The topic of today's article is the "bad bishop" in the endgame. A bad bishop is usually a piece that is restricted by its own pawns, though it is also sometimes simply a piece that does not have much work to do. In contrast the opponent's bishop is usually the good bishop - an active piece with space to move and targets to attack. The position with a bad bishop is not automatically a lost one - it might be an equal one or slightly worse. Usually the side with a bad bishop, due to lack of positional understanding, puts even more pawns on the squares of the bishop's color. This leads to further deterioration of the position and eventually to defeat. We will look at several examples of how both sides played with and against a bad bishop.
In the first example the Black position looks just fine - he has an active king and an outside passed pawn but it is just an illusion. We have a same-colored bishop endgame on the board and all black pawns are on the same color as the bishop is. This is a substantial positional disadvantage and should not be ignored when one evaluates the position. If there were other pieces on the board this disadvantage would not have been felt as much. White's major advantage is the far-advanced f6-pawn and it turns out that this pawn plays the most decisive role in the endgame. It is white to move and he should have something decisive because after black plays Ke3 it is white who will be in trouble.
In the above example we saw that one side can exploit the opponent's bad bishop with a breakthrough. Although the pawns were located on the same color as the bishop, black was unable to defend them because white used a deflection mechanism, which is powerful in the bishop endgames.
In the next example white has an option of bishop for a knight exchange. White will need to part with the two bishop advantage but in return he will get an advantage of a good bishop vs. a bad bishop. The bishop on c7 is restricted by the b6 and e5 pawns but the position is still solid and white would need to make an effort to break through. There is no way that white can get into black's camp through the queenside, therefore he has to get in through the kingside. White's target is the pawn on e5 but it takes pawn advances on the kingside to get to it. Observe how white masterfully improved his position.
In the next position although black's bishop is locked behind the c6-pawn, his position is solid and the potentially passed-b pawn guarantees equality. White tied the black pieces to the defense of the c6-pawn but one weakness is not enough. His only chance of creating another weakness is the majority pawn march on the kingside. Creating a passed pawn on the kingside can be achieved only through massive pawn exchanges there. After which white will have the passed f-pawn as a second weakness for black. The question then would be: whether having a potential b-passed pawn compensates for white's advantages or not.
So far we have looked at examples where a bad bishop was a liability. The next example shows that sometimes having a bad bishop is an advantage because it can defend the weak pawns. In the next example the bishop on c6 is not restricted by the pawns but the b7 and a6 pawns are on the same color as the bishop is. In this particular example the a5 and c5 pawns are blocked by the a6 pawn and the bishop. So the three pawns on the queenside are blocked by only two black pawns, while black can take advantage of an extra pawn on the kingside.
Today we looked at bishop endgames where a bad bishop was present. We looked into the ideas of breakthrough, sacrifice, king activation and exchange. The next week we will look at bishop endgames where the king activity played the major role.