Do not let the term beginner fool you because these strategic motifs apply at all levels. Beginner chess strategy forms the foundation you build upon for the rest of your chess career.
They are the fundamental principles of chess strategy, and the ones beginners must know to make playing chess an enjoyable experience. They are what guide you to finding the right moves when there is no direct contact between the pieces.
You can use them to create a plan or strategy for yourself and find weaknesses in your opponent's position. When your opponents neglect these principles, they will create weaknesses for you to attack.
The five vital principles of beginner chess strategy are:
- King safety.
- Good piece play.
- Pawn formations.
Centralization Is Crucial From the First Move
From the start of the game, both players focus on controlling the center of the board. However, controlling the center squares, e4. d4. E5, and d5, is vital in all three phases of the game and not just in the opening.
On the chessboard, the shortest distance to all four quarters of the chessboard is from the center. This saves time in getting your pieces to join the attack or aid in defending.
Centralization of your pieces allows them to control more squares. A knight on e4 controls eight squares, but a knight on b4 only controls six squares.
When you place your pieces in the center, they reach deeper into your opponent's position. This added pressure can inhibit the mobility of your opponent's pieces.
When it comes to beginner chess strategy, centralization is a strategic motif you can make your whole game strategy
Control of the center allows you to launch an attack on the flank. This central control enables you to meet a flank attack with a counterattack in the center.
When your opponent launches a flank attack, always see if you can respond with play in the center.
In the game between Yusupov and Romanishin, White could play on the queenside thanks to his excellent control of the center. The queenside play eventually led to Yusupov having ideally placed knights in the center on e4 and d5.
The position (see diagram on the right) arose after move 21…Bh7. All three white minor pieces are centrally placed, and the rook on b5 occupies the only open file.
Artur Yusupov - Oleg Romanishin, 1983.04.21, 1-0, 50th USSR Championship Round 13, Moscow URS
Without a Safe King, All Is Lost
You can play on after losing a rook or a queen, but you cannot continue the game after your king is captured. Keeping the king safe is more challenging in the opening and middlegame because many more pieces are on the board.
One way to get your king to safety is to castle. Castling not only gets your king to safety but also helps activate a rook. When you castle long, the rook comes to a central file – the d-file.
However, it is essential to evaluate the position before you castle. You can castle too early!
After 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bg5 we reach the following position.
The correct move for Black is 6…h6 followed by …g5 if necessary. Black can play …Be6, …Qd7, and 0-0-0 when the king reaches a safe haven on c8.
If instead of 6…h6, Black plays 6…0-0, then 7.Nd5 leads to the king getting exposed after White captures on f6.
Here is another example where a capture on f6 destroys the shelter around the black king.
Instead of regaining the piece with 20.Qxb5, a much stronger move is 20.Nxh6+, making use of the discovered attack by the rook on the knight. 20…gxh6 allows 21.Bxf6 when Black must give up the queen or face checkmate after Qg3.
After 20…Kh8 there followed 21.Bxf6 gxf6 22.Qh3 Bc8 23.Nf5+. Black resigned in this position because there is no way to prevent checkmate on g7 – 23…Kg8 (only move) 24.Qg4+ Kh7 25.Qg7 checkmate.
Fortunately, many good books on openings will tell you when it is safe to castle. The more games you play, the more successful you will become at making king safety a part of your beginner chess strategy.
Leaving your king in the center is not good for beginners or stronger players. Tal showed how to take advantage of a king in the center in his game against Bilek.
Mikhail Tal - Istvan Bilek, 1964.06.06, 1-0, Amsterdam Interzonal Round 13, Amsterdam NED
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
Prophylaxis, like centralization, can be an element of your beginner chess strategy you make the theme of your game. Constantly preventing your opponents' plans is sure to make them frustrated.
The most straightforward application of prophylaxis is to ask, "Why did my opponent play that move?" or, "If it was my opponent's turn to move, what would they play now?"
One of the best ways to find candidate moves for your opponents is to look for forcing moves – checks, captures, and attacks. These are the moves that can do the most damage to your position.
Before you play your move, see what forcing moves your opponent has in response.
Prophylaxis is frequently seen in many openings. In the Benoni Defense piece, exchanges can favor black because Black has less space than White.
White often plays prophylactic moves to restrict the black pieces and plans. Here is an excellent example of how prophylaxis helped white dominate the game.
