Positional Elements in Action #2 (Battling the bishops)
A grotesquely fictional depiction of "bishops behind bars"ūüôā

Positional Elements in Action #2 (Battling the bishops)

NM 2Bf41-0

Welcome to the second blog in the series Positional Elements in Action! I hope you've found my first blog about the bishop pair insightful and now today's blog will countervail the preceding topic.

Playing against the pair of bishops is an important topic that arises frequently in tournament practice. Therefore, it's paramount for one to understand when to cede the bishop pair to the opponent, neutralize it, or how to exploit your opponent making other concessions in his position for the sake of the bishop pair. It's important to realize that the bishop pair (like any other general advantage) is only of benefit in the certain position-types. It's also prudent to allow your opponent to blindly go for the bishop pair if it's not objectively of use to him. Many players overestimate the bishop pair and believe that it will dominate (the bishop-knight or double knight combo). To make some general principles the bishop pair isn't particularly advantageous in the following scenarios*

  • Blocked positions/closed pawn structure which reduces mobility of the long-ranged pieces.
  • Positions where the bishops have no concrete targets and are hitting empty squares.
  • Situations where the opposing minor pieces are active and powerful.
  • When the side playing against the bishop pair has more space.¬†

*After all these are general guidelines,the exact position on the board is the commanding factor by far in determining the merit of the bishop pair.

Common variations at the highest level where one side concedes the bishop pair to damage pawn structure, or closed position, or development, etc: 

  • Rossolimo¬†Sicilian 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.Bxc6¬†
  • Nimzo Indian Defense 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 in many lines black plays Bxc3,
  • Ruy Lopez Exchange variation 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6
  • Winawer French Defense 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 and the main line goes 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+
  • Trompowsky Attack 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 g6 3.Bxf6

And I could go on. Educative example #1 demonstrates how the bishop pair can be outplayed in a normal middlegame position with flexible pawn structure. White didn't have pawn weaknesses early on in the opening and yet black's bishop+knight tandem where congruous in comparison with white's passive bishops. I am always trying to use quality examples played by GMs and the strength of these two players certainly didn't disappoint!

Educative example #2 is a famous game, but a must-know nonetheless. It's certainly my favorite example and it's purely about pawn structure and weaknesses. 

 Educative example #3 is a Fischer defeat, where black's initiative was too strong. Intriguingly, white didn't make a lot of errors to be slaughtered with such force. White's reckless queen excursion in the opening forced him to walk a fine line to stay in the game. 

This little blog was intended to whet your appetite for playing against the bishop pair. An introductory thesis that included 3 marvelous games but only 3 games, after all. For your overall improvement there are several sources of study material I can recommend for general improvement. There are hardly any books which are only about fighting the bishop pair alone. For positional chess a convenient book with a set number of examples you need to solve are Test Your Positional Play . A classic gem is Reshevsky's book Art of Positional Play in Chess. McDonald's book is slightly off the topic of this blog but it's instructive examples will profusely enrich your love for Positional Sacrifices. As always, I can redirect the advanced player (2000+) to Aagaard's books which cover many topics in depth and are excellent for solving regardless of your current chess objective (tactics, endgame, positional play, dynamics, psychology, etc) Excelling at Positional Chess.