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Chess Strategy - Middlegame Basics

The Middlegame begins once each player has developed most of his pieces. This means that most of the knights, bishops, and queens are off their starting square. The kings are most likely castled and the rooks may have been brought to central files.

The Middlegame is where the real fireworks begin. Players jockey for position while keeping a watch out for potential tactical shots. Middlegame strategy is a very complex subject - it takes many years of play and study to grasp some complex ideas. In this article, we'll focus on some key principles that are essential for beginners and novices to understand.


During the opening, you must develop your pieces from their opening squares. In the Middlegame, the pieces begin to work together to coordinate tactical attacks. In order to bring about tactical opportunities, you need to keep your pieces active (or mobile). An active piece is one that has a good view of the board and attacks many potential squares.

A knight on the side of the board is inactive, and usually in a bad position (A knight on the rim is dim!). A knight posted on a protected centre square has a much wider range of influence, and can quickly move to action on either side of the board. This is usually a good position.

A bishop that is blocked in has poor mobility, and doesn't have much influence on the game. It's much better to bring bishops to squares where they slice along open diagonals and aim at the opponents weak points.

A Rook left in the corner is very inactive. Rooks should be brought to centre files that are open or semi-open. An open file contains no pawns on it, and a semi-open file contains a single opponent's pawn. From these vantage points, Rooks have a dangerous presence.


In the Middlegame, you'll often have the opportunity to trade pieces. The first thing to consider in this situation is: Am I getting fair value for the trade? For example, if you can capture a Rook while losing a Knight, this is a good trade (5 points vs 3 points). If you can capture 2 Pawns while losing a Bishop, this is a bad trade (2 points vs 3 points).

For trades of equal material (ie Bishop for Knight or Rook for Rook), you need to assess the situation. There are three critical times when you want to make a trade:

These basic rules will serve you well for most trade decisions.

King Safety and Attack

King Safety is important in both the Opening and the Middlegame. If you have not already castled during your Opening moves, it is generally a good idea to do so in the Middlegame. Your King can be vulnerable if left in the centre of the board. As a rule of thumb, it is usually safer to castle Kingside than it is to castle Queenside.

The three pawns in front of your castled King (the f, g and h pawns) form a protective barrier. Moving any of these pawns creates weaknesses that can be attacked. While the board is still congested with pieces, it is generally better to leave the pawn wall in place in front of your castled King.

If your opponent leaves his King in a vulnerable centre position, look for tactical attacking opportunities. Similarly, if your opponent creates weak points in front of his castled King by moving pawns, look for potential attacks.

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Chess Strategy - Table of Contents
Strategy vs Tactics - Piece Values - Elementary Checkmates
The Three Game Phases - Opening Basics - Middlegame Basics - Endgame Basics
Top 10 Opening Principles - Top 10 Middlegame Principles - Top 10 Endgame Principles
Balanced Endgames - Part 2
Opening Systems