The Arch-Arch-Nemeses: Bishop vs. Knight
No two pieces have faced off more often, or with greater acrimony, than the bishop and knight. With today's article we are starting a series on bishop versus knight endgames. Here are a few examples that show different scenarios that can happen in bishop vs. knight endgames. The examples do not have a unified topic, instead presenting a broad overview of most important themes. The next articles will concentrate on particular topics. You can use these examples as exercises, as most of them have one clear solution. Without further introduction let us move on to the examples.
White is a pawn up in a bishop versus knight endgame. This extra pawn will however soon be lost as the black king gets to the a3-pawn. White's goal is to prevent black from capturing the b4-pawn or to sacrifice the knight for the b5-pawn. It looks like the endgame is simple enough to find the right solution and it looks like white will have no trouble drawing the endgame.
In the next example both sides have passed pawns but which one is faster? It looks like the d-pawn can be easily stopped with the Ne1 move, but the bishop will have trouble stopping the a-pawn. White opted for a complex but beautiful solution sacrificing the knight. This example is a good illustration of calculating lines to the end. If white stopped at the midpoint and evaluated the position down a piece as worse he would never have gone for the piece sacrifice but instead would have played Ne1 (which is equally good).
Sometimes the best square for the knight is the furthest one - the one where no one can touch it. As paradoxical as it seems the next example shows how well the knight on a1 is placed. White is up a pawn but the f-pawn is blocked by the king and the b- pawn is blocked by black's pawn. It looks like the white king is about to go to attack and win the b-pawn and it is not easy to defend the pawn without the black king's help. Black found an unusual solution, which is worthy of the highest praise.
I cannot write this article without mentioning the theme of zugzwang. The advantage of the knight over the bishop in closed positions is well-known. The pawn structure in the following example is locked and it is black who benefits from it. The only weakness that white can attack with the bishop is e6 but the black king safely defends it. On the other hand the black knight can jump around and attack the g3, a2 and possibly e3 pawns. It is just a matter of time until black wins one of the pawns and eventually the game.
We will end with a position that should remind us that bishop+ a or h-pawn with a promotion square different in color from the bishop is a draw. In the following example black somehow overlooked this idea and white right away sacrificed a knight for the g-pawn. Instead black could have sacrificed the bishop, ending up with two pawns on the 2nd rank that cannot both be stopped by the king.
Today we looked at few bishop vs. knight positions that featured different topics such as zugzwang, piece sacrifice, the correct placement of the king, etc. Maybe you have noticed that having a bishop is not always an advantage in open positions. On the other hand in closed position having a knight is almost always an advantage. Over the next few weeks we will go over these and other ideas of the bishop vs. knight endgames in more detail.