Understanding Minor Piece Imbalances: The Bishop

Understanding Minor Piece Imbalances: The Bishop

CM AdviceCabinet

Bishops and knights have very similar nominal values but the way they move is completely different. A bishop is able to snipe his enemies from a distance but can only have access to half of the board by himself. Knights, on the other hand, have access to the entire board like the rest of the pieces but are oh, so slow. 

In this mini-series, I will help you improve your play when dealing with light pieces, particularly when there is an imbalance, i.e., bishop vs knight. Part one focuses on situations that favour the bishop.

Nearly all elite chess players can agree that bishops are generally stronger than knights. This is because computer analyses covering many games have revealed that bishops are simply more useful in more cases than knights. However, there is less consensus as to how much more valuable the bishop is. For example, if a pawn is worth 1 point and a knight is worth 3, Fischer believes a bishop should be valued at 3.25 points whereas Kasparov thinks it should be valued at 3.15 points.

In any case, let us learn how we can exact maximum value from the bishop by knowing three of its important characteristics.

1. They enjoy open positions

What are open positions? They are positions that have a few pairs of pawns traded off already. With pawns out of the way, the bishops enjoy greater mobility. Since more and more pawns usually get traded as the game heads into an ending, it stands to reason that bishops often get stronger as the position simplifies.

Given that Fischer prices his bishops so highly, I think it is only fitting that we have a look at one of his most famous games against Taimanov. Notice how Fischer aimed to open up the position for his bishop as soon as the imbalance was created.

2. Bishops thrive in positions where there are pawns on both flanks
This is another takeaway from Fischer's game shown above. We saw how the long-ranged bishop could easily switch targets from a weakness on one flank to the other, until black was no longer able to defend. The next ending is a very famous one played betweeen Gosta Stolz playing white and Isaac Kashdan playing black. The only imbalance is the minor pieces. Material is level and the kings are roughly equally active. Despite this, white lost the game without making any clear mistakes. The knight was simply unable to catch up with the bishop.
3. Bishops want their own pawns on the opposite colour complex
This is applies more for situations where the player only has one bishop left. Not only would he want his bishop to be unblocked, he would also like his pawns to control more squares of the opposite colour complex which will effectively complement his lonely bishop.
The next game will be a very instructive one by Nigel Short playing the white pieces against Miguel Illescas Cordoba.
I hope you are now able to use your bishops more effectively. I will continue to write on minor piece imbalances in the coming weeks, covering themes such as the knight's unique qualities and the bishop pair. If you are interested, please follow my account.