Chess Strategy: How to formulate a plan (And techniques to improve your strategies)

While the term “strategy” is often used to refer to a whole host of skills related to being a great chess player, strategy itself is a fundamental part of your skill set, and one which requires practice and discipline to master. The strategy skill relates heavily to your ability to evaluate the board in front of you, as well as to visualize the board and see what tactics or motifs may apply to the situation at hand. In this article, we will discuss techniques you can use to improve your chess strategy, as well as discuss how it relates to the other 7 Skills, and where its place is in your skill arsenal.

It is important to address here that there is a fundamental difference between tactics and strategy. While many new players (and even some experienced players) consider tactics and strategy to be interchangeable, the two are different topics entirely and, while closely related, are very much not the same thing. Before discussing the differences, though, let us take a moment to define strategy as it relates to chess. Afterward, we will talk about how strategy differentiates from tactical considerations, as well as how the two relate and in fact work together.

Strategy in chess can be defined simply as your ability to find and formulate a game plan which best serves the needs of your current position. Since the best move you can make at any given time is directly related to the position of each piece on the board and what tactics may currently be at play, strategy is needed to determine how you should proceed at any given time. Mastery of this skill is a great indicator of your understanding of a position – your ability to recognize beneficial and optimal moves is a function of your understanding of strategy. Likewise, becoming proficient in this aspect of the 7 Skills may help you to identify weaknesses in your opponent’s ability to plan and strategize.

The question you will be asking yourself each time it is your turn to make a move is essentially “what is the best move I can make, given the current layout of the board?” This is where strategy comes into play – you will need to be able to recognize and identify factors which will aide in your decision making process. Memorization is a good start, but it is not the only factor – you will eventually (and routinely) come across situations where pure memorization of moves, motifs, and tactics cannot help you. This is where you will employ strategy to take those memorized factors into account and see how you can apply them to the unique position in front of you.

Look at the board in front of you. Use your Evaluation skill on the board to determine how much progress you and your opponent have made toward objectives, and run through your Calculation techniques to determine what threats, targets and motifs may exist. Finally, visualize how each move you could make would play out. Doing each of these things are fundamental parts of the 7 Skills, and they all will help you ultimately to decide your move. The combination and employment of these techniques, along with recognizing unique positions of which you can take advantage, is how strategy in chess works. Since chess is a game of strategy and tactics, using strategy to employ tactics is your overall goal as a chess player.

While strategy in chess is useful for helping you out of situations immediately present before you, the real skill in strategy is using these techniques to help you create an overall plan for the game as a whole. Your long-term strategy will determine which tactics you choose to employ, as well as how you will react to the moves your opponent may make. This is the key distinction between tactics and strategy – tactics are focused on immediate maneuvers and are merely pieces of your overall strategy for the game. Many have claimed that “chess is 99% tactics”, but this simply is not true. Tactics are very important, but without a proper strategy guiding them, you are essentially implementing those tactics blindly.

To practice improving your strategy, you will analyze the positions of each piece and determine what tactics you can employ based on your current positioning and material advantage (or disadvantage). For instance, if you have noticed that your opponent has a strong pawn structure, you may choose tactics which either attack the pawn structure directly, or maneuver through it. Alternatively, you may have low king safety, and therefore will need to create a strategy which protects your king to the maximum possible level while still advancing your position. Working to recognize these situations and determine what to do will improve your strategy as a whole.

Since tactics are the short term function of an over arching strategy, it is important to use the other skills you have learned to predict and determine how your use of tactics may affect your overall strategy. While short term material gains may be a pleasant thought, they can have a negative impact on your overall strategy if they position your pieces weakly or give favor to your opponent due to a bad or poorly thought out move. Maintaining equilibrium throughout your tactics and maneuvers is an example of well-thought-out strategy.

If you’re still having difficulty grasping the differences between tactics and strategy, don’t worry. Many people stumble over this distinction, so you aren’t alone. The most important thing to remember is that even if chess really was “99% tactics” as many people have erroneously claimed, that last 1% would be strategy – specifically, how all of those tactics are tied together to form a plan to achieve the goal – getting that checkmate.

We have provided a number of exercises which you can use to practice your strategy skill in the Strategy Training Room. Make use of these exercises, and also study the differences between strategy and tactics. These will get you well on your way to not only understanding those differences, but employing tactics to inform your strategy.