Chess Imbalances: The Secret To Forming Winning Plans

Many players have a difficult time finding the right plan in the middlegame, because there are so many moves to choose from.

To form a good plan, you should identify and consider all the imbalances in the position.

In his book “How to Reassess your Chess“, Jeremy Silman introduced 7 important chess imbalances that you should consider in every game you play.

Let’s go over each chess imbalance to see what they are.

1. Superior minor piece

The bishop and knight are both referred to as the minor pieces. But although the knight and bishop are both worth roughly 3 points, the strength of your minor pieces will depend on the concrete position on the board.

Bishops prefer open positions and can play on two sides of the board. While knights prefer closed positions and should be placed close to the center of the board to be active.

You should keep these general rules of thumb in mind when trading a bishop for a knight and vice versa.

When both sides have a bishop, you’ll have to consider if they are bishops of the same color or opposite colors.

If they are bishops of the same color, you normally want to place your own pawns on the opposite colors and fixate your opponent’s pawns on the same color.

This way, your own pawns don’t inhibit your bishop’s movement, and your opponent’s pawns will become targets for your bishop.

If the bishops are of opposite colors, the person with the initiative and attack normally has the advantage. Since the opponent’s bishop can’t help to defend.

Finally, if both players have a knight, the knight closer to the center is normally the stronger one.

2. Pawn structure

The pawns are the soul of the game. And the pawn structure has a large influence on what type of game you’ll play.

When assessing the strengths and weaknesses of pawn structures, you want to look for four different types of pawns: double pawns, passed pawns, isolated pawns, and backward pawns.

Double pawns are normally considered a weakness since they hinder each other’s movement and can’t protect each other.

Passed pawns are a strength, because your opponent will need to assign a permanent guard to prevent them from promoting.

Isolated pawns are a long-term weakness because they can’t be protected by other pawns. But they can often offer short-term dynamic play.

Backward pawns are also a weakness because they can’t be defended by other pawns, and advancing them is often difficult.

3. Space

You can think of all the squares behind your own pawns as the space that you have captured on the board.

By moving your pawns forward in the opening and middlegame, you can grab a lot of space.

White has a large space advantage over black.

Having more space than your opponent is a useful advantage because it lets you maneuver your pieces around more easily.

While having little space makes it difficult to develop your pieces and maneuver them into action.

Moreover, if you have very little space to work with, it’s also very difficult to switch your focus from one side of the board to the other.

Space advantage becomes less significant when pieces are traded off. So if you have the space advantage, you want to keep pieces on the board as long as possible.

4. Material imbalance

Each chess piece is worth a number of points. Sometimes both players can have the same total number of points but different pieces on the board.

We already looked at the common knight vs bishop imbalance. Another material imbalance that occurs on the board frequently is the two minor pieces for a rook and pawn.

Normally the two minor pieces are better unless the extra pawn is close to promoting.

If you look to sacrifice to create an attack, you might also be familiar with the minor piece vs pawns imbalance.

In this case, the minor piece is normally stronger (especially if it’s a bishop) unless the pawns are close to the promotion square.

Finally, a piece imbalance you might come across sometimes is the two rooks for a queen and pawn.

The queen is stronger in open positions because it’s easier to find double attacks. The two rooks are stronger in closed positions in which you can prevent the queen from infiltrating.

5. Control of important files, ranks, diagonals and squares

I already mentioned it’s important to pay attention to pawn structures and target your opponent’s weak pawns.

But even if there are no weak pawns in the position, the pawns structure will show you where to play on the board.

Most games will focus around a single important diagonal, file, rank or square.

Controlling these key areas on the board will give you a clear advantage and can often become a springboard for a future attack.

6. Development

A successful attack on your opponent will normally require all your pieces to help out. So it’s important to develop your pieces as soon as possible and not to move the same piece over and over again in the opening.

If your opponent is undeveloped and/or still has the king stuck in the center, you can try to checkmate your opponent’s king right away by opening the central files and diagonals.

However, it’s important to realize that a lead in development is a temporary advantage. If you make two or three waiting moves, your opponent will quickly catch up in development.

So it’s important to try and transform your lead in development into another long-term strategic advantage.

White has a clear lead in development over black.

7. Initiative

The initiative is another dynamic advantage imbalance that most be use quickly or else it will disappear.

You can use the initiative to start an attack that your opponent has to deal with before they can launch a counteroffensive.

In the starting position, white has the initiative because the white player gets to make the first move.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always white who has the advantage. A single bad move in the opening can give black the opportunity to seize the initiative instead.

White is using the initiative to attack black on the kingside.

Conclusion

There are 7 important chess imbalances that you should know: superior minor piece, pawn structure, space, material imbalance, control of important diagonals and files, development and initiative.

Some of these imbalances can give you a permanent strategic advantage, while others are temporary in nature and should be used immediately.

When forming a plan, you want to take into considering all the imbalances in a position and play accordingly.

If you want to learn more, you can read my articles on chess strategies for beginners and the bishop vs knight exchange.