I think the middlegame is one of the most difficult areas of chess to improve in because there are no easy rules to follow like the opening or the endgame, and as a result very often you find yourself run out of ideas after 20 or 25 moves. In this post I will describe my ideas about the middlegame and what I have learned in my own improvement process.
Know the Plans Coming Out of the Opening
One of the most important things to do while studying openings is to understand what kind of middlegames certain openings will lead to, and what type of plans you should have in these middlegames.
This game is an example of what I mean. When I am playing black against d4 openings I try to get the queens off the board early on in the game, and if my opponent allows that then I know what kind of plans work in that structure.
In the game above I play 12…Bb4 with the clear idea of exchanging my bishop for his knight, and saddling him with double isolated pawns on the c file. I love my bishops, and almost never give up a bishop pair for anything, but this position is an exception due the weakness you saddle white with, and after that white has no play on the queenside.
In this particular game white creates a further weakness for himself on the open g file, and I shift my efforts on the king side, and specially against this weakness and keep putting pressure on white, and eventually win the game. This brings me to the second point about planning in the middlegame.
Exploiting Your Opponent’s Weakness
All your attention should be towards identifying a weakness in your opponent’s camp – it could be a weak square, or a doubled pawn, or undefended piece and once you have identified that weakness you should be focused on exploiting it.
The other side of this coin is that you shouldn’t be creating weaknesses in your own camp, and when you are giving up squares or creating a structure with a backward pawn you should know how you are going to defend that weakness, and if there is anything else you can do to distract your opponent from exploiting that weakness.
Improve your pieces
The more mobility your pieces have the better they are, and this is the simplest and easiest principle to understand. You look for outposts for knights, open files for your rooks, and open diagonals for your bishops, and then place these pieces there. And perhaps the best outcome of any middlegame is creating a passed pawn.
Similarly, you are always looking to make the position of your pieces worse than it is – you can take away squares from a knight or lock your enemy’s bishop behind your pawn wall.
Exchanging your bad pieces for your opponent’s good pieces
At all times you should be evaluating which of your pieces are worse than your opponent’s pieces and force a trade on them. Sometimes this will be a dark squared bishop for a knight as in the game above, and at others it will be a knight for a bishop if your opponent allows it. Every trade that increases the range of your remaining pieces, and reduces the range of your opponent’s pieces is favorable to you, and you should try to make them happen.
Improve Your Position Slowly
Finally, I think the hardest thing to do is to play in a manner that you improve your position slowly. Don’t do anything flashy, don’t get scared by your opponent’s ideas – just keep improving your position slowly while you look for tactics. Don’t make unnecessary trades, and harm your pawn structure by too many pawn moves. Play it slow and calm, and work towards improving your position, and wait for your opponent to make a mistake.