The Chess Middlegame - Part Two

A competent chess player will construct a plan in the middlegame and will take all actions needed to implement it on the board. 

The middlegame plan should take into account the most important strategic factors and should also be feasible. 

Many plans can be considered in a given position, but the experienced player will select among the best. 

Failure to form a plan will lead to inconsistent, disordered play.

But how should one make a plan? 

Following the next example will answer many questions. 

It shows how the formulation of a plan can be based on strategic considerations.

Slav Defence

1.d4 d5
2.c4 c6
3.Nc3 Nf6
4.cxd5 cxd5
5.Bf4 Bf5
6.Nf3 e6
7.e3 Bd6
8.Bxd6 Qxd6
9.Qa4+ Nc6
10.Bb5 0-0
11.Bxc6 Qxc6
12.Qxc6 bxc6

WHITE is required to make a plan. Just moving his pieces is not enough; moves need to be coordinated to a plan. 

The strategic factors involved in this position are the semi-open c-file, the semi-open b-file, the strong e4 and e5 squares and also the outstanding weakness of the backward black c-pawn. 

WHITE does not worry about his king's position, as it is impossible for BLACK to attack him without the queen and in such a closed position. 

WHITE plans to further press the c-pawn and also prevent it from advancing. 

If BLACK manages to advance the c-pawn, the weakness will no longer exist. So WHITE's plan is to place the Ra1 on c1 and the Nf3 on e5, applying strong pressure on c6. 

Pressure on opponent's weaknesses will usually lead to either a material advantage or a positional advantage (for the opponent's pieces will be defending passively). 

So WHITE calculates the possibility 13.Ne5 first. 

BLACK will possibly reply 13.Rfc8, threatening to play c6-c5 and get rid of the weakness. 

WHITE continues his analysis, noticing that it is vital not to allow c6-c5. 

To do this he needs to quickly play Ra1-c1 and move the Nc3 out of the c file. 

A nice square would be a4, for it services many purposes : frees the rook, controls c5 and also controls b2, in case BLACK plays Rab8 at some time (BLACK should do this to create some counterplay, instead of passively defending, but it just would not work on a protected white b-pawn). 

This plan is actually good with any move order, but it is a little better to start with 13.Na4, since this move 'consolidates' WHITE's position and also allows the knight to move to c5 if necessary.

13.Na4 Ne4
14.Ne5 Rfc8
15.f3! Nf6

WHITE first drove the black knight away with 15.f3 and now prepares to take the pawn. 

After capturing it, his new plan will be to exchange all the pieces in order to reach a pawn endgame with an extra pawn, which he will normally win. 

To exchange all or some of the pieces is referred to as 'simplification' and is probably the most common of the plans, applied when one has a material advantage.

BLACK is out of resources and notices regretfully that he must lose a pawn. He has no sufficient counterplay and chances are that he will lose. 

His only plan may be to rely on tactics. His next move offers a little trap, which may catch a careless WHITE. He plays 


BLACK sees that if WHITE captures the pawn with Nxc6, his knight will be pinned. This may cause him some problems, but WHITE is also able to capture with Rxc6. 

In this case, after exchanging rooks, BLACK can play Ra8-c8 threatening both the knight and the rook-winning check on c1! 

The situation would thus come upside-down, but WHITE has a last resource in this case : a knight check on e7, which allows him to win easily. To remove this possibility, BLACK moves his king to f8, hoping his opponent will play 17.Rxc6. But WHITE is experienced enough to simply play


...and cancel out all pins and traps; he will capture the pawn at his comfort. 

This little example illustrated how to make a plan based on the inherent strategic patterns and accomplish it while checking its feasibility through tactics calculation.

To read more about chess and how to play well, you can return to the Chess Homepage by clicking here

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