A polite duplicate asked last week by @57Jimmy mentions an incidental matter I find interesting:

But when all the pieces are out, well placed, and I have castled, I have no idea about what I should do next. It might sound silly, but I feel that everything would compromise the balance I have just created.

Here, @57Jimmy does not refer to a particular game of chess but speaks of the transition from the opening to the middlegame in chess generally. I, too, have sometimes felt the same way. Perhaps some chess masters, maybe including the late world champion Petrosian, have felt this way, too.

Admittedly, it is not easy to distill a focused question out of @57Jimmy's interesting observation but the observation is sufficiently interesting (at least to me) that I shall try.

Question: how does chess reward or punish players who, going from the opening into the middlegame, seek to maintain the balance to which @57Jimmy refers?

I will give my own answer below but am more interested in answers others might give.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Brian Towers, Herb Wolfe, GloriaVictis, SmallChess, Marco Feb 4 at 14:58

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.


From an objective/theoretical standpoint, a player is "allowed" to disrupt the balance if he already has some kind of advantage (material, more development, etc). Such a disruption allows him to transform his existing advantage into another type of advantage. For example, if you have a development advantage, it's often beneficial to aggressively break through in the centre as a means of creating an attack.

But if the game is equal, one does not have the means to disrupt the balance (again, purely from an objective standpoint), and maintaining the balance is recommended.

However, trying to play idly is not equivalent to maintaining the balance. Playing idly is punished by chess, unless one's position is so rock solid that such passive play is permitted. The term "balance" means both players' advantages and disadvantages cancel out nicely to yield an equal game. Carrying out a plan and even changing the structure of the game is recommended, since it doesn't necessarily try to unbalance the game.

TL;DR: Chess usually punishes players who passively try to keep the game from changing. But chess also punishes players who try to disrupt the balance without just cause (i.e., some advantage). Going with the natural flow of the game will change things, but also keep the game in balance.


The first chapter of Axel Smith's Pump Up Your Rating is named No Pawn Lever, No Plan, and he hit the bull's eye with that title. Plans come out of pawn structure and are usually about implementing one of the possible pawn levers in the position (it's when you move a pawn to square where it can be captured by an opposing pawn; also called a pawn break).

But when all the pieces are out, well placed, and I have castled, I have no idea about what I should do next.

Says nothing about the pawns. Or about any of the opponent's pieces, for that matter.

That "balance" is a red herring. If you have no plan, then how do you know your pieces are well placed. First decide what you should be trying to achieve, then see where to place your pieces. Including in the early opening.

Most classical openings try to achieve the e4/d4 pawn center, so 1.e4 and 1.d4 are the most important first moves. After 1.e4 e5, the most important plans are about pawn breaks -- achieving a favourable d2-d4 (with or without playing c2-c3 first) or f2-f4. Often the pieces are moved out first because of all sorts of details, but the goal is always to attack pawn e5 with a white pawn.

Similarly 1.d4 d5 2.c4 has always been the most important reply to the Queen's Gambit (2.e4 is less good because of tactical reasons, it can't be easily recaptured, but the idea logical), while 1.d4 d5 openings without either have a stodgy reputation as it takes so long for the action to really start.

The beginner advice about developing your pieces, castling early etc is important, but they should have been told at the same time to try to achieve pawn breaks.


Yes! While openings tend to be positional play for both sides such as following basics for eg developing pieces and controlling the centre, the middle game is tactically played with much more room for making detrimental errors though usually not with one move. Balance is not about how the pieces look on the 64 squares after the opening has ended but how each player commands it's army thereafter. Aggressive play on one side and safe play on the other can mean the difference between a match ending in the middle game or reaching the end.


Chess is a finely balanced game. During the early opening, one can seldom deploy sufficient force to stop one's opponent from building a balanced position of defense and attack. Nevertheless, tension gradually builds into the middlegame. In most games, eventually, the tension will overbear a defense's ability to resist.

