I'm slowly getting better at my chess skills.

The one thing that bugs me the most right now is knowing which piece to move after many of my pieces have been developed and the king has been castled.

Any move I make after the opening either seems trivial or will lead to 1-to-1 sacrifices. I'm trying to understand what approach I should follow after both my opponent and I move up our pieces to the point where we can no longer any with sacrificing them in a way that gives me an advantage.

Usually with beginners, they make some silly move so it's easy to know where to move my pieces. But with intermediate people I find it difficult to follow a consistent strategy after the first 10-15 moves.

I tried to use a chess helper to determine the next move, but couldn't quite understand the pattern and the moves it made felt arbitrary.


Usually each opening consists in a middle game plan rather than just a sequence of initial moves. This means that the criteria behind choosing this or that other opening must be driven by the specific middle game positions that one wants to achieve or is confident to play (driven by personal taste, skills or whichever other reason).

There are mainly two ways to develop sense of positions for middle game:

  • studying the opening thoroughly: this means taking a book written by experts on the subject analysing positions very deeply until the endgame. Classical openings (Ruy Lopez, Queen's gambit, Sicilian, King's Indian) are easy to play but extremely hard to master, therefore one cannot really play them without extensive knowledge (unless you want to fall back into your previous case, where players end up moving pieces randomly after a while)
  • looking at classical games by classical players: this is the evergreen advice but really it does help to understand what to do. Good players are such because they have a sense of how to treat specific positions and come up with sensible plans for the initiative. In general looking at GM games helps understanding how to convert small advantages into winning positions (at the end of the day, chess games are not won by throwing all your pieces at the opponent's King, rather by accumulating small advantages throughout the game and converting the resulting endgame position).
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This is a perplexing problem. You are not the only beginner it has troubled. Let us suppose that, during the opening, you have probably

  • developed at least three of your four minor pieces (knights and bishops) and
  • castled.

(Admittedly, depending on the position, these do not happen in every game. Exceptions are interesting and fairly frequent. Castling is occasionally omitted or deferred, for example. Nevertheless, despite exceptions, in a typical game, most competent opening players do indeed develop minor pieces and, when tempo allows, castle.)

Now comes the advice you have heard before, the advice that once frustrated me, too, as a beginner:

Make and begin to execute a plan.

So, what is this plan chess players are always talking about?

First let me tell you what a plan is usually not. A plan—especially so early in the game—is usually not a script; that is, a plan is usually not a predetermined sequence of many moves. A plan is also usually not a fixation; that is, a plan is usually not a goal from which the player singlemindedly, doggedly refuses to deviate.

Rather, a plan is

  • a set of things—sometimes as few as one or two things—the player would like if possible to do to improve the position in his or her favor, along with
  • a favorable judgment that the things in question are reasonably feasible to achieve.

At only slightly more advanced levels, a plan also necessarily assimilates

  • countermeasures against the opponent's plan,

but it is hard for a beginner to think of too many requirements at once; so, at least for the moment, let us focus on the first two of the three requirements.

Since a plan arises not in a vacuum but in response to a concrete position during a particular game, a plan seldom emerges except by assessment of the features of a particular position. This is best illustrated by example.

[FEN ""]
[Title "Classical time, 1885 v 1836. French Defense, Exchange Variation."]
[StartFlipped "0"]
[StartPly "18"]
[Event "Rated Classical game"]
[Site "https://lichess.org/qdEjEWRU"]
[Date "2018.10.18"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Mermaqs"]
[Black "cimrman44"]
[Result "1-0"]
[UTCDate "2018.10.18"]
[UTCTime "16:34:25"]
[WhiteElo "1885"]
[BlackElo "1836"] 
[WhiteRatingDiff "+10"]
[BlackRatingDiff "-9"] 
[Variant "Standard"] 
[TimeControl "900+15"]
[ECO "C01"] 
[Opening "French Defense: Exchange Variation"]
[Termination "Normal"]
[Annotator "lichess.org"]

