Opposite-colored Bishops

Opposite-colored Bishops

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
Nov 16, 2010, 12:00 AM |
19 | Endgames

Opposite-colored bishops never cross each other’s paths. As they control squares of different colors, a chess game featuring them has its own specifics. By saying “a position with opposite-colored bishops”, we mean that there are no other light pieces left on the board, i.e. a bishop vs bishop endgame, or a middlegame with queens and/or rooks and a bishop each.

Following Capablanca’s advice, it is better to start studying the intricacies of opposite-color bishops positions by reviewing endgames. At this stage opposite-colored bishops are often a sign of a draw. Sometimes even being a few pawns up may not be enough for a win since the weaker side may build a fortress. However, my experience from watching online broadcasts from tournaments (or commentating myself) shows that people often overestimate this concept and are eager to announce “a dead draw” in ANY opposite-color bishop position, which is not the case.

The theory of opposite-colored bishop endgames is quite extensive and beyond the scope of a single article. Today we will consider just one feature, although very important – positions with two extra pawns. To win, there normally have to be at least 3 files between the pawns and neither pawn should be on an “a” or “h” file if your bishop doesn’t cover the 8-th square of that file (otherwise you might end up in a well-known bishop of the wrong color + “a” or “h” pawn drawn endgame).















There are some exceptions (lost positions with less than 3 files), but this rule is still useful. Two connected pawns, although formidable looking, are not enough for a win if the weaker side achieves the correct defensive setup.








It is also important to note that having other pieces (queens, rooks) on the board usually increases winning chances. This has more to do with the placement and coordination of the pieces than with potential pawn promotion.

In the middlegame the placement of the bishops is a critical factor. Having got an active bishop vs a passive one, you may win the whole game. Pogonina vs the World is a nice illustration of this concept. Another critical aspect is an opportunity to attack the opponent’s king. As your partner’s bishop can’t protect light (or dark) squares, you have great chances to penetrate into his position. Taking all this into account, a few simple rules may be suggested:

  1. Try to activate your own bishop
  2. Keep the opponent’s bishop passive
  3. Look out for attacking chances

In the following game of mine played at the recent European Club Cup vs IM Elena Zaiats an opposite-colored bishop middlegame occurred:

I had a few promising chances to attack the opponent’s king, but didn’t make use of them. Just like in soccer, if you don’t score, then the opponent scores. I had to switch to defensive mode and play for a draw. Treating such positions too shyly is against its nature, so it’s no wonder that I ended up being worse and, eventually, happy with a draw.

 P.S. As it happens sometimes, after having written the article I suddenly felt that the title sounds familiar to me. Ironically, WIM Irina Zenyuk’s recent column has also been dedicated to opposite-colored bishops! My first call was to send my writing to the recycle bin, but then I realized that the content doesn’t have much in common. Hopefully, you will benefit from reading both articles.

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