When the Knight Beats the Bishop

When the Knight Beats the Bishop


Positional and strategic play is often not a strong suit for amateur chess players. I know it is not for me - at least comparing myself to the masters whose games I study. Often amateur games are decided by a big blunder that could have been avoided had the player looked a little more carefully. So it is quite satisfying when we can avoid big blunders and actually defeat our opponent with a strategy we came up with not based on just winning material.

Don't get me wrong...if you CAN win material without giving your opponent too much compensation, you SHOULD. Most of your games can be won by just spotting when your opponent blunders.

The problem is how do we develop our positional play and our ability develop strategies in our games? I think one way is to study the classics. I know...not profound advice, but perhaps it is important to understand why. You begin to collect patterns and methods that you can apply in your game. As many authors have noted, this is easier to do with the games of the older masters as modern chess is much more complex with many positional and tactical patterns woven together that it's hard to disseminate the patterns you are trying to learn. The modern masters know them - either explicitly or implicitly - and they can handle the complexity. Of course, eventually, perhaps we can as well, but it's important to start more simply and build from there.

With that in mind, here's an example of the great master Averbakh and how he used his good knight to dominate his opponent's bishop.

Over time, we collect these various methods in our openings, middlegames, and endgames. This is the "theory." Putting it into practice is sometimes difficult, but sometimes if we just focus on what we can understand, we can succeed over an opponent who perhaps can't do it quite as well yet.

One danger though is tunnel vision. Here is a forced win I missed because I was only focused on the positional knight versus bishop battle. Let's see if you can see it!

Despite missing this beautiful tactical shot, I was able to use the positional superiority of my knight to win against my opponent's bishop. As I mention in the annotations and in the Averbakh example, one positional edge often isn't enough to win. However, when you have such an edge, it often makes finding a plan difficult for your opponent, leading to mistakes that you can exploit. Such was this case in the game below.

I hope you enjoyed the game! I certainly found it very satisfying despite its flaws. I think it's important to savor the "small victories" in our path to chess improvement. These little moments where you realize you did something right will add up and combined with learning from your mistakes will lead to a very enjoyable life of learning and improving at chess.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to check out some of the articles I've written on my chess site: