Fundamental Chess Strategies

by GM Mackenzie Molner ( )

I recently participated in the World Amateur Team East. For those who don’t know about this tournament, it is the largest team tournament in the world and usually features over 300 teams, each of them made up of 4 players and sometimes one extra as an alternate. The top 4 players on the team need to be under 2200 on average. I have been playing this tournament since I was a child and look forward to playing every year with my friends. This is the first time it came back to being in person since the pandemic started. It was great to have it back to normal.

I had many interesting games at the tournament. One game stood out to me more than others because of who it was against. My second round game was against a young player who couldn’t have been older than 7 years old! Despite the young age he was rated almost 1900. My experience definitely gave me an advantage and I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the strategies that led me to win the game.

In terms of the best chess strategy for beginners, usually you will hear things like trade when you are ahead in material, pay attention to your opponent’s threats, and things of that nature. There are other more subtle ideas that can also play a big part in winning or losing a game. One of the best chess strategies I like to teach my students about is the importance of being able to control both color squares of the chess board. You will need to pay close attention to the placement of your pawns and which bishops you have remaining on the board in order to make sure you don’t end up creating a situation in which you can only protect one color square on the board. That situation ends up happening in the game, and it’s helpful to recognize in advance if something like that is around the corner.

Another important theme of the game is the value in knowing your openings well. It is of course very difficult to master chess openings and know every detail possible, but it is definitely important to have a plan for each of the standard moves and consider how your openings overlap with each other. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to play a King’s Indian setup against the English if you are typically playing the Slav Defense against 1. D4. The best thing you can do is to minimize the work you need to do by creating a group of openings that can blend together and form a repertoire for you. Once you do that, it’s important to make sure you have a good understanding of the mainlines and most common ideas.

Have a look at the game with my comments added to get a better sense of how these things can take place in a game.