Last week, we started working our way into the middle-game by examining the further development of our forces (the pawns and pieces) at the opening’s conclusion and the middle-game’s start. The transition between the opening and middle-game is a great opportunity to further activate your pawns and pieces. This further activation of your forces allows you to create more opportunities for meaningful attacks. Remember, it’s better to build up your forces around and in the board’s center than launch early attacks that may cost you material and eventually the game. We ended our game on move fifteen. Let’s look at move sixteen and talk about the middle-game in greater detail.
White plays 16. dxc5 and Black responds with 16…bxc5. On the surface, this looks like a simple trade of pawns. However, look at White’s pawn structure before playing move sixteen. White has a pawn chain that runs from b2 to d4. A pawn chain is simple a diagonal arrangement of adjacent pawns in which the pawns protect one another. Thus, the b2 pawn protects the c3 pawn which, in turn, protects the d4 pawn. Pawn chain’s are an example of good pawn structure which we talked about previously in this series of articles. White’s pawn chain, combined with the Bishop on e3 and Knight on f3, gave White a strong central presence, especially regarding the d4 square. Look at the position after move sixteen for both White and Black. Specifically, let’s look at centralized pawns. Black’s c5 pawn controls d4. Black also has both the d and e pawns ready to move towards the center. Now let’s look at White’s centralized pawns. That right, there are no centralized pawns, although White’s c3 pawn does attack d4.
The point here is that White had good centralized pawn structure but exchanged pawns with Black and subsequently lost that structure. If you find yourself in a similar position as White, look at Black’s position, specifically any centralized pawns. There’s an old adage I repeat to my beginning students multiple times during each class, “don’t capture pawns or pieces unless it helps your game.” White’s pawn trade didn’t help him. When we really get into middle-game exchanges of material next week, we’ll look at some trading principles you can use to avoid problems later on in the game. On move seventeen, White plays 17. Bxf4. Again, never capture (or trade) pawns or pieces unless it helps you! This was a dreadful move!
First off, Black’s Knight on f4 wasn’t an immediate threat. Yes, you should deal with immediate threats. However, if you can’t find an immediate threat, don’t just capture or trade material without having a really good reason. While it’s an even trade, minor piece for minor piece, Black gains a positional advantage. White’s seventeenth move invites Black to capture back with his Queen, 17…Qxf4. Now, Black has two Rooks and the Queen stacked on the f file, which creates a fair amount of pressure on White’s position. While you could say that Black is bringing the Queen out early, something you generally don’t want to do, Black has a good reason for doing so. Note that White’s Knight on f3 is stuck for the moment. If the White Knight on f3 moves, Black’s Queen gets to snap off the f2 pawn with check.. White now plays 18. Re1.
One of the things you want to do during the transition between the opening and middle-game is to position your Rooks on open or half open files. You often find a Rook on the e file, aiding in the control of the board’s center. However, White really needs to address Black’s mounting pressure on White’s King-side. Black now plays 18…Ne5, building up his potential attack on White’s King-side. Black is further activating his forces with purpose. His pieces are coordinated and coordination is what we’ll now look at!
Throughout the entire game, your pawns and pieces must work together in a coordinated manner. Therefore, you’ll want to concentrate your forces on the side of the board you want to launch an attack from. Beginners often have their pawns and pieces spread out all over the board, rather than having them concentrated in one area, such as the board’s center. In our game, Black’s pieces are working with one another to build up an attack on the King-side of the board. Coordination is critical in chess!
White plays 19. Be2. Why did White make this move? Because White counted attackers and defenders, a crucial middle-game skill for beginners and strong players alike! If we look at White’s Knight on f3, prior to White’s nineteenth move, we can see that Black has four attackers, the two Rooks, the Queen and the Knight that just moved to e5. White has three defenders, the Knight on d2, the Queen on d1 and the pawn on g2. When attacking, you want to have more attackers than defenders and when defending, you want to have more defenders than attackers. White’s nineteenth move evens the numbers up. Black is on the offense and White is on the defense!
Black now plays 19…Rg5, which may seem like an odd move to beginners. However, as Long as the Black Rook is on g5, the White pawn in g2 cannot capture during any exchanges along the f file because the g2 pawn is now pinned to White’s King. Remember, the rules state that you cannot move a pawn or piece if it exposes your King to check. We’ll look at this tactic next week. White plays 20. Kf1, which removes the King from the pin and Black follows up with 20…Ng4, moving the Black forces closer to the White King. Play through the rest of the game on your own. By now, you’ve probably noticed that Black has really positioned his forces in a coordinated way. Black has further developed his material during this transitional phase and has all of his pieces on active squares. White still has a Rook stuck on a1 and is having to do nothing but defend his King. You win more games attacking than you do defending. See you next week when we’ll start looking at tactics which can change a losing game into a winner. See you then!