I would like to know if there are any general guidelines which help determine, at what moment to occupy a center square or to just control it? Are there any books or articles that anyone know of which deal with the differences with example?

Also I am trying to understand what is the difference between controlling the center with pawns versus pieces.

  • 1
    IM Adam Hunt released a book called Chess Strategy: Move by Move that has a chapter on central control (approx. 50 pages) that I recommend. To cut a long story short, it depends on the type of opening you've chosen. Some hypermodern openings (English, Sicillian Dragon) emphasise piece control from afar. Others emphasise occupying with pawns (e.g. Ruy Lopez)
    – user1108
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 13:00
  • 2
    It absolutely isn't true that 'hypermodern openings are not seen that often at higher levels of play now'.
    – Diisciiple
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


Hypermodern theory , or controlling the center from a distance rather than occupying it immediately, came about in the early part of the 20th century as a new way of addressing the old problem of center control. However, as many knowledgeable people have pointed out, it's easier to try to get something from the start rather than giving it away first and then trying to get it back, and hypermodern openings are not seen that often at higher levels of play now. In other words, they don't feel that it's as good as the classical approach of contesting the center immediately, and I would certainly suggest that you first become proficient with those openings before attempting to specialize in hypermodern openings. But books from the early hypermodern period by Reti or Nimzowitsch for example will go into detail about that type of play. I haven't kept pace with what the more modern books on this subject might be. Distant center control is done by fianchettoing the B's on the "b" and "g" files. Attacking the enemy center pawns is done with the "c" and "f" pawns supported generally by the B's. Or you can control the center before your opponent has occupied it with initial prophylactic "c" pawn (Sicilian Defense) or "f" pawn (Dutch Defense) moves. Attacking the center this way would have to be done fairly early before development has been completed and it has been too solidly defended. The rationale is that by diverting/removing the enemy center pawns, you will then be left with the more important center pawns of your own with which to subsequently occupy that area.

  • Hypermodern openings are very popular today up to world championship level. Grunfeld, Indian, Nimzo structures qualify as hypermodern and they are used at the highest level.
    – Sint
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 9:17

I have played both systems and the following is based on my own experience and not from a publication.

There is subtle fact about central pawn pushes. Let me illustrate this with an example. Let us say we want to control the dark squares in the center. Imagine the two cases:

  1. With central pawn push. With d4 push your Queen has influence on d4 square. (Similarly, if you have a pawn on e4 and a rook on e1, then that rook's influence reaches e4.) Now, if the N appears on its natural square on f3, then you have two hits at the e5 square and two on the d4 square: Q + N (but not the pawn which does not protect itself!)

  2. Without central pawn push. Suppose we want to obtain the same control on d4 and e5 with non-central pawn pushes and pieces only. I tried the following set-up for the fun of it in my Blitz games (with good result in fact!): 1.f4, followed by Nf3. This achieves the two hits on the e5 square but the d4 square is hit only once, by the N. To add more without a central push, one fianchetos the Bishop. But this takes two more moves: b3 and Bb2. This gives two hits on d4 and three (B, N and pawn on f4) on e5.

So, central pawn advances bring FASTER control to the central squares from the pieces (two moves versus 4 moves in the examples).

I have decided for myself that pushing pawns to the center when allowed with either color is often easier to play.* Other than the reasoning above here are some more advantages that I can think of for pushing pawns in the center as early as possible:

  1. Faster development: Bishops open up immediately,
  2. Restricting opponent options, (In the above example of 1.f4 Black even has the sacrifice 1.e5 which is very good for them.)
  3. Pawn that are in the center themselves control the two squares that they attack,
  4. Fianchetoing bishops weaken the pawn structure on the flanks, specially on the side where you will castle.
  • Sicilian is an exception to me, although there again I have recently opted to play the Sveshnikov (this e5 push) which despite giving the hole on d5 gives me good control in the center and I found easier to play than say the Najdorff.

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