1. e4 1... e6 2. d4 2... d5 3. exd5 3... exd5 4. Nf3 4... Nf6 5. Bd3 5... Be7 6. O-O 6... Bg4 7. Bg5 7... O-O 8. Nbd2 8... c6 9. c3 9... Nbd7 10. Qc2?! (10. Bf4 Re8) 10... Bh5?! (10... h6 11. Bxf6 Nxf6 12. Ne5 Qc7 13. Nxg4 Nxg4 14. g3 Nf6 15. Rae1 Rae8 16. Nf3 Bd6 17. Kg2) 11. Bxf6?! (11. Rae1 Re8) 11... Nxf6 12. Rae1 12... Bg6 13. Ne5 13... Re8 14. Nxg6 14... hxg6 15. Nf3 15... Qc7 16. Qd2 16... Bd6 17. g3 17... Rxe1 18. Rxe1 18... Re8 19. Rxe8+ 19... Nxe8 20. Qe3 20... Nf6 21. a3 21... Qe7 22. Qxe7 22... Bxe7 23. c4 23... Bd6 24. c5 24... Bc7 25. b4 25... Nd7 26. Nd2 26... f5 27. Kf1 27... Kf7 28. f4 28... Kf6 29. Nf3 29... Nf8 30. a4?! (30. Kf2) 30... Ne6 31. h4 31... a6?! (31... a5 32. bxa5 Bxa5 33. Kf2 b6 34. Ne5 bxc5 35. Nxc6 Bc3 36. dxc5 Nxc5 37. Bb5 Nb3 38. Ke2) 32. b5?! (32. a5) 32... axb5 33. axb5 33... Bb8? (33... b6 34. cxb6 Bxb6 35. bxc6 Ke7 36. c7 Nxc7 37. Ke2 Ne8 38. Ke3 Nf6 39. Ne5 Kd6 40. Nxg6) 34. b6 34... Nd8 35. Kf2 35... Nf7? (35... Ne6 36. Ke3 Kf7 37. Be2 Ke7 38. Bd1 Kf6 39. Ba4 Nd8 40. Bc2 Ne6 41. Nd2 Ke7 42. Kd3) 36. Be2? (36. Ne5 Bxe5 37. fxe5+ Ke6 38. Ke3 Ke7 39. Bc2 Nd8 40. g4 f4+ 41. Kxf4 Ne6+ 42. Ke3 g5) 36... Nh6? (36... Ke6 37. Nd2 Nd8 38. Ke3 Kf6 39. Nb3 Ke7 40. Na5 Ke6 41. Bd3 Kf6 42. Kd2 Ke6 43. Kc3) 37. Nd2? (37. Ne5 Ke6 38. Ba6 bxa6 39. Nxc6 Bc7 40. bxc7 Kd7 41. Ne7 Kxc7 42. Nxd5+ Kc6 43. Ne7+ Kd7) 37... Nf7 38. Nb3 38... Nd8 39. Na5 39... Ke6 40. Ke3 40... Kf6 41. g4?! (41. Nb3 Ke7 42. Kd3 Ne6 43. Na5 Nd8 44. Kc3 Kd7 45. Bf3 Ke6 46. Nb3 Kd7 47. Bd1 Ne6) 41... Ke6 42. h5 42... gxh5 43. gxh5 43... Kf6 44. Bf1 44... Ke6 45. Bh3 45... Kf6 46. Kf3?! (46. Bf1 g5 47. fxg5+ Kxg5 48. Bd3 Bh2 49. Kf2 f4 50. Kg2 Bg3 51. Nxb7 Nxb7 52. Ba6 Na5) 46... Ke6 47. Nb3 47... Kf6 48. Nd2?! (48. Nc1 Ne6 49. Ne2 g5 50. hxg6 Kxg6 51. Ke3 Kf6 52. Bg2 Kg6) 48... Ne6 49. Nb3 49... Bxf4 50. Na5 50... Bb8?! (50... Bd2 51. Nxb7) 51. Nxb7 51... Nxd4+ 52. Ke3 52... Nb3 53. Bg2 53... Ke5?? (53... Be5 54. Nd8 Bd4+ 55. Kd3 Bxc5 56. b7 Bd6 57. Nxc6 Nc5+ 58. Kd4 Nxb7 59. Kxd5 Bc5 60. Ne5) 54. Nd8? (54. Bf3) 54... Na5 55. Kd3 55... f4?? (55... Kf6) 56. Kc3 56... Kf6? (56... d4+ 57. Kb4 d3 58. Kxa5 Kd4 59. Ne6+ Ke3 60. Bxc6 d2 61. Ba4 f3 62. c6 f2 63. c7) 57. Kb4 57... Nc4?! (57... Ke7 58. Kxa5 Kxd8 59. Ka6 f3 60. Bxf3 Bf4 61. Kb7 Be3 62. Kxc6 Kc8 63. Bxd5 Bf2 64. Kb5) 58. Nxc6 58... Ne3?? (58... f3 59. Bxf3) 59. Nxb8 1-0

