The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics in Chess

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From an outside perspective, the terms strategy and tactics may seem so closely related that they could be interchangeable. This often times times ends up being a somewhat difficult concept for new chess players to break, but it is important to do so in order to better understand each term and adapt your chess game play to suit them.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between strategy and tactics, and take a look at how you can use each to aide the other. These are important things to learn, especially if you are a beginning player, but thankfully they are pretty easy to understand once you take a look at what each term means.

First, let us talk about tactics. In chess, tactics are the moves, or short combinations and chains of moves, you make as you play the game. The goal of tactics is to advance your own position while simultaneously reducing the number of options your opponent has. There are many common types of tactics which divide them into categories, and make tactics easier to study and remember. Some of these include the fork, the pin, and the skewer. In each of these examples, there are dozens of different tactics which can be learned and used against your opponents. Each type of tactic offers a specific set of advantages, and there are different scenarios in which each type of tactic is best applied. This is why chess players often spend hours and hours studying tactics – there are many examples to learn by, and the more tactics you have in your arsenal, the more likely you will be to deploy them successfully in a real world scenario.

Now, strategy differs from tactics in that a strategy is the long-term goal you hope to achieve by way of successfully deploying tactics against your opponent. If this seems confusing, think about it as if you were making a to-do list. Your overall goal of your to-do list may be to clean your bedroom, and each item on the list is a step you need to take in order to get the room clean. In this simple example, cleaning the room is the strategy by which you will complete your list, and checking off items on the list is the tactic you will employ to complete that strategy. In short, you use tactics to enact strategy and win strategic objectives.

In terms of chess itself, the objective is obviously to checkmate your opponent. To do that, you may decide upon a strategy of eliminating as many of your opponent’s pieces as possible in order to leave the king vulnerable to checkmate. You would then employ tactics to reduce the number of pieces your opponent controls. This is the basic idea of how tactics and strategy differ, as well as how they each relate to one another.

It is also important to note that you can never completely separate strategy from tactics or vice versa. Although the two concepts have separate definitions, even a player who claims no strategy and instead just plays tactics still will have an overarching strategy to those tactics, even if it is subconscious. Likewise, there is no way in chess to enact a strategy without relying on tactics to make that strategy happen. Even simply reacting to your opponent and opting for a positional style of play is, in fact, a strategy. In the famous words of the band Rush, “i you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Many chess players (especially new ones) subscribe to the theory that chess is 99% tactics. And while this may be true in terms of the raw moves which are made, you do not simply stumble upon the correct position in which to deploy all those tactics you so painstakingly memorized. No, you rely upon strategy to help you set those tactics up and steer your opponent in the direction you want them to go so that you can employ your tactics. If that remaining 1% is where the strategy of chess lives, it is a pretty big 1%.

Moreover, since you cannot hope to force your opponent to make every single move exactly how you would like them to (what would be the fun in that, anyway, right?), you have to have some strategy in your game play. If this were not the case, everyone would simply memorize all of the moves the grand masters made in their world-championship games, and each person would just play through that move list. But of course this is not how it goes in real life, and your opponent is not going to do that. You could decide that you are going to play that exact move set no matter what your opponent does, and you would likely lose the game as a result. This is where strategy comes in – you have to adapt your tactics to what your opponent is doing and how they are playing the game.

We hope that this article has helped you to realize that while strategy and tactics are in fact distinct, separate concepts in chess, they are in fact pretty closely related, and do in fact rely on one another in order to function. As you develop your own strategies, think about which tactics you can make use of which will best help you to achieve your strategic goals. Likewise, try to study how your opponents play, and see if you can work out what kind of strategy they have in mind based on the tactics they are playing. This type of study will refine your edge as a chess player, and will add to your already growing repertoire of chess tactics.

You can also, of course, study both tactics and strategy here on ChessFox. You can take our 10-Day Chess Challenge to hone your skills in a more guided manner, or you can go into our training rooms to practice all aspects of your chess gameplay. In any case, keep studying and keep playing!