Worth of the Knight and Bishop

Sep 16, 2011, 8:10 AM |
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To the usual chess wizard, a knight is a knight and a bishop is a bishop. They are worth 3 points, and so an exchange of the pieces is considered an equal one.

Now, although the pieces are of equal value, their worth is entirely subject to their position. They indeed become more or less valuable to you depending on their place on the board.  I have been focusing my attention of understanding how to make a calculated decision on when to make an exchange of these pieces. The next time you have a chance to exchange minor pieces to accomplish some goal, take the entire board into account when making your decision

In this blog entry, I will attempt to relay to you, some elements you need to look out for when valuing your knights and bishops.

Knights become more valuable as they make their way toward the middle and up the board.  A knight on the back row is virtually worthless because it can only attack a few squares.  A knight in the centre can attack up to 8 squares.  As your heroic knight makes its way to the 5th and 6th ranks, it becomes a real thorn in the opponent’s side.  If a knight is approaching your back ranks, look to trade one of your minor pieces to eliminate it, or chase it off with a lowly pawn like the coward he is.

If there is one thing my opponent learns from me, its that Knights on outposts can be devastating.  Look for outposts --squares on the 5th or 6th rank that are protected from enemy pawns or other pieces-- to plonk your knights on.  From a protected outpost, a knight can really hinder your opponent’s development, allowing you more control over the board.

Knights are more valuable in closed games, bishops are in turn, more valuable in open games.  If you are in a closed game with the centre locked up by many pawns, hold on to your knights if appropriate, and avoid knight-for-bishop exchanges.  Knights can leap over the clutter in the centre of the board, where they are more mobile than bishops, queens, and rooks.  On the other hand, in an open game bishops can fly up and down the board unhindered, bringing a gliding death to your plans and pieces.

Knights are more valuable earlier in the game, when the board is cluttered with pawns and whatever have you, and bishops become more valuable toward the endgame, as cannon-fodder is removed from the board.

The bishop’s main weakness is its inability to attack pieces on a colour other than its own.  That is why it is valuable to maintain a “bishop pair” if at all possible – a white and a colour bishop that can work in beautiful dance to attack all squares on the board.  This is especially true if your opponent does not have a bishop pair. More so than any other piece, the bishop needs its friend to fight alongside him for maximum effect on the board.

Finally, a bishop that is trapped behind its own pawns is called a “bad bishop.”  Look to exchange this bishop for another minor piece, move the pawns, or work to get the bishop outside of the pawn chain, so it is at least active. This is something I am now trying to improve on, as I find it easy to forget about them.

Keep this all in mind when making the decision to exchange your minor pieces.

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