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My usual middlegame strategy is to gain an advantage, however small (say a pawn), and convert it to a win in the endgame. I position my pieces and plan attacks accordingly, so that I can grab the small advantage I need. I don't actively hunt for the opponent's king, and prefer to first gain an advantage, so I can exchange pieces and win. So the entire game grinds on.

That said, I don't (usually) miss a checkmate if my opponent blunders in the middlegame. On the whole, though, I prefer taking the game to the endgame, even if my advantage is significant (~3 points).

However, I've seen players who actively attack the king in the middlegame itself. They position their pieces in such a manner that they threaten checkmate, and seem to plan to finish up the game in the middlegame. They try to take advantage of the castled king's reduced mobility, and checkmate him. The success of this strategy depends, it seems (based on what I've seen), on both the opponent's skill level as well as on luck.

My question

I wonder, as a general rule, what should one's middlegame strategy be: should one actively hunt the opponent's king in the middlegame itself, looking for a checkmate, or try to gain an advantage which can be converted to a victory later?

closed as primarily opinion-based by GloriaVictis, Glorfindel, Herb Wolfe, Brian Towers, Ywapom Jan 30 '18 at 0:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Some would say that an extra pawn was a huge advantage, control of an open file a big advantage, the two Bishops a distinct advantage. Steinitz taught that smaller advantages can be converted into larger advantages. Winning a game usually means winning several small battles. If you have an extra pawn, good technique often involves offering exchanges that your opponent will probably want to avoid. This can allow you to transfer your pieces toward the enemy King without them being exchanged off. In general, force him to make unpalatable choices. – Philip Roe Jan 28 '18 at 19:13
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There is no overarching middlegame strategy that trumps all other strategies.

Both middlegame strategies listed are viable general strategies to play for, if the position allows it. What makes a difference are your own preferences; if you love tactics and mating attacks then you should probably go for middlegame positions that allow you to play in that manner, and similarly if you like calmer positions you should probably go for positions that aren't as sharp. Objectively speaking there isn't really much saying that one playing style is better than the other.

  • Basically, you mean that if one has an exact plan in mind, attacking the opponent's king is a reasonable enough idea, right? – Harry Weasley Jan 29 '18 at 4:00
  • @HarryWeasley Not exactly. The nature of the position dictates what plan you should follow. Sometimes that is the plan of attacking the enemy king, while other times it is the plan of pushing a passed pawn towards its promotion square. – Scounged Jan 29 '18 at 8:26
  • That I understand :) What I mean is that neither plan seems to have an inherent flaw, based on your answer, and it's my style that influences my choice. Thanks! I've accepted your answer, and upvoted it too! – Harry Weasley Jan 29 '18 at 8:44
  • @HarryWeasley Ok, all good as long as there is no miscommunication. Yes, your preferred playing style should dictate what type of position you should try to aim for. – Scounged Jan 29 '18 at 16:25
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As Scounged mentioned, there is indeed no specific strategy that trumps all others.

However, note that the middle game can be seen as the tipping point of the game. It is usually what defines who wins the game in the end. My playstyle would be to balance both attack and defense, but ultimately, it is based on preference, when it comes to positions that seem equal.

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There is no general rule. Most of the time, the middlegame strategy will depend on the position you get out of the opening. Personal preferences can play a role as well, but typically players would pick an opening based on their preference for a certain middlegame (which results from that particular opening). It is not a good idea trying to force your preference onto any position you get.

For instance in open positions it is often not a good idea to force a pawn storm on the enemy king. Conversely in very wild position piece activity and attacking things might be more important than calm quiet play or perhaps winning a pawn somewhere.

Of course, if the position allows for various playing styles, you would go with whatever you are more comfortable with. However actually checkmating rarely happens in the middlegame (of games between reasonably advanced players).

  • So, provided I know what I'm doing, I can follow either game plan? – Harry Weasley Jan 29 '18 at 3:58
  • @HarryWeasley: You should do what the position on the board asks for. In most cases you don't have a choice really. That is basically what all the answers here are telling you. You do have a choice of influencing the game (and respective plans) by picking an opening that suits you. – user1583209 Jan 29 '18 at 8:53
  • @Harry. And remember your opponents role. If he moves all of his pieces to the Q-side to attack you there, he is inviting you to attack his K-side (and gambling that you wont succeed) – Philip Roe Jan 29 '18 at 16:02
  • @user1583209 Does this mean that I should be equally adept at playing positionally and tactically? I thought most top players had only one preference. – Harry Weasley Jan 29 '18 at 17:20
  • @HarryWeasley Top players are certainly able to play both positionally and tactically. They might have a preference for one or the other, but you can't reach that level unless you are reasonably strong in all aspects of the game (including opening/endgame/tactics/positional play....). If you want to improve your chess you should improve all aspects equally. – user1583209 Jan 29 '18 at 19:37
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To say that choosing to attack the King should be based on personal style or the nature of the position is certainly true but not all that helpful.

The best book on this is the Art of Attack in Chess by Vukojic. He explains what he calls the preconditions for the attack. Presence of attackers, absence of defenders, mobility, weak points...

These things need to be in place before the attack happens. The player with a taste for attack must first bring about the preconditions, and if they cannot do so, they should not attack. They should not even persist in trying to create the preconditions. Play through some of the games where Tal decided not to attack and ask why not.

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