space

Every grandmaster loves to grab space on the chess board. They understand the importance of this imbalance and how it helps to mobilize their pieces. A player with a large spatial advantage has more options to choose from and can mobilize his pieces to good squares.

A player with less space finds it hard to activate his pieces and to construct a feasible plan. In worse case scenario, he has to sit and wait passively until something gives.

You can grab space on the queenside, kingside or the center of the board. The way to do this is to simply advance your pawns up the board in order to take away squares in your opponent’s territory. This restricts the activity of your opponent’s pieces while increasing the activity of your own pieces.

Example game between Garry Kasparov and Tamas Georgadze:

White has a spatial advantage on both sides of the board including the center

One thing to be mindful of is to not overextend your pieces as they can become targets of attack, especially in the endgame where all the smokes have cleared. Also, make sure that your king is safely put away whenever you seek to gain more space on the chess board.

Bring your least active piece into the game

The most important thing in chess is the activity of your pieces. The principle of the least active piece states that you should look for a piece that is not doing anything in the position and bring it to an active square.

Therefore, whenever you are faced with a position and you do not know what to do, try to look for the least active piece in your position and get it to a square where it can be useful.

There is also another principle called “the principle of maximum activity”. Here, you look for a piece that is already developed and bring it to the most active square, usually in your opponent’s half of the board.

By gaining as much activity as possible for your pieces, you’ll be able to successfully mount attacks against your opponent.

Keep the tension

When playing stronger opponents, a great way to beating them is to simply keep the tension on the board. This forces them to calculate and think about the position. In most cases, they start to get nervous and make silly mistakes, resulting in them losing.

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You keep the tension by avoid exchanging your pieces. A stronger opponent with more positional understanding of the game can simply trade all his pieces and go into a winning endgame.

Grandmasters can outplay weaker opponents using this strategy. Therefore, if you want to stand a chance of beating a stronger opponent, avoid captures and keep your pieces on the board as long as possible.

Only exchange pieces when it’s beneficial to you. For example: the exchanges improve your position or win material at the end of the line.

Step By Step Endgame Strategy

The last phase of the chess game is the endgame. At this stage of the game, most of your major and minor pieces have been captured off the board. There are different types of endgame positions, but one you will see more often is king and pawn endgame.

Rush Your King To The Center

In the endgame, the king is usually safe to roam about the chessboard unlike the middlegame where there are a lot of pieces on the board.

Whenever you have an endgame with just king and pawns, one of the main strategy is to rush your king to the center of the board.

You need to claim dominance(opposition) whenever you have a king and pawn endgame. From the center, the king shoulders off the opposing king and helps support your passed pawn up the board. The king in the center is more flexible as it can move to the kingside or the queenside in just 2 moves or less.

The player with the more active king stands better winning chances. Therefore, you should strongly consider moving your king to the center of the board during the endgame phase.

Create Passed Pawns

Passed pawns are usually the deciding factor of the endgame. A pawn that reaches the last rank of the chess board promotes into a queen, which is enough force to checkmate the opposing king in the blink of an eye.

To create passed pawns, you should advance your pawn majority. This means, if you have 3 pawns on the queenside and your opponent has 2 pawns, then you can create a passed pawn by advancing your majority up the board. However, if the ratio stands at 3:3, then it would be more difficult to create a passed pawn on the flank.

If this is the case, you should avoid pushing you pawns as they can become targets of attack. If you don’t have a clear objective, do not push your pawns in the endgame for no reason. These pawns can become weakness which your opponent can attack.

Avoid pushing your pawns if you don’t have a clear objective

The only pawns that must be pushed are passed pawns or your pawn majority.

Place your rooks behind passed pawns

One strategy you will see a lot from grandmasters is that they place their rooks behind passed pawns. Placing your rook behind your own passed pawn helps to support it so that it gets to the queening square (promotion square).

Conversely, you want to place your rook behind your opponent’s passed pawn as well. This attacks the pawn and prevents the pawn from promoting if it gets to the last rank or queening square.

Final Verdict

There you have it, the step by step chess strategy to winning more of your games. Without a clear plan you will make a lot of mistakes in your games. In every phase of the game, you will need to come up with a strategy. This article outlined the most important strategies you should take  in the opening, middlegame and endgame.

Implement these strategies in your games and you will certainly see improved results!

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