When it comes down to the strategies and principles of chess, what is positional advantage?
How much of a factor is positional advantage vs material advantage?
What is Positional Advantage in Chess?
Positional advantage means the placement of your pieces pose a greater threat than your opponents’ pieces. Your opponent may have more pieces than you, but positional advantage trumps material advantage.
Positional Advantage vs Material Advantage
More often than not, when you’re playing chess, whether it be on a board in front of you or online, the first advantage you process is actually the “material advantage”.
Material advantage simply means the value of your pieces being more than your opponents.
Traditionally, the point value assigned to chess pieces looks like this:
- Queen – 9 pts
- Rook – 5 pts
- Knight – 3 pts
- Bishop – 3 pts
- Pawn – 1 pt
Notice the King doesn’t receive a point value. This is because the moment a king is captured the game is over.
Related Article at DominateChess.com!
Ever had a game end in a stalemate? Why isn’t a Stalemate a Win?
So, when you make a blunder and your opponent captures your queen with by sacrificing their lowly pawn, you’ve lost material advantage by 8 points.
Your opponent lost a pawn (-1) but you lost a queen (-9).
Now, being down 8 points is substantial, and the later it is in the game, the less likely you’ll be able to overcome that disadvantage.
But, let’s say it’s early in the game and you lose your rook to your opponent’s bishop, which you then capture.
You’ve lost 5 points, they’ve lost 3. This results in your opponent having a +2 advantage.
Is it game over? Hardly.
There’s plenty of time to take that advantage back.
And how would you do that, even with your opponent having the material advantage? By slowly but surely gaining the positional advantage.
As an example, the entire purpose of the well known move of castling is to give yourself more of a positional advantage.
Sometimes your opponent can let their guard down when they gain a significant material advantage. This opens the door for blunders of their own.
Have you ever lost your queen and then come back to win the game? It’s EXTREMELY satisfying when it happens.
How did it happen?
It stems from positioning the pieces you have left so you gain the positional advantage over your opponent.
You don’t have to wait until you’re at a material disadvantage to focus on your positional advantage. The earlier you can place your pieces in a better position and also weaken your opponent’s position, the better chance you have at winning!
How to Gain a Positional Advantage
Sometimes you get lucky and your opponent makes a horrible opening move to start the game.
But this is increasingly rare as you play more seasoned players.
The video below greatly illustrates several ways to gain a positional advantage in chess.
It details 21 ways to gain that positional advantage you’re looking for with really good explanation for each tip.
I’m going to list several of the highlights below, but I definitely recommend taking the time to watch the video.
The masters of chess all have one common thread, they are masters of positional chess.
- Avoid “bad bishops”
Bishops are great when it comes to long distance threats. However, if your bishop is blocked by your own pawn, this severely handcuffs that threat.
To avoid “bad bishops” get your bishop out ahead of the pawns where they can do the most damage.
- Build a solid pawn structure and create isolated pawns
It all starts with the pawns. Pawns can protect each other and other pieces, but aren’t nearly as effective all by themselves.
Alone they become unprotected targets.
Additionally, if you can force your opponent’s to double up their pawns on the same file (2 pawns occupying the same column), it can really wreck their overall pawn structure.
Anytime your opponent has 3 or more “pawn islands” you have a substantial advantage.
Also remember to take care when moving your pawns forward. Don’t move them up for no reason. They can’t retrace their steps and go back!
- Have your rooks strive to control open files
Just like with your bishops, a rook’s long distance advantage is amplified when the squares ahead of it are wide open.
This gives you a distinct positional advantage and lots of freedom for various attacks.
- Restrict your opponent’s pieces
You see this a lot with bishops and knights.
A well placed bishop can leave your opponent’s knight with nowhere to go. They immediately have to back track and come up with a new attack.
Restricting your opponent’s movement can be done with any piece on the board, and becomes even stronger when you coordinate multiple pieces in unison.
- Don’t trade a good bishop for a bad knight (and vice versa)
Even though knights and bishops have equal point values, you shouldn’t just trade them without thinking about their importance to the specific game you’re playing.
If you have a powerful bishop that has control of plenty of empty squares ahead of it, but you trade it for a knight that’s not really going anywhere and has been controlled, you’ve just lost positional advantage.
The same applies if you have a knight out in the open controlling the center but you use it to attack a bishop that’s blocked and doing little to no damage.
- Do look to trade your bad pieces for your opponent’s good pieces
This follows up on the previous principle.
If your opponent has a piece that’s in a great position, do everything you can to take it out with one of your pieces that’s not doing so much.
Now, does this mean you should take out a threatening knight on an outpost with a stronger piece like a rook? It very well can, depending on the threat.
- Rooks in unison on the 2nd or 7th rank create HAVOC for your opponent
If you’ve ever been on the wrong end of two rooks working in unison on the same file you know EXACTLY how strong this positional advantage can become.
The 2nd and 7th ranks are specifically mentioned here because of the likelihood of lots of pieces to capture as they protect their king.
- Put pawns on opposite color of opponent’s bishop
If you’ve managed to capture one of your opponent’s bishops, a quick and very easy way to minimize its threat is to simply position your pawns on the opposite color.
The bishop can’t cross colors, only moving in diagonals, and this eliminates any threat it could have on your pawns.
- Think ahead and spoil your opponent’s plan
Chess isn’t just about formulating your own attacks. You need a balance of offense vs defense.
If you can see what your opponent is trying to do and can block it without placing your pieces out of position, this gives you the positional advantage.
In this example, by thinking ahead and getting your a4 pawn to a5, you spoil your opponent’s potential plan of getting his b7 pawn to b5, creating space for his rook.
Piece Activity and Controlling Space
Placing key pieces where they can do the most damage vastly improves your positional advantage.
Coordinating your attacks improves it even more.
Several of the points below go hand in hand with the strategies detailed in the video above.
- Work to place your rooks on open files.
- Get your bishops to control unblocked diagonals.
- Place your knights away from the periphery and more towards the center of the board where they control the most squares.
- Use your pawns to control the center of the board.
- Don’t forget about defense! Castle early to protect your king while simultaneously developing your rook.
Do these in conjunction and it would take a MONUMENTAL blunder on your part to lose the game.
Positional advantage beats material advantage and the principles behind why it does will serve you very well in becoming a solid chess player.
Do you have a better understanding of what it take to gain a positional advantage in chess?
Which of the tactics listed do you think you’ll be implementing in your next games? Which strategies had you not considered before?
I’d love to hear what you have to say! Leave your questions and comments below and I look forward to replying back!