Without a grasp of basic strategies for the bishops, chess will be a difficult game to master. Unfortunately, because they’re not always the most dynamic pieces in the early game, beginners sometimes overlook the power that bishops can wield.
However, bishops can be your heroes in middle and endgames. Their power increases the positions open up, to the point that many top players will tell you the bishop is slightly more valuable than a knight, despite having the same base value of 3 pawns.
Here’s everything you need to know about these crucial pieces.
How the Bishop Moves in Chess
As shown in the diagram above, White’s bishops begin on the c1 and f1 squares. Black’s bishops start on the c8 and f8 squares.
Some total beginners struggle to remember how to set up the chessboard. In my first tournament, while setting up my side of the board, I mixed up the position of my bishops with my knights. To avoid such an embarrassment, just remember that the bishops stand next to the royal family!
Bishops move diagonally. One of your bishops will try to control the white squares, and the other one will try to control the dark squares. In order to avoid blunders, it’s key for beginner players to learn to visualize the diagonal lines that bishops can move along. There are a few basic chess strategy points related to this, which we’ll get to later.
Strength, Strategy, & Chess Piece Comparisons
The king is the most important piece – because once the King is mated, the game is over. A single pawn is the least valuable piece. The queen is the most valuable, worth about the same as 9 pawns. Bishops are worth around 3 pawns.
Rooks are 2 pawns more valuable than bishops. While rooks are more valuable than bishops, the basic chess strategy is similar. Rooks and bishops both benefit from having an open board because they can move from one side to the other in a single move, blockading large sections from the opponent’s control.
One difference, however, is that bishops can’t team up on the same file like the rooks. Two rooks on the same file can build a formidable attack. Two bishops on adjacent files, on an open board, can achieve a similar strength.
Strategy Tips for Knights and Bishops
Finally, the most complicated comparison: bishops vs. knights. We’ll have to summarize here because we could go on forever about their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Take it with a grain of salt, but it’s generally said that bishops and knights are equal in value. In practice, though, either the bishop or the knight can be stronger.
Beginners often underestimate bishops. Chess strategy favors knights in the beginning, so this is understandable. The full power of bishops only develops when the board starts to clear up, and beginners don’t always get to that stage.
There are a few reasons why bishops are stronger in the endgame. One is that more open lines become available. While it would take a knight several moves to cross the board, a bishop can go from one corner to the other in a single move. Any opposing piece that strays in their path is vulnerable.
The other important point is that two bishops and a king can mate the opponent’s king, whereas two knights and a king cannot (unless the opponent willingly blunders). Want to test it? Here’s a sample board:
There are times when knights are stronger than bishops. Knights are suited for closed positions with many pieces on the board. If you have more knights than bishops, think carefully before trading more, because they’ll lose power as the board empties.
While bishops are generally stronger when playing from the sidelines, knights prefer the center of the board. From here, they are more likely to steer your opponent away from crucial squares.
Beginner Bishop Principles
Open diagonals are the dream of every bishop. Chess becomes a much easier game when your bishops have wide-open spaces to cross. Try to trade your pawns to achieve this. The central pawns, especially, can be a pain for bishops who want freedom.
Good and Bad Bishops
Whether your bishop is good or bad depends on how it gets along with your pawns. If most of your pawns are on the same colored squares as your bishop, then you’ve got a bad bishop on your hands because it has less squares available to it. If you’ve got your pawns and a bishop on different colored squares, then the bishop has more room to operate.
An extreme example in which Black has a bad bishop and White has a good bishop.
But take this only as a rule of thumb. While good bishops are lone rangers, bad bishops can work together with pawns by defending each other. This can be an advantage in certain circumstances.
The bishop can be technically “bad” but nonetheless active if it steps outside its own pawn chain. Active bishops are always better.
Bishops should be active because it means that they are more powerful. The bishop in the diagram above plays a key role on the board, and Black’s knight will struggle to compete with it.
A Critical Piece in the Game of Chess
Of all the pieces, the most challenging one to master might be the bishop. Chess beginners should remember that despite their relative early game weakness, bishops can become among the strongest pieces on the chess board. Trade weak bishops, keep your strong bishops as the board clears, and odds are you’ll find yourself with an enviable position.
Of course, just having strong pieces doesn’t necessarily translate to winning strategies. Once you’ve mastered the basics of piece placement, as well as piece strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to move on to more complex strategies. The road to chess mastery is as infinite as the number of possible moves but entirely worth traveling!