The Lethargic Bishop

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Dec 5, 2013

Good players don't see the chess pieces as just bits of wood or plastic. They see them as bundles of energy. A piece gathers more energy from its surroundings, from the structure of the position.

In the past few weeks I have shown some examples in my endgame column where bishops defeated knights - an article about Fischer's games with this imbalance, some endgames by Carlsen which featured bishops getting the upper hand, and an endgame by myself where the bishops triumphed. Now we will see the other side of the equation - positions in which the knight hops all over the bishop.

Understanding and developing an intuitive sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the knight and bishop is very important for a beginning chess player. Formally the bishop and knight are worth about the same amount, but in most positions one of them is actually stronger than the other, often decisively so. Imagine you are playing with a player who doesn't know the material values of the pieces - who is going to win?

Let's see how the young Alekhine learned about this imbalance. In fact, I am sure he already understood it quite well, and it was in fact a miscalculation which led to him having to accept this hopeless ending. In 1911 Alekhine was already a strong master. It often happens that when a strong player seems to have been outplayed "positionally", the root cause was in fact a tactical oversight, not a lack of understanding. In any case, White's winning method is instructive:



  • 3 years ago



    64. ... Bc8 is met by 65. Nc5+, king retreats 65. ... Kc7 (Ka7), and white's king improves its position 66. Kb5. Now any king's move from black would allow white's king to get deeper into black's camp, Bb7 drops a pawn anyway, and after Bd7 white exchanges and black is in zugzwang - e6 pawn drops soon.

  • 3 years ago


    Stoopid Bishop!

  • 3 years ago


    Why does Black play 64... Be8 instead of Bc8?  Wouldn't the latter move save the pawn?

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    after 53. Nh7! how about 53..Nc5  to free the knight from trap if 44..Nb8 was chosen.

    i could not see how passer can be stopped if takes the knight otherwise knight will threaten c/f pawn for balance 53.. Nc5 54. dxc5 ( 54. Ng5 Nd3 ) 54... d4 55. cxd4 ( 55. Nf6 dxc3 )

  • 3 years ago


    good article and game example.  the bishop could only defend matching the color of its own pawns and being the opposite of the opponent's.

  • 3 years ago


    Very interesting game. I found it interesting that such an intricate endgame could result from such "ordinary" play- especially in the opening.

  • 3 years ago


    Really instructive game! The endgame was great, and it was also interesting to see the play leading up to the ending, how Alekhine got the nasty position. Indeed he probably didn't think white could defend the c3 pawn in time or something, but missing that cost him the game.

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for an excellent article.  learned a lot.  the detailed annotations were particularly helpful.

  • 3 years ago


    I liked Carlsen Queenless endgames. I liked this article. Keep up the good work!

  • 3 years ago


    Excellent Article!

  • 3 years ago


    Another good article from you IM Smith!

  • 3 years ago


    I wouldn't think to just trade off bishops if you expect a certain kind of endgame. I would argue that most of us sub master level players don't typically have accurate enough analysis or skill to hold a blitz game into a specific endgame without blundering. Moreso, I think this article is teaching that each piece is powerful in it's own way and you should learn to recognize the strengths/weaknesses/opportunities for both the Bishop and Knight. Then, if you recognize that there is a major imbalance in your pieces you can look to trade your weak ones for your opponents strong ones.

  • 3 years ago


    Very instructive Bryan, very instructive and informative. Excellent annotation! Including your 'Fischer Bishop' article you have the makings of a classic teaching instrument.

  • 3 years ago


    Good article, nice read :) Maybe this is also why it is important to sometimes just trade off bishops when you know that further down the line your bishop will be cramped/ineffective anyway?

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