Black played 7…a6 intending to gain space on the queenside with …b5. This expansion is a common strategy for Black in the Benoni Defense. White shut this down with 8.a4.
This forced black to continue with another strategy – exchange the bad bishop with Be7-g5. 8…Ng6 frees the e7-square for the bishop and makes the knight more active.
When your opponent places a knight on g6 or b6, an excellent way to control it is with g3 or b3. Once again, White was alert to his opponent's plan and played 9.g3.
This dual-purpose move keeps the knight from going to f4 or h4 and supports the h4 advance.
9…Be7 got met with 10.h4 preventing …Bg5 and starting an attack on the king after …0-0. White did not rush to develop his bishops or castle but concentrated on first stopping Black's plans.
This game only lasted another six moves!
Jan Hein Donner - Witold Balcerowski, 1962.09.21, 1-0, Varna ol (Men) qual-C Round 6, Varna BUL
Bad Pieces = Bad Beginner Chess Strategy
All it takes is one bad piece to spoil your whole position. Winning a chess game is challenging even with equal material, so do not handicap yourself with bad pieces.
Look at the poorly placed knights in the final position of the game above.
The knight on h8 is clearly badly placed, but the knight on looks like a good piece. Unfortunately for Black, the only way to save material is with …g6, which weakens the knight.
All White needs is to eliminate the defender on e7 with Nxe7+ and follow up with Bg5 to win the knight.
Thanks to their long range, the white bishops are still influential even if one of them is still on its starting square. The bishop on f1 attacks the pawn on a6, tying down the rook to defend it, and helps control the b5 square.
All beginners learn early that a bishop blocked by its pawns is a bad bishop. The pawn on e6 turns Black's light-squared bishop into a bad bishop in The French Defense.
The logical solution is to play …Bf5 or …Bg4 before …e6, but even here, you must be cautious. The problem with playing …e6 after developing the bishop is that the pawn cuts the bishop off from the queenside.
In many games, White seeks immediate counterplay by attacking the b7 pawn. This is in keeping with the advice to play on the opposite side of the board to a poorly placed piece.
Velislav Kukov - Vladimir Petkov, 2010.04.13, 1-0, Bulgarian Championship Round 9, Kyustendil BUL
Pawn Power: Don't Play Soulless Chess
If we are to believe Philidor, "Pawns are the soul of chess." GM Simon Williams (aka the GingerGM) suggests we view pawns as the skeleton of the position.
No matter how you see them, pawns are a vital element of beginner chess strategy. The humble pawn has a considerable impact on the pieces.
A fianchettoed bishop on g2 can become a non-factor when facing pawns on b7, c6, and d5. In such positions, the bishop bites on granite.
Always try to create as few weaknesses as possible in front of the castled king. When giving your king an escape square, h3 is often better than g3 because it only weakens one square (g3), while g3 weakens two squares (f3 and h3).
Like pieces, there is much more to pawn structures than first appears.
For example, if you meet Bc4 with …Be6 and recapture with fxe6, you could have double-pawns on the e-file. Instead of being a weakness, these double pawns can give you greater control of the center and keep a white knight from landing on d5.
Of course, doubled isolated pawns are almost always a weakness, but if they open files towards the enemy king, you have adequate compensation.
Your pawn weaknesses aren't a handicap if you deliver checkmate!
Another factor to consider is your doubled pawns' impact on your other pawns. Playing gxf3 leaves the h-pawn isolated and can make it easier or your opponent to win the endgame.
Erich Cohn - Akiba Rubinstein, 1909.02.28, 0-1, St. Petersburg Round 10, St. Petersburg RUE
The strategic motifs in your beginner chess strategy will help you get better at chess. When starting out, do not rush to learn too much.
This information serves you best when applied, and you will be surprised at how little it takes to know more than your opponents. Before learning more about prophylaxis, ensure you ask, "What does my opponent want?" after every move.
Reading about exchange sacrifices means nothing if you never play them in your games.
When analyzing your games consider the five elements of beginner chess strategy whenever you make a mistake. Did you lose because you didn't understand the pawn structure, or was it a poorly placed piece?
The more experience you gain, the deeper your understanding of chess strategy will grow. None of us will ever master the beginner chess strategy, or we'd never lose a game.
We can minimize the number of losses we suffer by applying these principles in our games.