Middlegame

The middlegame is the middle phase of a game of chess that occurs after the opening and before the endgame. The more a person practices, the more he will be able to label whether a particular position is in the opening, middlegame or endgame. Nevertheless, there is no clear rule as to when a game enters the middlegame and some positions can be classified as both opening and middlegame (likewise with middlegames and endgames).

There are three particular themes in the middlegame that I want to discuss:

Mikhail Tal 1961 OberhausenAttacking/tactical chess

Attacking and tactical chess is present in all phases of the game, but I thought it would be most appropriate to mention it here. Attacking and tactics is not the same thing, although I generally associate them together because a successful attack often leads to a tactical manhunt. Another closely related concept is the ‘combination’, which is a tactical and often forced sequence of moves. Typical tactical themes are the pin, skewer and fork.

There are many tactical middlegame themes, perhaps the most famous of which is the ‘Greek Gift’ bishop sacrifice. In my experience, while an urge to attack varies depending on the personality or the position at hand; tactical ability can be nurtured by attempting tactical puzzles, and by continual practice at both fast and slow time limits.

There are many great chess puzzle books and with carefully computer-checked analysis these days, it’s difficult to come by any particularly terrible one. Some examples of puzzle books I have studied include John Nunn’s Chess Puzzle Book, Test Your Chess IQ series by August Livshitz, 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations by Fred Reinfeld and Beat the Grandmasters by Christian Kongsted. The software Chessmaster has a variety of tactical training exercises, as does more specialist software such as CT-ART 4.0 by ChessOK.

If you’re strapped for cash, an alternative would be just to monitor the news website ChessBase.com. They publish a puzzle on their homepage every week or so, and the other news articles are generally quite interesting anyway. I also have a daily chess puzzle published on my website courtesy of ShredderChess.

Positional/strategical chess (in general, more defensive, but this is not always the case)

Aron Nimzowitsch8th World Champion Mikhail Tal is often classified as being a great attacking player. What most players don’t realise is that Tal had a highly advanced and integrated positional understanding that allowed him to coordinate his pieces for his attacks. Likewise, modern top players need to be universal in their knowledge in order to stay afloat, as otherwise their weaknesses will be relentlessly targeted.

While tactics occur in a short space of time, positional and strategical considerations are very much focussed on the long term. These long term aspects include potential piece outposts and structural weaknesses.

Strategical prowess is naturally developed as a player progresses, however, a player can supplement his knowledge with books and DVDs. Apart from the resources listed below, there are also a number of great positional chess books including Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy by International Master John Watson, My System by Grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch and Positional Ideas in Chess by John Love.

Resources for the middlegame

See my books and software suggestions for more help on the middlegame. In particular, The Complete Book of Chess Strategy by Silman, the chess software Chessmaster and Yasser Seirawan’s Pro Chess DVD are all excellent middlegame resources.

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