Diagrammed is an arbitrarily selected recent game from Lichess (with computer-provided annotation). Like you and me, the game's players are not masters, so not every move they make is the best one. The players are not beginners, either, however. Anyway, let us see how they play.

After 9... Nbd7, White has the move. The game has reached just the kind of position about which you have asked. The opening is over. Bishops and knights are in play. Kings are castled, so now White must decide what to do.

White finds two primary avenues of potential attack:

  1. the e-file, which is free of pawns; and
  2. the light-squared diagonal b1-h7, which White's light-squared bishop already controls.

White will attend to the e-file soon but for now he judges (perhaps inaccurately, but nevertheless) that Black's king is weak in the corner. White's plan therefore is to try for checkmate on h7.

When we say, "to try for checkmate," we do not necessarily mean that White believes that he will checkmate on h7. White might believe instead that, by threatening checkmate on h7, he may force Black to defensive maneuvers that weaken Black's position elsewhere. Even such defensive maneuvers can make White's plan a success. At any rate, over the board, White mounts pressure against h7 by 10. Qc2. Subsequently, White exchanges a piece for Black's Nc6, a defender. Attending also to plan avenue 1 earlier listed—White further places a rook on the e-file.

In the event, no midgame checkmate occurs, heavy pieces are swapped off, and the position after 22... Bxe7 is reached. Material remains equal. Has White's plan failed?

Not necessarily. Though it would exaggerate to call White's plan a great success, White does have a slightly better pawn structure (Black's pawns being doubled) and White has the move. Yet could not White have chosen a different plan that would have been a greater success? Answer: perhaps but remember that Black has been executing a plan, too. At any rate, 22... Bxe7 affords White the chance to develop a new plan.

A midgame checkmate is no longer possible but an endgame pawn promotion might be feasible. Because Black's king is on the kingside White resolves to try on the queenside via 23. c4. (Of course, I do not know what White is really thinking any more than you do. One can but infer from the moves.) I am not sure that the move White chooses, 23. c4, is a particularly strong move but, in this position, White is in little danger of losing even if his winning chances are not especially good. The move White chooses at the board is thus probably about as good as any and has the virtue at least that it does not passively surrender the initiative, such as it is, to Black.

I have purposely chosen a game in which nothing brilliant occurs. This is not a spectacular or even a very romantic game. This is an ordinary game between ordinary players with whom you and I are unacquainted; yet the game straightforwardly illustrates the way in which moves that follow the opening need not be aimless. It shows how players can develop and follow a plan.

During your next game, once your knights and bishops are in play and, probably, after you have castled, scan your opponent's position for a weak point. You need not look for checkmate as White in the sample game has done, but maybe your opponent has an ill-defended pawn against which you can mount pressure? Maybe there is an open or semi-open file down which you can start advancing rooks toward a square you control in enemy territory. Maybe, especially in games which do not open 1. e4, you can push a pawn or two to deny your opponent space, cramping his or her maneuvers. If you are playing a much stronger player—well, playing stronger players is good and necessary and you should do it—but a stronger player is likely to develop and execute a good plan before you can even start, throwing you back on the defensive; so, for purpose of practicing the making of plans, also mix a few players who are less strong among your opponents, if only so that you can gradually develop a feeling for the use of the initiative.

After the opening, as a general rule, do not delay. Do not waste moves. Find a target. Start piling multiple attackers against it. Consider maneuvers that may discomfit the target. Identify one or two alternate attacks to which you might suddenly shift. Defend when necessary but maintain at least a moderately aggressive spirit. Suddenly, you may see the point, coming to understand why one move is chosen over another as players enter the middlegame of chess.

