The question might be asked at the very beginning: What characteristics of chess play should the student desiring to improve view the elements of space, time, and force thereby formulating a personal agenda aimed at a system to apply in each game regardless of positions arising from initial and subsequent moves by both sides? I have found that books on chess play often fall short of their aim or purpose largely because they deal with positions and how to handle illustrative problems but do not answer the question of how the position evolved in the first place. They often stress strategies and tactical motifs but little about the most important feature of chess in my opinion, “The Chessboard” of 64 squares, various squares within the board such as center, central complex, wing files a/b and g/h. The terrain in chess is composed of two battlefields initially: the midpoint at which two rectangles are formed being the home field and the enemy territory. Thus, any inroads pressuring squares in enemy territory must be regarded as part of the attack to either restrict or hinder enemy planning. There are a number of features the student should examine about the structure of the board and relationship with pieces and pawns. Once such a study of the board is complete, the student will be better prepared to understand the elements of chess strategy, various pawn structures, importance of outposts, semi-open and open files, value of the “bishop pair” and how restriction of piece movement and King limited mobility lead to prospects for spatial freedom and success or failure as the conditions materialize on the board.
Let us look at the board with all the units in their starting position. Notice that the f2/f7 squares are only protected by the Kings; the c2/c7 squares only by the Queens. In both cases, these squares initially are guarded by the two most important pieces, the Kings needing defense against mate and the Queens being the most powerful of the individual units. So what does this observation suggest concerning the initial plans that make up “the opening”? Give it some thought. I might suggest that some opening moves are played to pressure those squares either in the opening itself or later in the middlegame and/or endgame.
Providing helpful study habits will increase your skill. There is no better way to improve than to study games from books, preferrably those having notes and analysis. Game collections of the famous players past and present makes learning chess both enjoyable as well as instructive. But how to do so. My own plan was to cover with a 3by5 card the score, exposing only the last moves played and trying to decide what both players were trying to achieve in reaching the position at hand; then going on to see if my own choice matched that of the player. In effect, I would be playing both sides of the board in that manner. In doing so you will get the feel for chess strategies more quickly because you took the time to study the elements of the board; as those games develop a better sense of what goes on in the battle is made clearer from this board arrangement and analysis.
Here, my theory of square count is worth mentioning. It is the added up squares attacked in enemy territory by forces for both sides. A comparison often suggests a spatial edge for the side with the highest count and the need for the other to decide how and when to devise a plan to increase his own square count. It is a great method also to locate good squares for your pieces, considering same for the opponent, and where defensive considerations must be weighed regarding territorial weaknesses (weak squares). Of course the opponent’s weak squares should become objects for attack or at least pressure or restrictive movement.
All of the above thoughts and suggestions make sense of how to play chess with a plan from move 1. Naturally there are many factors that go into playing with a plan. Just what is a plan? A plan can be short-range or long-range in nature. The latter is best described as kind of being “stubborn” in pursuit of a long term strategy that often involves an attack on the enemy king position. It might also be nothing more than dominating and controlling an open file toward securing an endgame win, or blockade of playable moves that force the enemy to make concessions in the position due to the need to move!
Chess is one move at a time; each side plays a half move and if the response is not well founded, can be one nail in the coffin of the opponent. We are all appreciative of “book” being previously thought out moves that become standard play making up an opening. But often there are different ideas that can be played in a position which are called “alternative moves.” One must never assume that if a player plays a move you have not seen before that it is a mistake. You must examine carefully such a turn of events; how does it fit in the opening being played? Such moves may not be good or bad. But they may reflect some form of weakness in position or in either short or long term weak from the point that some advantage, even if slight, can be hit upon with such examination.