Knights versus Bishops

Jun 24, 2011, 9:09 AM |

Last night at Chess Club in Granbury Texas I shared with the players a fun exersize:  Knights vs Bishops.  The White player has a King, the 8 pawns, and the Bishop pair.  The Black player has a King, the 8 pawns, and the Knight pair.

The goal is just like a regular game of chess, only with fewer pieces.  Most likely the winner will be the player who can promote a pawn and then cause checkmate, although checkmate can come sooner.

Initially the players all assumed that the Bishop pair would be stronger and win easily.  However, the player who understands pawn structures and the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the Knights and Bishops will win.  It's the player not the pieces!

Let's compare the pieces square control, range/speed, special circumstances etc.

Knights in a corner only influence 2 squares, edge of board 4 squares, and center 8.  Bishops however are corner 7 squares, edge 7 squares, and center 13 squares.  Advantage Bishop.

Bishops are stranded on one color of square.  A light squared Bishop will never influence a dark square.  Knights however change color everytime they move!  Advantage Knight.

Bishops have speed!  Knights are slow!  To get from one corner of the board to the other (a1 to h8) the Bishop uses only one move while a Knight needs six.  Advantage Bishop.

Bad Bishop versus Knight:  A "Bad Bishop" can get cramped in a closed pawn position while a Knight is very "Hoppy" :-) in a closed position!  Advantage Knight.

"Pin to Win":  A Bishop can PIN a pawn or piece to the enemy King, or even a pawn to the Knight.  The Pin tactic is very strong.  Knights don't Pin!  Advantage Bishop.

Tactic-Fork:  While both the Bishop and the Knight can utilize the Fork tactic to cause a double attack, I think the Knights Fork is stronger.  Because of the straight line movement of the Bishop it is easier to notice and avoid Fork attacks, while the Knights odd movement and ability to "hop" makes Fork attacks more surprising from Knights.  Slight Advantage Knight.

Tactic-Skewer:  The skewer is the cousin to the Pin.  Knights can't skewer, but Bishops can!  Advantage Bishop.

Tactic-Discovered Attack:  Knights ability to hop means their attack is never blocked or hidden.  They just attack all the time.  Bishops however can be sneaking and hide behind a pawn and at the right moment move the pawn revealing a Discovered Attack, or worse a Discovered Check.  Advantage Bishop.

Checkmate:  A King and 2 Bishops can force checkmate.  A King and 2 Knights cannot!  Advantage Bishops.

Also, A King and 1 Bishop or a King and 1 Knight cannot force mate.  Thus a strategy for Knights is to trade one of your Knights for a Bishop to remove the checkmate power of the Bishop pair.  Preferably the Knight wants to trade for the "good Bishop" and leave the Bishop player with the "bad Bishop".

Strategy Points: 

1.  Knights should play for the pawn structure to be closed, while Bishops aim for open positions. 

2.  Knights want to trade a Knight for Bishop removing the Bishop pair. 

3.  Knights want to promote pawns that promote on a square colored opposite that of the Bishop.

4.  Bishops want to promote pawns that promote on a square colored the same as the Bishop so the Bishop can aide in its promotion.

5.  Knights want to simplify the pawn structure to one side of the board.  Knights are at a disadvantage when there are pawns on both sides of the board as their movement is short range.

6.  Bishops want to play for positions that have pawns split on both sides of the board. A Bishops long range allows them to influence both sides of the board while Knights can only cover one side or the other.

7.  Knowing that a King and only one minor piece (Bishop or Knight) cannot force checkmate, in situations with only one pawn remaining, the player without the pawn should seek to trade their piece for the last pawn leaving their opponent with insufficient material for a win, thus claiming the draw.

In conclusion, this "mini-game" of chess is a fantastic training exersize to play with friends.  It's also a great way to teach chess to beginners.  Understanding the minor pieces and the pawns will greatly improve your chess strength.