Bishops vs. Knights

A weekly question and answer column by FIDE Master Andy Lee.

Q: I recently learned the point values of all the chess pieces, but I don't agree with them.  Bishops are supposed to be worth the same as knights, but the knights are much trickier.  Should I give up bishops for knights whenever I can? 

-- Damon, Mountain View, CA

A: Knowing when and how to trade pieces is one of the hardest things about chess strategy, especially when the two pieces are worth about the same amount.  Even very strong chess players don't always know when it's a good time to trade.  Here are some important basic rules:

1) Bishops are more valuable when the position is open.  A good example is the position below:



Notice that white can threaten to checkmate black with either a queen move to g3 or h3; both moves combine an attack of the queen and the bishop.  

2) Knights are better at fighting back in positions where the center is closed.  Let's look at the same position, but with some added center pawns:


Black's position is still not amazing, but his knights are not being dominated by the bishops quite yet.  The pawns in the center make a great shield for black's king!


3) Knights are at their best when the entire position is locked up; then they can use their tricky hopping ability to their best advantage.  Check out the last diagram below:



Notice the total domination of the knight over the bishop!  White's bishop can only act as a babysitter, taking care of all of his pawns, while black's knight can hop around as it pleases.  Just as the first example was an ideal situation for the bishops, this is perfect for the knight.

Check back next week as we continue our look into this question: this time bishops versus knights in the endgame.

Don't forget to send all of your chess questions to FalseNarwhal at!