However, the balance is subtle. Defense does indeed often prosper for a while, which is why players tend to prefer early moves that both defend and attack. Nevertheless, middlegames can suddenly explode defenses and, even when middlegames do not explode, they do tend to erode defenses bit by bit.

Consider: pieces are exchanged, leaving defensive squares one can no longer cover. Pawns too are exchanged, exposing both positions to attacks that are more direct. Opening balance can be a good feeling but you can't hold it. Not quite.

And this is part of the mystique of chess, isn't it?

Therefore, you want a slightly different feeling in chess. Defend, surely. Seek opening balance to a point, but, as the middlegame emerges, recognize when the time has come to discharge one's own balance via an attack that disrupts the opponent's balance. Experience suggests that this is the sort of approach that chess most often rewards.

Much of chess is in knowing when to commit to the attack. Not too late.


A fairly rare exception exists. Occasionally, diagonal chains of pawns will interlock in the center, particularly in games that begin 1. d4. The interlock can force play out onto the wings. If the interlock forces both players out onto the same wing, then a type of position can arise in which some or all of the heavy pieces have been exchanged and in which the knights and bishops, which remain, are more effective in defense than attack.

But you won't see many games like this.


Here is an example of the more common kind of game, a game in which, recognizing that defense cannot indefinitely hold, the opponents discharge the tension and commit to the attack. (Black is a strong grandmaster. White is a onetime world champion.)

[fen ""]
[startflipped "0"]
[startply "14"]
[title "V. Kramnik v. M. V. Krasenkow, Corus 2003"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. Bb3 O-O 7. O-O d5 8. exd5 Nxd5 9. h3 Nb6 10. Re1 h6 11. Nbd2 Qxd3 12. Nxe5 Qg3 13. Qf3 Qxf3 14. Ndxf3 Ne7 15. Nd3 Bd6 16. Bf4 Ng6 17. Bxd6 cxd6 18. Re4 a5 19. Rd4 Rd8 20. Rd1 d5 21. Nc5 Ne7 22. a4 Re8 23. R4d2 Nd7 24. Nxd7 Bxd7 25. c4 dxc4 26. Rxd7 cxb3 27. Rxb7 Rab8 28. Rdd7 Nc6 29. Rxf7 Rxb7 30. Rxb7 Re4 31. Rxb3 Rxa4 32. Rb6 Rc4 33. g3 a4 34. h4 Nd4 35. Ne5 Rc5 36. Rb8+ Kh7 37. Nd7 Rb5 38. Ra8 Ne2+ 39. Kg2 Rxb2 40. h5 Nc3 41. Ne5 Rb5 42. f4 Ne4 43. g4 Nf6 44. Ng6 Ng8 45. Nf8+ Kh8 46. Ng6+ Kh7 47. Kf3 Rb3+ 48. Ke4 a3 49. Nf8+ Kh8 50. Ng6+ Kh7 51. g5 hxg5 52. fxg5 Rb4+ 53. Kf5 Rb5+ 54. Kg4 Rb4+ 55. Kf5 Rb5+ 56. Kg4 Rb4+ 57. Nf4 a2 58. Rxa2 Ne7 59. Ra8 Ng8 60. Ra7 Kh8 61. Ra8 Kh7 62. Rf8 Kh8 63. Kf3 Rb3+ 64. Ke4 Rb4+ 65. Ke5 Rb5+ 66. Nd5 Ra5 67. Rd8 Kh7 68. g6+ Kh8 69. h6 Ra7 70. Ne3 gxh6 71. Nf5 Ra5+ 72. Kf4 Ra4+ 73. Kf3 Ra3+ 74. Kg4 Ra4+ 75. Kh5 Ra7 76. Rf8 Rb7 77. Kh4 Rb4+ 78. Kg3 Rb6 79. Ne7 Kg7 80. Rf7+ 1-0

(Source: chessgames.com.)

  • 1
    Michal Krasenkow is a strong grandmaster. – RemcoGerlich Feb 2 at 20:04

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