Strategy is a strict adherence to rules. Not the legal rules – like moving bishops only diagonally – but guidelines, such as “Control the center.” These guidelines are favorably set by you making it nearly impossible to lose, unless you’re drinking.
However, the opponent may not be well-informed in strategy. Failure to comply, well-informed or not, results in unforgiving consequences for the violator.
Make your opponent respect your strategy, and don’t rush anything. Every time he breaks one of your rules, punish him with the consequence of breaking that rule.
- Did he exchange a bishop for a knight in an open game? Now take away his advanced posts using pawns and release the potential of your long-range pieces.
- Did he launch a kingside pawn roller with all of his pieces on the queenside? Take advantage of the space you’re creating and nullify his anemic attack.
- Is the challenger creating opening *faux pas* by pushing his pawns aimlessly? Infiltrate the weak points e.g. holes.
These tactics – moving of the forces (pawns and pieces) – are the bridges between positions that satisfy your strategy.
Crossing the bridge i.e. performing the tactic leads to the net conversion of one or more positive imbalances. Notice I said net. Some players will fight for queenside space and disastrously give up the center and development in the process.
It’s all about assessing the situation. If that gain of space leads to a forced win, great. Otherwise, you’re going to have to put up a herculean effort managing his counter-play. Avoiding this mistake is just a matter of sealing the opponent in and making sure the execution of the tactic doesn’t give him chances.
Whose Strategy Is Better?
Usually, we get our guidelines from grandmasters and more commonly from IMs. Compliance with their successful (but verified) principles will result in your rating rocketing to prominence.
On the other hand, following advice from other amateurs isn’t taboo as long as they show they’re also improving. Your mileage may vary.
Testing a Guideline
At any rate, flawed guidelines will not be powerful enough to influence the nature of the board. The result is your opponent’s army running amok unpredictably (ending usually in your defeat). Your strategy will have to be taken back to the body shop for improvement.
At the body shop (some place with internet and snacks) strategy can easily be fixed by studying games from higher-rated players at least a few hundred points higher than your level. Look for moves that violate your guideline but lead to an advantage (more space, safer positioning, catching up in development, and/or more).
For example say that you believe you should capture any hanging pawn because several others told you it’s a good idea. It makes sense, anyway: you agreed that more firepower leads to an easier win. During a game where you’re two pawns up, you decide to use the restroom and go for a sip of water in celebration of your position.
When you return you find yourself in check. Subsequently you are checkmated in five moves because of an unforeseen tactic – a confusing experience. Surely being two pawns up guaranteed winning?
Now you have your guideline that needs repair.
- You then search for games in a database from masters (or if you’re a master, then FMs) where they violated the guideline (ignored the free pawns) but ended up with a superior position.
- Look for the preferred objective that the master (or FM, etc.) followed instead of gaining material, instead of winning those free pawns. Was he focused on converting his dynamic play into a secure, static position that would bind his opponent and cause him to cry deep down inside?
- Make an exception for your guideline, if any. If your guideline is strong, you may have a few exceptions – at most. Bishops are stronger than knights in open endgames **except** when there’s pawns on only one side of the board.
If you find yourself constantly making exceptions for your guideline, the guideline itself may be an exception to some other, strong guideline. g2-g4 should be launched except if you castled kingside. g2-g4 is correct unless the f4 square creates an outpost for the enemy’s pieces. After discovering a few more exceptions, you’ll discover the stronger guideline: Don’t endanger your king. Discard the old guideline for the novel, stronger one.
The Big Picture
Scrutinize as much as you can, then scrutinize some more. When someone tells you, “X rule should be followed”, apply X to several games by grandmasters, IMs, or anyone clearly better than you. If it’s constantly being violated, it’s probably not useful.