In chess there’s not always a single ‘right’ move. Instead, the goal for each move – especially in the opening and mid-game – is to make good moves that improve your position and chances of winning. And making smart moves in chess really comes down to following a few simple principles. In this article we cover what are probably the five most important principles to follow when considering your next move. So here’s your handy guide to making moves that’ll impress your friends, scare your enemies, and confuse your cat.

A cat playing smart chess moves, probably
“PE4…a very interesting choice human…”

1. Developing Moves:

  • Phrase to remember: Get your pieces in the game
  • Main point: Prioritize getting your pieces (especially knights and bishops) to active squares in the opening.
  • Deep Dive: Think of your chess pieces as guests at a party. You don’t want them lingering by the door (back rank). Instead, you want them mingling, laughing, and maybe doing the cha-cha in the center of the dance floor. That bishop? It’s eyeing the long diagonal like it’s the conga line. Get your pieces out there, interacting and having a blast. For instance, moves like 1.e4 or 1.d4 for white and 1…e5 or 1…d5 for black quickly open lines for the bishops and queen to join the fiesta!

2. Central Control:

  • Phrase to remember: Control the center
  • Main point: Controlling the center (d4, e4, d5, e5 squares) allows more mobility for your pieces.
  • Deep Dive: The center of the board is like the VIP section of the chessboard club. The action happens there, the best spots are there, and everyone wants a piece of it (pun intended). Therefore, by staking your claim in the center, you give your pieces more room to groove and move. Imagine a knight on e4 – it’s like the king of the dance floor, having the option to jump in eight different directions!

3. King Safety:

  • Phrase to remember: Protect your king
  • Main Point: Always ensure that your king is safe. This often means castling at the right time and avoiding unnecessary weaknesses around your king.
  • Deep Dive: Kings are very important in chess, they are also very weak. Your king isn’t some thrill-seeker looking for danger. Instead, he’s more like that friend who loses his phone and keys at every party. So the more you protect him (usually by castling early and maintaining a solid pawn shield), the less likely he’ll end up in some awkward “checkmate” situation, which in our party analogy is akin to him accidentally locking himself in the bathroom.

4. Tactical Shots:

  • Phrase to remember: Bring your silverware
  • Main Point: Look for opportunities to deploy forks, pins, skewers, discovered attacks, and other tactical motifs because these can win material or deliver checkmate.
  • Deep Dive: Tactics like those above are the spicy salsa dips of the chess world and are what a lot of people think of when they talk about smart moves in chess. Just when your opponent thinks they’re cruising along, BAM! – you hit them with a fork or pin that leaves them reeling. For example, if a knight on d5 simultaneously attacks a queen on e7 and a rook on f7, that’s a fork! A protected bishop that pins a queen to a king is a classic tactic. And let’s face it, who doesn’t love to say, “You’ve been skewered!” with a smug face?

5. Anticipatory Thinking:

  • Phrase to remember: Think ahead
  • Main point: Anticipate your opponent’s threats and plans, and make moves to prevent them.
  • Deep Dive: Instead of always charging ahead, sometimes it’s wise to stop and think, “What sneaky plans does my opponent have?” This is another area people think of when they talk about making smart moves in chess. If you can anticipate your opponents moves, then it looks like you’re always one step ahead of them. Think of it like bringing an umbrella along on a cloudy day, you make a move to shield yourself from potential threats. For example, playing h3 to prevent an enemy bishop or knight from landing on g4 and giving your queen an evil glare. Thinking ahead gets easier the more you play. As you gain more experience, you’re able to think more moves ahead and consider more possible alternatives for both your and your opponent’s moves.

There you go, the next time you sit down to flex those chess muscles, remember these 5 tidbits:

  • Get your pieces in the game
  • Control the center
  • Protect your king
  • Bring your silverware
  • Think ahead

These mantras are short and memorable on purpose. Memorize them and think of them as a checklist you step through as you consider your options each move. With time you’ll get very fast and efficient at identifying which item on the list is the most important thing to do at any given point in the game. And for the first two items on the list, consider memorizing the moves and philosophies behind a couple of chess openings to make things easier.

Who knows? With a bit of practice and some cheeky tactics, you might just become the life of the chess party. But just remember to keep your king out of the bathroom. Happy checkmating! 🏰

Once you have these 5 tips mastered, head over to our 5 *more* tips for making smart chess moves article to keep improving.

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