I am a novice in chess. After about ten moves, I sometimes get into a situation where I am neither attacking nor defending and really can't figure out what my next move should be (that is I don't want to launch a premature attack, but not getting any offense from the opponent too). Is this common? and what should I do in such a situation?


What should be the general attitude while playing the game? of course, the goal is to win, but rather, what should be in the back of the mind when moving pieces? Should it be always according to a plan or is there something else?

4 Answers 4


Help your pieces so they can help you.

Source: Paul Morphy.

The situation you describe is quite common. You find yourself in a position where there is no clear course of action. In these cases, I urge you to:

  1. Identify your worst placed piece
  2. Implement a short plan to improve that piece (no longer than 3 moves)

In the example below, which is position 41 of the quizzes in Mastering Chess Strategy by Johan Hellsten, we see that it's an early middle game with no major attacking or defensive duties for either side. Neither are there simplifying opportunities.

With White to move, we note that the a1-Rook is not doing anything. How can we activate it? Well, Rooks belong on open or semi-open files. The f1-Rook is already on a semi-open file, so it would be great to play Rae1. But the Queen is in the way. This led to the following plan being executed:

[FEN "2bq1r1k/rp4pp/p1p3n1/5p2/3P4/1BP2N1P/PP4P1/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 1"]
[White "Kristjansson"]
[Black "Sokolov"]

  1. Qd2            b5            
  2. Rae1           Qd6           

If you find that you really can't decide on a move, then

When in doubt, move a piece, not a pawn.

Source: The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess by Andrew Soltis.

This is because if the piece move is poor, you can often rectify the mistake by moving it back. Not so with pawns.

In this example (game 149 of Mastering Chess Strategy), the centre is closed implying that play should be on the wings, so White plays 1. a4?!, instead of the flexible 1. O-O* (the King is almost certain to castle kingside anyway, and this also prevents Black's queenside play). The problem with 1. a4 is that Black gets a big space advantage and his King is still stuck in the middle, whereas 1. O-O doesn't suffer from this. Let's take a look:

[FEN "1rbq1rk1/1p1nbppp/p2p1n2/2pPp3/2P1P3/P1NB1N1P/1P3PP1/R1BQK2R w KQ - 0 1"]
[White "Gurevich"]
[Black "Piket"]

  1. a4 (1. O-O b5 2. cxb5 axb5 3. Nxb5 Nxe4 4. Na7)            Nh5           
  2. Ne2            g6            
  3. g4             Ng7           
  4. Bh6            Nf6           
  5. Ng3            Kh8           
  6. Qc2            Bd7           
  7. a5             b5            
  8. axb6ep         Qxb6          
  9. Ra2            a5            

Last but not least, regarding planning. Yes, it is advisable to have a series of short term plans (usually 3 moves or so) and to remain alert to tactical opportunities and threats. From John Nunn's Understanding Chess Middlegames on the section called Losing the Thread (emphasis is mine):

Typical symptoms of this [playing poorly from a superior position] are planlessness, playing from move to move without any overall strategy, and spending too much time on moves.

*OK, castling isn't exactly a reversible decision, but it is more flexible, in the example position, than 1. a4?!

  • Thanks for the answer. That is great advise. Could you also give links to the articles you have mentioned? Could you look at the update and give an answer to that too?
    – c00der
    Oct 19, 2016 at 14:58
  • @user7032246 - I'll add some examples when I get chance (the reason why this is such a short answer is because I'm at work).
    – user1108
    Oct 19, 2016 at 15:00
  • @user7032246: regarding plans, yes it's useful to have them in the back of your mind, but also being flexible to look for tactical opportunities when they come up. I'll try to address that better in a revised answer.
    – user1108
    Oct 19, 2016 at 15:01
  • not in a hurry at all. Again, thanks a lot for the direction you gave.
    – c00der
    Oct 19, 2016 at 15:05


Go to Amazon and do a search for "Complete Chess Course" and purchase a used copy of either Fred Reinfeld's or I.A. Horowitz' book. It is right up your alley. They teach you classic chess in a course format and that gives you a good footing. You'll make simple moves that make sense.

You gotta walk before you run.

Recommended - Link: https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Chess-Course-Beginning-Reinfeld/dp/1941270247


The reponse for this situation you described, in which every chess player found himself, shoud be learning how to make a strategy

As GM Savielly Tartakower said :

Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do; strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do

You have to ask yourself "What am I going to do to win this game ?"

Your can decide that your strategy will be a direct attack on the king, or that you will try to gain a positional advantage (this decision can be determined by the position, but also by you playing style). It's the part of the game when you have to take time for thinking and coming with an idea.

Then, when you have a strategy, you will need to build a tactic to fulfill it and the question here is "How am I going to do it ?" (actually, the succession of moves you will play) Is there an exploitable fail in your opponent pawn structure ? a hole that can be occupied by one of your pieces ? is there a weakness in the king's defense ? etc.

Strategy require toughts, tactics require observation (Max Euwe)

So my advice is to look for books about GM's startegies, thinkings and ways of coming with a plan and to learn from them.


Start by making a plan based on the assumption that your opponent will "waste" moves, e.g. by moving the same piece back and forth between two squares until directly threatened. Opponents have been know to do this, especially novices.

For instance, in the first position shown in Bad Bishop's answer, White has several things he wants to do. 1) "Connect" his rooks by moving his queen off the first rank (e.g. Qd2). 2) Strengthen his control of the e file by moving a rook there (R a1- e1) after the queen move, since his f rook is already doing good work on the f file 3) move Ne5 to gain control of that square. If Black exchanges, knights, recapture with the e1 rook, and you have a "big" piece on a strong central square (Black has no black squared bishop to chase it off e5).

The Black moves given in the example, b5 and Qd6 are "passive" and don't counter White's "creeping" centralization.

Chess is basically a "race." You and your opponent start with "level" positions at the beginning. This can be true even early in the midgame when you are "neither attacking nor defending." There's always something to do. The only question is can your opponent prevent you from doing it (in the above example, the answer is no). Whoever activates his pieces and executes first is likely to win.

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