6 Ways to achieve a material advantage in chess

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material objective in chessThe 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.

They are:

  1. Take material when you can (unless you see a good reason why you shouldn’t).
  2. Use tactics to win material
  3. Exchange pieces when you are ahead
  4. Force your opponent’s pieces into defensive positions
  5. Aim to create a local majority of forces in the right place
  6. Create a passed pawn (ideally a protected passed pawn)

Below you can see some instructive examples.

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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?

take material

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:

3. Exchange pieces when you are ahead

If you have more material than your opponent, it is usually a good idea to exchange some of the remaining pieces. Similarly, if you are behind in material, you should keep as many pieces on the board as possible and avoid exchanges. The example on this page will illustrate why this is so.

In the position below white has a material advantage thanks to his extra bishop, but it isn’t clear how to immediately use this to his advantage.

exchange when ahead in material 1
How can white highlight his material advantage (extra bishop)?

The idea of exchanging pieces when you are ahead is a very powerful one.

White initiates a series of material exchanges.
White initiates a series of material exchanges.

 

Once the rooks are exchanged, white plays Bc7. Now white will totally dominate the position since black can't defend against the bishop's threats.
Once the rooks are exchanged, white plays Bc7. Now white will totally dominate the position since black can’t defend against the bishop’s threats.

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).

White plays Bf3, forcing black to defend the b7-pawn by playing Ba6.
White plays Bf3, forcing black to defend the b7-pawn by playing Ba6.

 

White now plays Be4 - attacking g6 and forcing the black king to run to its defense.
White now plays Be4 – attacking g6 and forcing the black king to run to its defense.

 

force defensive pieces 3
Kg5. White uses his king and bishop to overpower the g6-pawn. On the next two moves both the g6 and h5-pawn will fall.

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.

Nf4! Attacks the Qe2. If exf4 then Qxe2 wins the white queen. Black exploits the pin on the e-file to bring his knight into the action and create a majority of forces on the king-side. The white queen has to move.
Nf4! Attacks the Qe2. If exf4 then Qxe2 wins the white queen. Black exploits the pin on the e-file to bring his knight into the action and create a majority of forces on the king-side. The white queen has to move.

 

Qd1. The white queen goes to d1 in an attempt to still help defend the Nf3.
Qd1. The white queen goes to d1 in an attempt to still help defend the Nf3.

 

Nxg2! Black removes an important defender of the Nf3 and lures the white king to the g2-square which will cause the Nf3 to be pinned by Bb7
Nxg2! Black removes an important defender of the Nf3 and lures the white king to the g2-square which will cause the Nf3 to be pinned by Bb7

 

Rf8! Black loads more pressure onto the pinned Nf3. On the next move black might capture the knight and convert his local majority of forces into a material advantage.
Rf8! Black loads more pressure onto the pinned Nf3. On the next move black might capture the knight and convert his local majority of forces into a material advantage.

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:

  1. If the pawn gets to the other side of the board he can promote and become a much higher valued piece, ie. a queen.
  2. 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.

create passed pawn 1b
What would you do as white?

 

b5! creates a powerful passed pawn that will keep the black bishop busy.
b5! creates a powerful passed pawn that will keep the black bishop busy.

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:

create passed pawn 3
The black king tries to defend d6 but after Bc3! he needs to return to f7 to defend g7…

We eventually reach this position:

create passed pawn 4
Black is forced to play Bb8. White can win in a few ways now. One way is to play Kd7 – Be1 – Bg3 – Bxd6

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.

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