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Of Bishops and Knights.

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Warning: Most of the contents in this post is or may be highly speculative. Many readers may have different opinions and your ideas may be as good or even better than the author’s. Unfortunately one reads many things passim and sometimes to find the exact words seems impossible. This is why  have blended the assertions with the rethorical questions to imply that all what I want is to arise the doubt which may lead us to the truth, which in Chess is nearly always relative.



One of the perennial topics in Chess is that of  “what do you like best, the Bishops or the Knights?”.  When we were young we all had a favourite piece…, and in many treatises by important authors  we found  something like: “well, it depends on the position: in open positions the Bishops and in closed positions the Knights. And the question is answered.

Wait a minute………..”Answered????”

That innocent question is full of venom. If you want to study the matter by yourself, here is some bibliography you should not miss (incidentally a proof that the question is far fom easy…):

SOLTIS:   “Rethinking the Chess Pieces”

TIMMAN ” Power Chess with Pieces”

WATSON: ” Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy”

Here you will find a wealth of modern ideas. Fortunately or not, those who have studied many f the books published during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s of the past century have read the same things for years, and more if the authors were from the former Soviet Union. But in the meanwhile, and more during the last decade or so, new ideas were constantly appearing. Most of us read in a hundred of different books that “dictum” mentioned above: it was like a lethany which seemed to win points simply by repeating it: “the Bishops for open positions, the Knights for closed ones .the Bishops for…” ad infinitum. Then one day you take Watson’s book and all your deeply established foundations are suddenly blown out: that may be so in certain cases but not in all cases. On the contrary: the Knights prefer open positions while to take advantage of the Bishops it is necessary to close the position, stabilize it and try to open it later.

All leading top chessplayers devote much of their time to study all the nuances affecting this matter. This is a recurrent theme in the Soviet School Chess tuition system. For a non-Soviet today may be very difficult to understand the degree of effort they put for decades, dissecting openings, working on middlegame positions, determining why in everyone of those positions this Bishop should be exchanged for that Bishop or Knight or if in this or that particular case B + N was stronger than the Bishop pair, etc. Except in very specialised treatises you will not find these ideas when studying annotated games. Most GMs are reluctant to give away their secrets. Even when they are annotating their own games, they never disclose their opening preparation or say much about the way  they find plans and ideas.  Many annotators have no time, space or knowledge to explain clearly what is happening in the game they are analysing. Chess is a very difficult game, and trying to explain what a GM or a World Champion had in mind when he played this or that, integrating it in the frame of a whole game is not always feasible…

But remember: the leading GMs when training or studying, pay a lot of attention to the matter of  Bishops and Knights.  (You will have read another piece of advice like this one : “Pay attention to the pieces left on the board not to those absent”. As in mostother cases in Chess, another half-truth: in fact it is so, but before a piece is exchanged and abandons the board the GM knows why it should /must be exchanged and which of the opponent’s pieces should / must accompany it.)  The corolary is: stop playing by inertia. The pieces on the chesschessboard conforms a delicate and very sensible structure: every move changes or may change the balance forever. Pawns cannot go backwards, so every Pawn movement alters the system. Space is controlled a different way by the different pieces. The advance of a Pawn + the exchange of a Bishop may condemn your position creating a permanent weaknesses on the squares of a certain colour (Nimzowitsch has this as one of his deadliest weapons).  To reach an endgame with a static Pawn structure + the wrong minor piece may mean a sure defeat (in the same way that a Pawn-endgame may be lost for one of the sides while keeping a Rook or a piece may mean salvation, etc.)

It is very curious how the potentiality of the pieces can baffle even today’s chess programs. I have submitted some endgame compositions to Fritz 13. The positions were of the type: “White to move  draws.”  Some of these positions may how a heavy unbalance in the number  and/or quality of the pieces involved and here lies their artistic value. Well, the program was unable to recognise the draw till it was made: in the process it was giving enormous evaluations to the Black side… I do not pretend this happens on a 100% basis, but if you find the adequate examples you will see a super- program going astray in an endgame problem.

