The objective of material states that you should try to win pieces and/or pawns when you can because the player with more material can overpower his opponent’s forces.
Now we will look at 5 other practical things you can do to help you achieve your material objective.
- Take material when you can (unless you see a good reason why you shouldn’t).
- Use tactics to win material
- Exchange pieces when you are ahead
- Force your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions
- Aim to create a local majority of forces in the right place
- Create a passed pawn (ideally a protected passed pawn)
Below you can see some instructive examples.
1. Take material when you can (take advantage of your opponent’s mistakes)
The first and easiest way to win material is to exploit your opponent’s mistakes. In the position below black just played the move Bf5 – attacking the white Qc2. What would you do here?
You might be surprised how often a beginner chess player would be thinking that their opponent wouldn’t make such an obvious mistake. There must be some hidden motive behind the move? And of course, you must keep in mind that it could be a trap, however, mistakes happen and in this position there is absolutely no reason to not take the bishop.
Don’t let your opponent get away with their mistakes just because you wrongly suspected it was a trap. Take material if you can get it, unless you see a good reason why you shouldn’t.
2. Use tactics to win material
A chess tactic is a move or combination of moves whereby you achieve an advantage. The field of chess tactics is a very large one and reaches far beyond the scope of this page.
Here is a few resources you can use to study tactics:
- The Best Chess Tactics Training Method
- Chess vocabulary: Important words in the language of tactics
- Tactics Course: 20 Important Chess Tactics Motifs
The idea of exchanging pieces when you are ahead is a very powerful one.
In the starting position of the example we just saw, it wasn’t very clear how white can use the extra bishop to our advantage. But as some remaining pieces were exchanged, the power of the extra piece becomes more evident since the opponent has less defensive resources.
Note that white will win this game by promoting one of his pawns. If you are ahead in material you should exchange pieces but avoid exchanging too many pawns because you will need them to make a new queen.
4. Force your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions
Forcing your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions can often give you the opportunity to win material. In the diagram below we will a study an example of this idea.
In this position it is white’s turn to move. Material is equal but black is in a bad situation since his pawns are targets to the white bishop. This gives white the opportunity to attack the black pawns and force black’s pieces into defensive positions (or else lose the pawns).
In the final position it is clear that white will capture the black king-side pawns and then turn his attention to the queen-side. The black king will not be able to provide support on the queen-side since he must keep an eye on white’s h-pawn.
The purpose of this example was to demonstrate the power of forcing your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions. By constantly adding pressure this way, you will often get opportunities to win material since your opponent simply cannot deal with all the threats anymore!
5. Create a local majority of forces
Creating a local majority of forces often brings opportunities to win material or achieve other important objectives.
In the next example you will notice that black is a pawn behind. It appears that black’s pieces are better developed but there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to increase his advantage. However, black can use a tactical trick to suddenly create a majority of forces on white’s king-side.
On the next move black will capture the pinned Nf3 and win material. The purpose of this exercise was to illustrate how creating a local majority of forces can lead to a position where you can potentially win material or achieve other objectives.
In essence, creating a local majority of forces is about creating a situation where you have more attackers than your opponent’s defenders. This “extra force” is what gives you the possibility of gaining control in that part of the board.
6. Create a passed pawn
Creating a passed pawn is a very effective way to get a material advantage, particularly towards the end stage of the game. There are two main reasons why a passed pawn can give you a material advantage:
- If the pawn gets to the other side of the board he can promote and become a much higher valued piece, ie. a queen.
- A passed pawn can force some of your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions.
In the example below material is equal and it is white’s turn to play.
Let’s fast forward a few moves after black tried to stop the passed pawn with his bishop and white used the time to bring his king to the action:
We eventually reach this position:
In the final position you should particularly note the role of white’s passed pawn. Black would ideally want to use his bishop to defend some of his weak pawns but he cannot leave the white passed pawn alone or else the pawn will promote.
The purpose of this example was to illustrate how a passed pawn can tie down a piece to a defensive role and in effect get a “material advantage” since your opponent cannot use his tied-down pieces to their full potential.
Next Lesson – How to play in chess positions that feature material imbalances
Previous Lesson – How to use a local majority of force to create a material advantage