Why is the Center Important?

I’m working my way through “How to Play Better Chess” (Fred Reinfeld, 1948), an old book that focuses on chess strategy and tactics by analyzing games of chess masters. The book has five sections focusing on opening strategy, middlegame strategy, middlegame tactics, middlegame defensive play, and endgame techniques.

This post will focus on a part of the opening strategy section: “Why is the Center Important?”

Simply put, pieces placed in the center of the board (especially the middle four spaces) exert the maximum influence. Queens, bishops, and knights will control more squares on the board when placed in the center. Additionally, as mentioned in other books on opening theory, pieces that are in the center of the board can easily be transferred to other parts of the center, or rerouted to other parts of the board.

So what does this mean during a game? Well, it means that if you have a strong center, you are more easily able to mount an attack on the other player, because your pieces can be effectively gathered together and rerouted to other parts of the board. If, on the other hand, you do not have a firm grasp on the center and attempt to mount an attack, you can easily be in danger. This is because the player with the control over the center can quickly reroute pieces to stifle or diffuse your attack.

Below are two games by masters that demonstrate how this control over the center can lead to a successful attack, and how the lack of center control can lead to a failed attack attempt.

Successful attack from white, who has control of the center

Unsuccessful attack from white, who lacks control of the center