The Bishop Fianchetto: What, Why, and When?

You might have come across the word “fianchetto” while reading a chess book or listening to chess commentary.

A fianchetto refers to a specific way of developing your bishops. And although you might not be familiar with the word, you probably came across a fianchettoed bishop during one of your games already.

Let’s go over everything you need to know about the fianchetto!

What is a fianchetto?

A fianchetto refers to a specific way to develop a bishop on the long diagonal by moving it to the second row on the adjacent knight’s file.

For light-squared bishops the long diagonal is a8-h1, and for dark-squared bishops the long diagonal is a1-h8.

Both the white and black player can fianchetto either the kingside or queenside bishop.

In the figure below, you can see the four ways to fianchetto a bishop in chess.

It’s not considered a fianchetto if you develop your bishop to a different square on the long diagonal.

For example, moving your c1 bishop to d2 and then c3 as white is not considered fianchettoing a bishop.

Double fianchetto

Although it doesn’t happen very often, it’s also possible to fianchetto both the kingside and queenside bishop. This is referred to as a double fianchetto.

In the diagram below, you can see that white has two fianchettoed bishops.

You can learn more in my article on the pros and cons of the double fianchetto.

How to fianchetto a bishop?

From the starting position, it’s not possible to fianchetto a bishop right away because it’s blocked by its own pawns.

To fianchetto a bishop, you first need to move the adjacent knight’s pawn up one square to make room.

To fianchetto the kingside bishop, you can play g3 and Bg2 with the white pieces or play g6 and Bg7 with the black pieces.

Similarly, to fianchetto your queenside bishop, you can play b3 and Bb2 as white or b6 and Bb7 as black.

What is the purpose of a fianchetto?

The main reason to fianchetto a bishop is to develop it to the long diagonal. By moving your bishop to the long diagonal it can control a lot of squares.

Another reason to fianchetto a bishop is to keep it safe. Bishops are long-range pieces, so they can be effective even if they are far from the action.

If you develop a bishop close to the center, it can often be attacked and chased away by your opponent.

In the position below, the white bishop on c4 is attacked by black’s b5 pawn.

Finally, if you fianchetto a bishop on the same side of the board as you are planning to castle on, the bishop can provide your king with extra safety.

However, fianchettoing on the same side as your castled king also has drawbacks. Because once you traded your fianchettoed bishop, you’ll be left with holes around your king that your opponent can target.

When to fianchetto a bishop?

It’s not always a good idea to fianchetto a bishop. Knowing when to fianchetto and when not to fianchetto requires a certain degree of strategic understanding of the game.

The easiest way to know if you should fianchetto and which bishop to fianchetto is to learn some opening theory.

There are many fianchetto openings you can choose from. And studying them will tell you exactly when to fianchetto and with which bishop.

In modern openings such as the King’s Indian attack you can fianchetto right away, while in other openings such as the Sicilian dragon you fight for the center first.

But sometimes you forget your theory or your opponent plays some strange moves.

To decide if you should fianchetto in unknown positions, you want to consider the pawn structure.

Fianchettoing is a good idea if the long diagonal is open or if you can break it open in the near future. Fianchettoing the bishop is also a good idea if the bishop has not other good squares to go to.

On the flip side, it’s not a good idea to fianchetto a bishop if the long diagonal is blocked by pawns, since your bishop won’t have any good targets.

How to counter a fianchetto?

If you see that your opponent is planning to fianchetto a bishop, there are several ways to deal with it.

The easiest way to counter a fianchetto is to force a bishop trade as soon as possible. This is normally done by placing the queen and bishop on an adjacent diagonal.

In the diagram below black just played Bh3 to force a bishop trade, which will leave white with weak light-squares around the king.

Another way to neutralize a fianchetto is to fianchetto yourself on the same diagonal.

If your opponent decides to fianchetto on the kingside, you can fianchetto on the queenside and vice versa.

Having both bishops on the same diagonal will cancel out their influence. Although, you have to be careful of some tactics along the long diagonal, such as discovered attacks.

If your opponent initiates a fianchetto very early on, you can try to limit the influence of the bishop by placing your own pawns on the long diagonal.

This will block the fianchettoed bishop’s scope, and your opponent will need to fight to bring the bishop back alive again.

In the position below black has played d5 and c6 to deal with the fianchetto on g2.

Finally, if you can’t eliminate the fianchettoed bishop directly, you can try to attack the fianchetto position with a pawn storm. This can be especially effective if your opponent fianchettoed on the same side as the castled king.

If it’s a kingside fianchetto you can attack it by pushing the h pawn, and a queenside fianchetto can be attacked by the a pawn.

Below you can see a position in the Sicilian dragon in which the white player started an attack on the fianchettoed position.