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  • It seems that black has a very bad perception on where this game goes. I mean pawns should be positioned according to the bishop, but they did not minded that. That made white's position significant better. – George Eco Mar 18 '19 at 15:06
  • @GeorgeEco Quite right. Usually one uses master games for illustration but I have purposely chosen an arbitrary nonmaster game for this illustration. The nonmastery does show in the play. – thb Mar 18 '19 at 15:22
  • You picked a very nice example to show what you were talking about indeed. – George Eco Mar 18 '19 at 15:23

You need to read some chess books but general advise from a master is, Get center in opening and if you got it in opening in middle game try to keep center and make space using is. If you lost center or gave center by intention to your opponent, your first middle game action plan should be attacking that center that usually start by exchanging and engaging pawns with opponent’s central pawns

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You are asking what to do when the opening is over, which implies that you think you know what to do while still in the opening. Im not sure that you do.

Every move in every opening is motivated by trying to prepare for what comes next, and as the opening progresses the preparation becomes more specific. 1.e4 follows very general principles. Gain some space, control the center, mobilize some pieces. Blacks reply is more informative.

1..e5 Follow suit, try to keep up.

1..e6 Encourage White to be ambitious. Hope it backfires.

1..c6 Play for an easy development.

1..d5 Provoke White to try and punish me. Force him to fight.

1..c5 Let White have the center. Counterattack later.

1..d6/g6 Be noncommittal. Wait to see Whites intentions.

These are very vague and simplistic of course, but as the game progresses both players firm up their 'wish list' and try to forward their own plans while frustrating what they guess to be their opponents. Sometimes the focus is quite specific (is that square weak?) Sometimes it remains less specific (Do my pieces move freely?) but by the time the "opening is over" (Pawn structure stabilized, Rooks connected, whatever definition you prefer) you can ask if you have achieved your ambitions. If you have, follow up consistently. If not, reassess the situation. Limit the damage.

Opening books for advanced players tend to assume that you already know this, and often focus on analyzing variations. Beginners books may go no further than "get your pieces out!"

Two old, but still very readable books that stress the links between opening and middle game are The ideas behind the Chess Openings by Reuben Fine, and A Guide to Chess Openings by Leonard Barden (published in several editions with slightly different titles and coauthored with Tim Harding) Both of these are a bit outdated, but if you understand them you will be a stronger player than you are now.

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This moment is crucial. It is called the middle game.

A game of chess typically has three phases.

  • Opening
  • Middle game
  • End game

Learning tactics and basic principles of advanced chess play can help all of these phases. What I would recommend you though, is to do this:

Learn good endgame. Endgame theory is limited, as the whole logic focus on fewer pieces and pawns. Learn about pawn structures and conditions that can end you up in a winning endgame position. You can win a game easily, if you have played to reach a winning position, but first you should know what an endgame winning position is.

Second thing you should know, a thing that most people focus on first, is an opening. You shall choose an appropriate opening to end you up to possible positions you can win. Knowing endgame can make you choose which opening to focus as white.

Hardest part is to learn to respond correct on any opening as black. This needs a load of hours to study basic variations. The basic principles are always present to help you out, but knowing the theory makes you a real master.

Finally there is the middle game you are so concerned. If you can do a 1 for 1 trade, for each piece, then you might end up into a position with Kings and pawns. If your pawns and you King position is better, (endgame theory) you are winning.

In the middle game though it isn't always that simple. There might be tactical tricks, like skewers, pinned pieces and other principles that you have to train so you can see they can exist. You can see then the potential of the position.

Many players focus on winning material on a trade. It is good, but you should never forget that you can win more than that.

  • Better positioning
  • Better control on the center
  • A Zugzwang position for the opponent.

Hopefully this helps you out, because this is actually briefly what better chess is all about.

you should also take a look at this topic: How do I learn to understand the middlegame?

And yes, a few books on chess strategies should help you out.

A final suggestion would be a program like Chessmaster (FOR PC). 10th edition and later contained a whole interactive academy on how to learn better chess. Strongly recommend it, because I have seen people who were weak turn into significant stronger in a year or so.

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Read a book; see how the masters do it.

You learned how to walk from observing.

Chess Praxis by Nimzowitsch or Art of Attack by Vladimir Vukovic.

Your thoughts are a subset of something

A framework organizes them.

A book is that framework you're missing.

It helps you look for ideas to accomplish.

Without a book, you don't know what to look for. You are sailing without a map.

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