Chess Terms


The word outpost implies some distant lookout point, but in chess, all the pieces are within eight squares of each other. So what in the world is an outpost in chess? Read on to learn more about this important strategic concept.

What Is An Outpost?

An outpost is an advanced square—on at least the fourth rank, usually the fifth or sixth, and occasionally the seventh—where one side can plant a piece that is not easily dislodged. Three things are usually, but not necessarily, true before an outpost can be considered:

  1. The side with the outpost is currently guarding that square with a pawn
  2. The side facing the outpost cannot attack that square with a pawn
  3. No piece of equal value can easily challenge the outpost piece

Here is a classic example of a knight outpost that meets all three elements:

GM Judit Polgar establishes a textbook knight outpost on d5 and goes on to defeat GM Viswanathan Anand at Wijk aan Zee 1998. White protects d5 with two pawns, and Black cannot attack d5 with any pawns, nor can he make an equal trade for the knight. As a result, the squares b6, c7, e7, and f6 are forever inaccessible to Black's king, queen, or rook.

Outposts are most commonly associated with knights, which benefit greatly from having an anchor point where they can reach into an enemy position despite their short range. Bishops and rooks sometimes occupy outposts as well, while the king and queen are too valuable (they can be threatened too easily), and pawns too weak.

If your opponent has a backward pawn or an isolated pawn, that is often a sign to try to establish an outpost in front of the pawn. In the above example, the d6 pawn is backward. As a result, White had a natural outpost on d5, which she took full advantage of.

Why Are Outposts Important?

Although they cannot win games by themselves, outposts increase the practical value of the piece occupying them. Knights are usually worth about the same as bishops. However, an established knight on the sixth rank, writes IM Jeremy Silman, is worth about a rook.

Silman in 2002. Photo: James F. Perry/Wikimedia, CC.

Even if material is equal, then, having an outpost still confers a strategic advantage, as if the side with the outpost was slightly ahead.

From the point of view of defending against outposts, the concept points out the danger of making too many pawn moves: the weak squares they leave behind.


As stated, knights usually benefit the most from outposts. Here is a second example.

Even without pawn protection, GM Garry Kasparov establishes a knight outpost on d3 in one of the most famous games ever, Game 16 of the 1985 World Championship against GM Anatoly Karpov. The knight stayed there for 18 moves until Karpov gave up his queen for it, losing seven moves later.

A rook on the seventh rank is already powerful, and one protected by a pawn even more so.

GM Vladimir Kramnik gets his rook to the protected c7 square in the 2004 World Championship against GM Peter Leko. Leko resigned one move later.

Finally, bishops sometimes establish outposts as well.

GM Amin Tabatabaei outposts a bishop on d6 while his opponent GM Rasmus Svane has a bishop outpost on c3. Ultimately, Tabatabaei's outpost proved more valuable—his bishop is harder to attack, blocks a rook, and is closer to Black's king—and he won the game.


Now you know what outposts are, why they're important, and have seen some examples. Learn more about chess strategy with our Lessons.

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