The Two-Knight Advantage

The Two-Knight Advantage

| 35 | Strategy

Two active bishops working in tandem are a mighty force.

Indeed, the bishop's long range enables it to dominate vast swaths of the board, and to simultaneously play both a defensive and an attacking role.

While the power of two bishops is a well-known concept, players tend to forget that two knights constitute a fearsome attacking force as well. 

By virtue of its unique movement, the knight is incredibly difficult to contain, and -- most important -- can circumvent even the most impervious defensive bastion.

In this article, I would like to shed some light on the knight's frequently underestimated potency. 

We will start with one of my favorite games of all time, a relatively unknown gem that must be seen to be believed. 

In one of his instructional manuals, Russian master Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (1884-1954) remarked that "inexperienced players have a fear of [the knight], which seems to them enigmatic, mysterious, and astonishing in its power. We must admit that it has remarkable characteristics which compel respect and occasionally surprise the most wary players."

While the knights ravaged White's position in a jaw-dropping display of mobility and gumption, the useless bishops stood idly by. When the light-squared bishop finally tried to intervene, it was summarily executed by the rook.

A month ago, I faced Dutch GM Loek Van Wely at the LCC (London Chess Classic) Super Rapidplay Open. Needing a win to contend for top prizes, I tried to unbalance the position as quickly as possible. By move 12, we reached an already-familiar material imbalance.

One untoward pawn advance was all it took: in an instant, the clumsy, entangled knights transformed into an attacking behemoth. Indeed, had I retained my composure, the knight would have delivered the finishing blow as well! 

As you can see, knights can exploit nearly imperceptible positional defects (Psakhis-Speelman) and peform acts of tactical heroism even when abysmally located (Van Wely-Naroditsky).

It is no surprise, then, that the potential of two centralized knights, working in harmony with the heavy pieces, is limitless. Watch this: 

What needs to be said?

Neither the bishop, nor the rook, nor the queen could have come close to penetrating Black's formidable defensive cocoon. Yet the cavalry tore it to shreds in the blink of an eye.

The knight is a special piece: it has its own movement, its own strengths and weaknesses, its own way of interacting with other pieces. And two of them working in harmony are usually a blessing rather than a burden! 


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