How Bad is a Bad Bishop?

  • WIM energia
  • | Feb 27, 2009

There is much talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bishops in the chess world. When a chess player thinks about a ‘bad’ bishop, he imagines the bishop blocked behind pawns without operational space and resembling a rather big pawn. The common stereotype is that if the pawns are located on the same color as a bishop then one should trade the bishop-- to get rid of a bad piece. In many cases it is so, but there are times when such a bishop is a good piece. The following examples show the second case.

With the last move of 18…Bc8 black posted a question for white: to trade bishops or not? White has five pawns on white squares, and the white squares of d5 and f5 are under control. Black has queenside pawns on dark squares, and weak white squares: it seems that the bishop on b7 was well placed to defend those squares. Retreating white's bishop to g2 would make him a ‘bad’ bishop since it would be locked by the pawn chain f3-e4.

On the other hand, a chess player should always look into the future. Most likely black would have to place the bishop on e6, then it will take away this square from Nc5. Bg2 protects the king and the potential of f4-f5 will make Be6 uncomfortable. Thus, Bg2 is not so much worse than black's Be6. Lets look at specific lines:

The next example is from the same category. White has pawns on dark squares and Bc2 is the piece that protects the weakened light squares. Black has all the queenside pawns on white squares, which limits Bb5. Thus exchanging light-squared bishop should favor black, right? Lets look at specific lines again.


The third example shows how a ‘bad’ bishop performs an important task in a position. Bb7 is buried behind pawns a6-b5-c6, and it cannot leave its position for a more active one, since it is the protector of c6 and a6. The c5 break would activate it but black would lose a pawn this way. On the other hand there is no clear way to break into black’s position. White finds a brilliant solution:



The last example is from recent play. White has an option of trading light-squared bishops and playing f3-e4 or playing f3-e4 right away. Lets hear what former World Champion Kramnik has to say about this position: “Now I no longer want to exchange bishops, but rather play e4 and later f4, and the queen on a8 will not feel very comfortable with such a bishop on g2.” In this case, Bg2, even behind the pawn chain of f3-e4, is not a bad bishop, since it defends the king and targets the black queen.


Overall, pawn structure should not be the only criteria when making decisions on trading bishops; sometimes even the worst-looking bishop can perform an important role, like in our third example. One has to look at the position as a whole considering dynamics and tactical possibilities of the opponent, like in our first example the undermining of the centre with b5-d5. If trading the opponent's 'good' bishop results in our piece being bad, such as in the second example above, then one should think twice. There is no clear recipe as to when a ‘bad’ bishop is really bad and when it is a good bishop, but by paying attention to this problem one will develop good feel and make less mistakes in future bishop exchanges that one has to face.


  • 6 years ago


    Thanks WIM Energia for a great proof on good bishop bad bishop.

  • 7 years ago


    very well-written. Glad to see someone make a detailed analysis of what lies beneath the skin of 'good bishop - bad bishop' merely based on the placement of pawns.

  • 7 years ago


    very nice indeed

  • 7 years ago


    This is a very very nice article with very good examples.It has help me in 1 of my game I'm playing right now.I believe we should keep the bishop files open early in the game. 

  • 8 years ago


    nice article

  • 8 years ago


    nice article!!!

  • 8 years ago


    Thank you for the excellent article.

    In the future I would like to learn more about:

    good bad good bishops,

    bad good bad bishops,

    good good bad bishops,

    bad bad good bishops,

    good bad bad bishops &

    bad good good bishops.

    I am already quite comfortable with

    good good good bishops &

    bad bad bad bishops.

    Thanks again.

  • 8 years ago



    I don't think there's a "keeper of the true chess defintion" ( I suppose I did write a long post as though that would be me ;) -- the locked center definition isn't my own invention anyway, I think I got it from Silman -- but it does make sense to me that for the a bishop to be bad the restriction needs to be a static feature of the postion, not something that can be rectified with a pawn push. Likewise, the bishops love  to operate thru the center and clogging up a bishop's center takes the wind out it's sails very effectively. 

    A quick google on "Bad Bishop" leaves me rather chagrined to discover I can't find my defintion in much use... the larger daresay flabbier "friendly pawns-in-the-way" defintion seems to be the one used by wiki and others. Oh well, not the first time I've gone out on a sawn limb. I like mine/Silman's definition in a practical way.

    I think it's a cornerstone of positional chess to always evaluate pieces, particularly the minor pieces, as to how well are they placed in comparison to their closest counterpart on the enemy team. In this sense there are no good or bad bishops, only shades of grey -- better and worse bishops. 

  • 8 years ago


    wow.... that was just awesome...

    hope to see more such article from you...

  • 8 years ago


    Pg6? You meant, g6?

  • 8 years ago


    nice article it will certinly ininfulunce my play and my analitical thinking

  • 8 years ago


    Very interesting article.  I will think about 'bad' bishops in a new light in the future.

  • 8 years ago


    Very nice. Thank you!

    After reading, I feel I have a better understanding of the importance of Bishop exchanges and how one wrong decision may totally change the evaluation of the position.

  • 8 years ago


    well written article

  • 8 years ago



    My understanding of a "bad" bishop is one which is blocked by its own pawns and has no opposition pawn targets on it's colour. I don't think it's part of the definition that the center has to be blocked?

  • 8 years ago


    Very well written article, I learnt a lot from it!Cool

  • 8 years ago

    FM BecomeanIM

    great article ;)

  • 8 years ago



  • 8 years ago



  • 8 years ago


    Brings in key points not always thought of.  Is your bishop really bad?  I guess I will definetly be sure to look at it closer.  Thanks

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