In a game filled with complex strategy and tactics, why is controlling the center important in chess?
How can controlling the center of the chess board give you a massive upper hand both offensively and defensively against your opponent?
Why is Controlling the Center Important in Chess?
Occupying those 4 squares means being able to attack more squares while restricting pawns, bishops, knights, rooks, and queens from doing the same.
What is Considered the “Center” of the Chess Board?
On your 8 x 8 chess board, the center would be the 4 squares directly in the center of the board, namely d4, e4, d5, and e5.
Additionally, consider the squares surrounding the center as important as well. These would be d6, e6, c5, f5, c4, f4, d3, and e3.
What Does It Mean to “Control the Center”?
Controlling the center means occupying those crucial center squares (and those surrounding the center) with your pieces.
True, the goal of chess is to capture the opponent’s king, not to place as many pieces in the center squares as possible.
However, everything goes through the center! And by controlling the center you take control of prime real estate on the board.
Ever played King of the Hill growing up?
Imagine the center of the chess board was the top of the hill. He who’s at the top has a strategic advantage over all who try to take him out.
Occupying the center squares means having many more options and ways to attack your opponent.
Greater Offensive Mobility
According to the forums at Chess.com, greater offensive mobility ranks as the top reason controlling the center is so important.
There are so many more moves available from the center of the board than there are on the periphery.
More options and potential moves means your pieces have more ways to attack and, even more importantly, your opponent has more squares to defend.
The more potential moves each piece can make, the more squares that piece controls.
For example, a knight placed on e4 has several potential squares it could move to, or control.
Look at the board below and mentally place your knight on e4. Visualize the squares it could move to.
How many moves did you count?
If you counted 8, you’re correct.
Now replace that knight with a queen. Do the same exercise, placing her on e4, and she has 27 potential controlled squares. A bishop would have 13.
Now let’s try the same exercise but from the periphery. Place your knight at h4.
Being on the edge of the board cuts your knight’s moves in half down to 4!
A queen control at h4 drops from 27 to 21 squares, and a bishop drops down to 7.
Finally, place your knight in the corner at h1. Your knight’s moves are halved yet again, only being able to control 2 squares from the corner.
The queen and bishop still control 21 and 7, respectively.
The rook is the only piece that no matter its placement on the board, still controls the same number of squares at 14.
Easier to Fend Off Attacks
And what about defense?
Occupying the center means being able to fend off not only short moving pieces like pawns, but even long distance attacks by bishops, rooks, and even queens.
Pair this with castling and you’re able to make an attack while simultaneously protecting your king.
Even pawns in those center squares can put a wrench in your opponent’s plans. They not only halt the opposition’s pawns from advancing, but they hold off other pieces as well.
Pay attention the next time your opponent occupies the center. See how controlling those four squares can seemingly cut the board in half!
When I first started playing chess (I’m now slightly addicted) I played very haphazardly. I’d just move and attack and try to be unpredictable.
Sometimes I’d win, many times I’d lose, and I just didn’t have any rhyme or reason to my game
Then I started paying attention to controlling the center. I started making it my goal at the beginning of the game to get 2 pawns into the center.
Guess what? The more I did that, the more games I started to win.
While my opponent struggled to develop his pieces and make an organized attack, I was able to turn my defense into offense and gain an advantage.
Controlling the center, in my opinion, is the quickest and most direct way to improve your chess game.
Which Pieces Should I Use to Control the Center?
Obviously, because pawns are frontline pieces, getting them into the center is a common theme in chess openings.
While some players open with knights jumping into the fray, most will open with center pawns attacking into the middle.
Have you ever considered controlling the center with bishops or knights?
As I stated earlier, when I started making a concerted effort to get 2 pawns into the center, my chess game IMMEDIATELY improved.
Now, just because you get your pieces there first, doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there, right?
You still have to make wise choices when trading pieces and not get caught on the bad end of trades or you’ll quickly lose any advantage you were going for.
As shown in the images above, knights in particular have much more power when they’re in the middle of the board.
Having a combination of pawns and knights in the middle can wreak absolute havoc on an opponent!
Having pieces that are able to attack with 100% of their potential will beat an opponent whose pieces are only using fractions of their potential.
Greater offensive mobility and the ability to defend attacks make controlling the center a quick way to vastly improve your chess game!
How do you feel about this? Are you looking for a quick and direct way to improve your chess game?
Have you tried this with success? How quickly did you notice an improvement?
Let me know how you feel in the comments section below! I love reading your questions and comments and I always reply back.