While studying tactics is a great way to improve rapidly as a beginner, it’s important to ladder your tactics to an overall strategy.  Tactics should help you achieve a higher-level goal that will bring you closer to your ultimate goal of checkmating the opponent’s king.

Here are some examples:

Tactics: “I’ll move my knight to e4, forking her bishop and queen.”  “If he moves his rook to d5, I can go for a discovered attack on his bishop.”

Strategy: “The board is wide open (pawns aren’t clogging up the center).  I’ll use my bishops in tandem to clear a path on the kingside so that my pawns can storm his already-cramped position.”  “She hasn’t castled yet, so I’m going to aggresively attack her king on the center files and try to prevent her from castling at all.”

Strategies are a bit more difficult to teach, to learn, and to implement, but they are nonetheless very important to winning chess games, especially as you begin to improve your game.

This series of articles will highlight different elements of chess strategy, especially studying imbalances on the board and how they can be utilized to win games.  We’ll be studying the following imbalances over the next few weeks:

  1. Development: Has your opponent opened by moving each piece only once, toward the center of the board?  A delay in development can be a hindrance that you can exploit.
  2. Space: Controlling a greater area of the board can give you the breathing room needed to carry out your attacks.
  3. Initiative: A temporary imbalance – Are you reacting to your opponent with your moves, or is he using his moves to react to your actions?  You should always be trying to achieve the latter situation.
  4. Open Files and Protected Squares: Files, ranks, and diagonals are the pathways along which your pieces move.  Entire games can hinge on an open file, or a protected outpost square for a knight to land on.
  5. Minor Pieces: Two bishops (the “bishop pair”) can be deadly working together.  Knights are more valuable when the board is clogged up.  Look at the balance of minor pieces, searching for opportunities to use your pieces to their full potential.
  6. Pawn Structure: Entire books have been written on pawn structure.  Imbalances can result from doubled pawns, isolated pawns, passed pawns, backward pawns, etc.
  7. Material: Do you own more material than your opponent?  How are you taking advantage of that fact?

Over the next few months we’ll look at each of these in turn and explore ways to use them to your advantage.  As a fellow patzer I have to admit that I’m only scratching the surface of strategy myself, but upon reviewing games that I’ve won (and lost), it becomes clear that having a strategy that is both solidly thought out and yet infinitely flexible can yield great results.

When you’re just starting to study chess, it can be difficult to know where to focus your efforts.  Chess study can be broken down into several different fields:

  • Openings
  • Middlegame
  • Endgame
  • Tactics
  • Strategy
  • Positioning

For beginners, the most rapid improvement comes from studying tactics.  In this series of articles, I will explore a new tactic every Tuesday.  By learning these tactics and looking for opportunities to use them in your games, you will see rapid improvement.

The important concept to understand here is that unless you’re playing against an absolute beginner who leaves pieces undefended (hanging), you will need to use your pieces in combination to capture enemy material.  That is, you will need to attack multiple pieces at a time, or attack an enemy piece with multiple pieces of your own, in order to capture material.

We’ll be looking at the following tactics:

  1. Pins – Hold an enemy piece immobile while you pile on the attacks
  2. Skewers – Threaten a valuable piece, and when that piece escapes, strike the piece behind it.
  3. Forks - Attack multiple pieces at once.  Your opponent can’t defend them all.
  4. Discovered Attacks – Move a piece to reveal a deadly attack coming from behind it.
  5. Remove the Defender – Chase off the defender of your target piece, leaving it helpless.

Stay tuned as we explore these tactics over the next few weeks.

Which of these tactics sounds the most useful?  Do you see these patterns emerging in your play, even if you didn’t know the name of them?