How to Attack in Chess


how to attack in chess
Table of Contents

Quick overview:

  • There are many parts that go into learning how to attack in chess. Identifying your opponent’s weaknesses and creating threats is a good starting point for devising an attacking strategy in chess.
  • Having the initiative is also a key theme in attacking chess. Learning how to keep the initiative will greatly increase your chances of executing a successful attack, as your opponent cannot ignore your threats.
  • A good way to learn how to attack is to study master games and see the plans they devise. This will help you formulate attacks of your own.

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The Art of Attack in Chess

How to Attack in Chess-Introduction

Attacking in chess is one of the key parts to winning games.

You may know your opening principles down pat, and how to keep all your pieces defended. You may even have studied several lines deep of theory of your favorite Sicilian Defense or Ruy Lopez Variation.

This will undoubtedly take you far, but as you climb the rating ladder in chess, you’re going to need to know how to create plans, and attacking plans. You can play as solid as you want, but without an attack, it is going to be hard to beat stronger opponents.

In this post, we look at key concepts and ideas on what it takes to attack your opponent, plus real-life examples.

If you can, develop/move with a threat

There is a reason the sequence of moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 is so popular. This is because White is already creating a threat on move two. If Black wants to hold onto their pawn, they must play a move like 2…Nc6 or 2…d6 to defend it.

One of the most common starting positions in chess, Black must respond to this lest they lose their valuable central e-pawn.

The following game is one of the most instructive games of all time. It is an excellent example of how to make constant threats.

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The initiative is a key theme in chess, particularly when it comes to attacking. Attacking in chess boils down to threats, and initiative is when one side makes a threat that the other side cannot ignore without inflicting material loss, checkmate, or a worse position.

In contrast, and in relation to the last point, the initiative may be regained by making counterattacks.

Against the Sicilian Defense, the Smith-Morra Gambit is an opening in which White sacrifices a pawn in order to create attacking chances. For this plan to be successful, maintaining the initiative is key. If White loses the initiative at any moment in the opening, Black will often fare better, as they are up a pawn.

However, if White maintains the intiative, they decide how the game goes, and can often launch successful attacks.

An example game:

White’s constant pressure against Black led them to have the initiative all game and create a successful attack.

Identify your opponent’s weaknesses

Concretely, the best way to launch an attack is to find a weakness in your opponent’s position that may be exploited.

This can be as simple as attacking an undefended piece or identifying weak pawn structures, e.g. doubled pawns.

Sometimes your opponent self-inflicts weaknesses, this makes attacking easy, e.g. capturing a hanging piece.

Unfortunately, this is not always so easy. Sometimes you must create the weakness yourself.

In the following game, White took the bishop with check on move 18. The only option for Black was to recapture with the g-pawn. This created a weakness, not only by creating doubled pawns on the f-file, but by opening up Black’s kingside, which White was able to exploit in an attack.

Coordinate your pieces

When pieces are coordinated, i.e. they complement each other, attacking chances come naturally. One piece on its own cannot give checkmate.

Many times we see a potential attack, but there is something lacking to execute it successfully.

In this case, bringing more pieces into the attack is often an effective strategy to make the attack work.

In the following game, White’s pieces were well-coordinated, particularly their knight and queen. This led White to be able to maintain the initiative and launch a successful attack on Black.

In the following game, White delivered checkmate in just eight moves by successfully coordinating their pieces and forming a queen-bishop battery. A battery is when two or more pieces are on the same rank, file, or diagonal.

Have a plan

Tactics are very crucial to be able to attack. Finding a winning combination will get you very far in chess. However, there will be times when you have no immediate tactics on the board, so it is important to devise a mid-to-long-term strategy, focusing on your opponent’s weaknesses.

Openings usually revolve around placing pressure on your opponent’s weaknesses. For example, in the Nimzo-Indian Defense, Black usually tries to place pressure down White’s c-file, usually by saddling them with doubled pawns.

In the following game, Black was able to first leave White with doubled pawns on the c-file. They then had a weak c-pawn which was not able to be defended by any other pawns, meaning White had to defend the weak pawn with pieces. If you can force your opponent to use their pieces to defend a weakness, those pieces will have a harder time taking part in an attack against you.

Attack on open files

Open files are a key concept in chess. If pieces are obstructing files, it is harder to launch an attack. Your long-range pieces (bishops, rooks, and queen) should be placed on open files/diagonals as they will control more squares.

In the following game, White was able to maintain pressure along the open files by coordinating their pieces. On the last move, Black’s queen is done for. The only move left is Qxg5+, after which White can pin the queen with their rook, win the queen and White is winning.

If your opponent’s pieces have no safe exit, trap them!

Sometimes your opponent will play aggressively and it may seem they have the initiative. However, there is such a thing as being too aggressive. Attacks can backfire if there is not enough space to get the attacking pieces free.

In the following game, Black was able to invade White’s side of the board and win their rook. However, White was able to counterattack and win Black’s queen as it had no safe exit!


Attacking in chess is very much an art form. It is important to play actively to ensure the best chance of attacking.

Having the initiative, identifying/creating weaknesses, and creating threats all are very important to be able to attack your opponent.

A good way to learn how to attack is to study tactics, as well as old master games and try to understand the plan they used to execute their attack succesfully.

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The Art of Attack in Chess

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