I had always wondered what the Soviets trainers taught their pupils (the likes of Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov,  and so on). The more I tried to find an answer, the more opaque the situation became. Well, in the end, gathering information from here and there , and apart from many other aspects, I came to the conclussion that one of the lessons was that of Bishops/Knights. Apparently ,Karpov’s trainer,  S. Fuman, instilled into his pupil the love for the Bishops (incidentally, Furman also trained Korchnoi, another devotee of the Bishops…). If you have a look at Karpov’s games, two details appear immediately: he mastered the difficult art of Rook endgames, and there is a very high  nmbers of endgames in which the Bishop is involved.

In my opinion, I think some of the lessons the Soviet Chess teachers loved to teach was those of the use of the Bishops, the strength of the Bishop pair, the handling of Bishop pair vs. N+N and B vs. N with and without Rooks …

So from now on, when you study the games of the great, pay attention to the use they make of the minor pieces, try to understand why there is an endgame with this or that correlation of forces, why they tried to exchange Bishops, or BxN or why they tried to keep Bishops or Knights on the board.

As Soltis would say: “the essence of Chess”.

1.- Powerful Knights:

W.:V.  Korchnoi  (0)

B.: V. Tukmakov (1)

Reggio Emilia 1988

1.  Nf3  d5  2. c4  c6  3. e3 Nf6  4. Nc3 e6  5. d4  Nbd7  6. Qc2  Bd6  7. Be2  0-0  8. 0-0  dc4  9. Bc4:  b5  10. Bb3  Bb7  11. e4  c5!  12. Nb5:  Be4:  13. Qe2  Bf3:!  14. gf3 (14.Qf3: Bh2: 15.Kh2: Qb8)  14… Bb8  15. f4  a6 16.  Qf3  Bf4:  17. Bf4:  ab5  18. Bd6  cd4!  19. Bf8: Qf8:  20. Rac1  Rd8  21. Rc7  Nc5  22. Rfc1  Nfe4  23. Re1 Nd2  24. Qc6  Nd3!  25. Rd1 Ne5  26. Qc5  Ndf3  27. Kg2  d3!  28. h3  g5  29. Qf8:   Kf8:  30. Rb7  Nd4    31. Rc1 Nb3:  32. ab3  d2 /  and White resigned.

2.- Parallel Bishops:

W.: L. Ljubojevic (0)

B.: J. Pinter (1)

Belgrade 1984

1. e4  e5  2. Nf3 Nf6  3. Bb5  a6  4.  Ba4 Nf6  5. 0-0 Be7  6.Re1  b5  7. Bb3  d6  8. c3  0-0  9. h3  Na5  10. Bc2  c5  11. d4  Qc7  12. Nbd2  cd4  13. cd4  Bb7  14. d5  Rac8  15. Bb1  Nh5  16. Nf1  Nf4  17. Ng3  Bd8  18. Bf4:  ef4  19.  Nh5  Nc4  20. Re2 Ne5  21. Rc2  Qa5  22. Kf1  Nf3:  23. Qf3:  g6  24. Rc8:  Bc8:  25.  Nf4: Qd2  26. Nd3  f5!  27. ef5  Bf5: 28. Qe2 Qg5  29. g4  Bd7  30. Bc2  h5  31. Bd1  Kg7  32. Qe4  Bb6  33. Be2  Re8  34. Qf3 ?! (Qg2!?)  34… hg4  35. hg4  b4!  36. a4  ba3  37. Ra3:  Rf8  38. Qg3  Bb5  39. Qd6:  Bd3:  40. Rd3: Rf2:  41. Ke1  Qc1  42. Bd1  Qb2:  43.Bc2  Qa1  / White resigned. 

     Two beautiful games with a lot of variations to be analysed.


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