How to Play the Middlegame (The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)
Chess Middlegame Strategy

How to Play the Middlegame (The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)

How to Play the Middlegame (The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)

Learn here once and for all how to play the middlegame. When you ask yourself how strategy works, think on this ultimate guide to play chess.

Intro to the Middlegame Strategy

One of the most popular questions chess students ask me about is what to do in the early middlegame stage, right after the opening. In the opening, it is more or less clear what to do. You got to develop your pieces somehow, hopefully towards the center.

Let’s take a look at some standard setup. The exact position or how we got here doesn’t really matter. We’re talking in general, what your middlegame plan is or, rather, what it should be or how to play.

How to play the middlegame, how to play as White
White to play: What is the plan?

How to Play the Middlegame (The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide)

What to do in the middlegame and how to play afterwards is the question because, so far, everything was more or less clear. To develop your minor pieces and castle is something that pretty much everybody knows. But what to do next?

We know that, in general, in a game of chess, you want to check mate your opponent’s king. But, right now, there is no opportunity, and it’s not even close for White to do that.

So Many Choices of Moves

This situation puzzles a lot of chess players. It is totally unclear what you should do, while you also have virtually unlimited number of choices. Actually, I checked this middlegame position in the database to find how to play. Let me share it with you.

How to play the middlegame, statistics for a standard position

Here’s the chess games database from lichess. At the right corner, you can see the statistics of different moves that were played here. As you can see, there is no clear winner’s move here. In other positions, there is one move which is just far more often played than others. But in this standard middlegame position, White has played all kinds of moves.

I just want to show you that the white player is really confused on this position with this huge quantity of options. They’re not sure which one to opt for and, more generally, what White’s plan should be here.

What to Do after the Opening Stage?

Let’s look at this from a different point of view. Let’s figure  out what you should do after you finished your development in the opening.

The first thing that you should do and that people often forget to do is develop your queen. Once you finish the development of your minor pieces (knights and bishops), the development of your pieces is not actually finished. Aside of your minor pieces, you also have heavy pieces. Therefore, you got to bring them into play!

1) Develop Your Queen

The first task is to develop your queen. You got to be careful here, as the queen is a precious piece, and your opponent may wish to attack it. Therefore, you got to find a secure square for your queen. For example, right now, you’ve got two possible options, Qd2 or Qe2.

How to play the middlegame, White develops the queen and Black attacks it
Nd4 attacks the queen immediately. We should choose a better square for the queen in advance.

But if you go Qe2, Black can potentially play Nd4 and chase your queen. Though it’s not that dangerous here, it is better to keep your queen in safety. Also, there is no reason to allow your opponent to win time.

That is why, instead of playing Qe2, you should play Qd2. Your queen is developed and you can already see that this queen actually does some job. It supports the bishop and, potentially, supports a potential piece sacrifice on h6. So, Qd2 already improves your position to some extent.

A quick disclaimer: This is not an opening theory lesson. We are not going to analyze specific variations of the opening. We have many lessons about it. This lesson is about the general planning and general patterns that you can use in any position of the middlegame in any opening. This lesson teaches you how to play in general in the middlegame.

2) Develop Your Rooks

Following the same principle that we talked about previously, once you developed your minor pieces, you got to activate your heavy pieces. Heavy pieces are your queen, but also your rooks. We already developed the queen, and now it’s time to bring your rooks into play!

How to play the middlegame, White has to develop the rooks
Which rook should you move and why?

Where to move the rooks and which one to move first? Entering the middlegame, how to play the rooks is very important. So, you’ll move your rook to a central file, and it is usually advised to start moving the queenside rook. To put it better, you should move first the rook that was not involved in castling. With the castling, you already brought a rook into play, at least to some extent. Therefore, it makes sense now to bring the other rook into play and put it on a central file.

3) Open up the Position

Having developed all of your pieces, including the heavy ones, the next stage in how to play the middlegame is to start attacking! But, how can you do that when the position is closed? Indeed, you can’t and, therefore, you got to open up the position first. In chess, you open up the position by moving your pawns and, usually, we’re talking about central pawns.

Why is it better to move a central pawn instead of moving your side pawns? Find on the video lesson below a deep explanation, but I have to tell you that the center is the most critical area of the chessboard.

With that being said, you may come to realize that a good move is d4!

How to play the middlegame, White has to open up the position
Having developed the pieces, you play d4 to open up the position!

Let’s see what can be the resultant position. Let’s say we exchange some pieces. You can see why opening up the position is good. Your pieces get more open space, more open lines and diagonals and you can start putting more direct pressure onto your opponent’s position.

How to play the middlegame, White gained in activity by opening the position
White’s queen is looking at Black’s camp

From here, you can, once again, follow the same guideline: Open up the position further playing pawn to e5. After some more exchanges, you can see that your queen is getting even more active. Even your rook is now attacking Black’s queen.

How to play the middlegame, White is attacking and creating weaknesses
By advancing the central pawns, White opened up the position to get attack

That is how opening up the position and playing those subtle pawn moves help you make your position a lot more aggressive with a lot more attacking opportunities. Weaknesses begin to pop up for you to put some pressure onto Black’s position and attack; that is how you need to play in the middlegame.

4) Other Ways to Open the Position

So far, we have talked about the central breakthrough, d4, which is the most powerful pawn advance. But there is another plan available for White here. In chess, we always need plans. The idea is the same, you want to open up the position.

As an alternative plan, you may realize that, in addition to moving the d-pawn forward, you may possibly push your f-pawn forward, and that would also allow you to open up the position to put some pressure.

The implementation of this plan is fully explained on the video lesson below. Watch it to clearly understand how to play in the middlegame.

How to play the middlegame, White executes a different plan with the same idea
Alternative plan for you: Open up the position by realizing a different breakthrough

In the resulting position, you’re exerting strong pressure against Black’s kingside and you can bring more pieces there to develop your attack!

5) Start Attacking Your Opponent

With open lines, you can start attacking your opponent directly. Thus is how you want to play in the middlegame. You can actually sacrifice your rook on f6 to break up the pawn structure around the opponent’s king. After that, White is winning even though there is no direct checkmate right now.

How to play the middlegame, White is winning
Black cannot stop your attack. You win!

You can execute many threats here. Bring the rook to the kingside, bring your knight to d5 and the other knight to g4; they are some moves White will make to harass the exposed black king!

Black has no ways to completely stop Black’s attack and they’ll have to sacrifice a lot of material.

How to Play the Middlegame (Video Lesson)

The Best Way to Improve at Chess Instantly

Of course, I can’t explain the entire chess strategy within one short lesson. Chess strategy on how to play the middlegame is a fairly large subject. But if you want to know more about this, you may check out my free Masterclass, where I go more in depth into the subject and into the core of my system that helped me become a grand master, and then that I now teach to my students.

Nevertheless, I know this lesson is really helpful. A lot of videos out there tell you how to play different opening positions and game positions or show you tactical puzzles, but the most fundamental things that you’ve got to understand are somewhat missing. That is why I love to discover the Grandmaster’s secrets, such as this simple guide about how to play the middlegame.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want GM Igor Smirnov to help you get better at chess, watch this Masterclass.

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