What is Chess Strategy?
Looking for the best chess strategy resources? You’ve come to the right place.
Chess strategy is analyzing a position for recognizable patterns and then developing long-term plans to improve the placement of one’s pieces. Learning chess strategy is one of the most difficult tasks in chess improvement. Mastering chess strategy requires knowing basic strategic rules, how to combine those rules, and also when there are exceptions to the rules. Recognizing strategic ideas will also tap into pattern recognition to help identify those plans.
How to Improve Chess Strategy?
About half of ChessGoals survey takers study chess strategy on a regular basis. There is far too much information on strategy to write on one page, so the goal of this page is to point the aspiring chess master to the top strategy resources. It’s important to have fun on the chess improvement journey, so pick a study method that appeals to you.
- Chess Strategy Books
- Chess.com Interactive Strategy Lessons
- Chess Strategy Videos
- Improving Chess Strategy with Game Analysis
Chess Strategy Books
The top ChessGoals recommendation for players rated 1000-1800 is to read two Silman strategy books in order. If you enjoy having reading prose with your chess books, this is an excellent one-two punch. The books are a bit older, and the lines will not always match the top engine moves. With that said, if you first read How to Reassess Your Chess, and follow it up with The Amateur’s Mind, you will have a strong foundation of strategic ideas.
How to Reassess Your Chess
The book contains 9 parts with tests at the end of each part to test what you’ve learned. Part One discusses the concept of imbalances in chess. Finding imbalances and exploiting them is one of the best ways to beat the opposition when they are not making many mistakes.
Parts Two and Three discuss the knights, bishops and rooks specifically. Learning how to put these pieces on their best squares will prepare you for tactical success when battles unfold on the board. Part Four is about chess psychology, and while it may seem less important than the first three chapters, for some players psychological aspects are one of the factors that can really help improve their game. Part Five looks into weak points in the enemy position.
Once you get through the first five parts, you’ll be ready to explore some more complex concepts in parts 6-9, or move onto The Amateur’s Mind.
The Amateur’s Mind
After completing at least the first five parts of Reassess Your Chess (or the whole book), we recommend delving into The Amateur’s Mind. Silman will cover many overlapping topics, but from a different angle. Amateur players often have strategic misconceptions that the author seeks to straighten out throughout the course of the book. The first chapter is on the battle of bishops and knights, one of the key imbalances in chess. Next it goes into space and, as Silman calls it, ‘the confusing concept of pawn structure.’
The second half of the book starts with development and the initiative. The beauty of these concepts is that they are required above the intermediate level to coerce your opponent into making more mistakes. Players will make less unforced errors at the advanced level. Towards the end of the book Silman goes into king hunting, rook play, and mental psychology.
All of the chapters in this book are extremely useful, and we recommend reading the full book. At the end there is a test to check your understanding.
Two other recommended book resources that are common among chessgoals survey takers:
- Yusupov’s Build your Chess 1 – Part of a nine course series that also goes into other phases of the game (tactics, openings, endgames). Working through all nine books is recommended for a comprehensive series to work on all aspects of the game. These books are good for players between 1200 and master.
- GM Preparation Positional Play – A very difficult book, but it can be helpful for advanced and expert level players! Ambitious players rated 1600+, this book will definitely challenge your positional muscles.
- Not exactly a book, but the chess.com strategy articles come highly recommended as well. There is new content posted regularly by top players and coaches.
Chess.com Interactive Strategy Lessons
The chess.com lessons are a goldmine for chess improvement. Back in 2019 I helped chess.com conduct a study on the effectiveness of their lessons for players rated under 1000. After following over 200 players for a six month period, the results were summarized in Chess.com Lessons vs Improvement: The Stats. The effect of lessons were very strong on chess improvement after accounting for other factors like age and prior games played. Chess.com lessons aren’t just for players under 1000 though as they have courses for 1600+ players in their mastery series.
Some recommended strategy courses to get you started:
The first strategy course in the Think Like a Chess Player series is titled Making the Most of Your Pieces. The course starts with how to use each of the pieces individually, and then wraps up with a section on merging those ideas together. As a huge fan of knight outposts, I especially enjoyed the lesson on Using Your Knights.
Did you know a knight can reach 8 squares from the center of the board, but only two from the corner?! Thinking about piece mobility is an important factor in strategic chess play.
A nice follow-up course in the Think Like a Chess Player series is called Reading The Board. Pawns are the soul of the chess board and often they should dictate the course of the game when there aren’t any immediate tactics available. This course goes into pawn structure, pawn chains, space, when to trade pieces, and more!
My favorite lesson in the course is titled Push, Capture, or Ignore. I see this in games of my students quite often and it’s an important concept to learn about. When two pawns attack each other, there is tension on the board that needs to be carefully analyzed.
The Advanced Chess Concepts and Mastery sections go deeper into chess strategy lessons once you feel you have the above concepts mastered. All of the lessons can be found at Chess.com Chess Lessons.
Chess Strategy Videos
There are many good YouTube channels that teach chess strategy. Specifically, we recommend the high-production channels of the St. Louis Chess Club and Chess.com.
The most popular channel for beginners is the St. Louis Chess Club.
They frequently have titled players, including Grandmasters, giving lectures to students at the club. The question and answer format in their videos can give the feeling of being part of a live lecture.
Chess.com’s YouTube Channel also has a ton of instructional content and game analysis, and is geared towards beginners through advanced players. Recently with all of the top level events going on, chess.com has been adding videos highlighting key moments in games from your favorite Grandmasters.
Improving Chess Strategy with Game Analysis
Lastly, another common way to study strategy is through game review and analysis. There are a crazy number of resources to find game analysis, so we will focus on a few of the main ones.
Studying with a chess coach can be helpful, because they can specifically hone in on your own positional weaknesses and teach targeted strategic concepts. Chess coaches can be found at a local club, chess.com coaches page, or lichess coaches page.
In addition to the STL Chess Club and Chess.com, there are a few channels that go over games with strategic concepts in their analysis.
- Agadmator is a favorite among beginners, and he has a lot of instructive videos on top games.
- IM John Bartholomew has a fantastic series on climbing the rating ladder and more recently fundamental chess concepts. People rave about John’s chess coaching, and they are right!
- GM Simon Williams (aka the Ginger GM) brings a fun style to chess! He is an attacking player which is refreshing to see at such a high level. Simon has a large following in the ChessGoals community.
Books and Magazines
There are a lot of great books and magazines with annotated chess games. The Move By Move series at Everyman Chess comes highly recommended. The books break down the strategic concepts and have explanations that beginners through intermediates will find helpful.
Capablanca move by move
I’ve used this book with students and it’s my favorite game analysis book to learn strategic concepts. Even though Capablanca was a top player for many years, his games are full of concepts that are useful to players of all levels. The same cannot be said of the most recent top level games. The book has sections on attack, defense, and imbalances (Silman, anyone?). Play through these games and try to predict what Capablanca is going to play. Soon you may find yourself playing in a similar style!
‘Capa’ is often regarded as one of the top chess players of all time, and he had a very positional style that was difficult for his opponents to overcome.
There are many ways to improve your chess strategy, but we think the most important ones are covered here. The next steps to improve your chess strategy:
- Find a copy of Silman’s Reassess Your Chess, whether it be from the library, Amazon.com, or borrowing from a friend
- Work through the chess.com lessons
- Find a YouTube or Twitch channel and enjoy some chess content
- Analyze games with thoughts from strong players
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