Bishop Vs Knight: Which Piece Is Stronger?

Each piece in chess moves differently. And as a result, not every piece is equally powerful.

The bishop and the knight move completely different.

But unexpectedly, both these pieces are generally considered to be worth the same amount of points.

How is that possible, you ask?

The answer is that the bishop and knight are strong in different types of positions. And learning when to trade a knight for a bishop (and vice versa) is an important concept in chess strategy.

Let’s take a look at bishop vs knight material imbalance and which piece is stronger in specific situations.

Is the knight or bishop worth more?

If you are familiar with the standard point system used for all the pieces, you know that both the knight and bishop are worth 3 points.

However, it’s important to realize that these values are just rough estimates and that they are averaged over a lot of games.

This means that the bishop and knight are not always worth the same, and their value can depend on the concrete position on the board.

Of course, this is a direct result of the different ways that each piece moves.

So let’s take a look at different scenarios and see which is more powerful: the bishop or the knight.

When is the bishop stronger?

Let’s look at 5 different cases when a bishop is stronger. If you can recognize one or several of these in your position, it’s probably a good idea to trade your knight for the bishop.

1. Open positions

Bishops prefer open positions, which normally means that several pawns have already been traded.

This is because bishops are long-range pieces, and having too many pieces still left on the board often limits the scope of your bishops.

Don’t forget that bishops can be blocked by both the opponent’s pieces and your own.

As a result, if you have the bishop, it is generally a good idea to trade off several pieces to open up the position.

Below you can see an open position that favors the bishop.

2. Bishop pairs

Bishops can only move to other squares of the same color. That means that a single bishop can only influence half the squares on the board.

At the beginning of the game, you start with a light-square bishop and a dark-square bishop. And as long as you can keep this pair of bishops alive, they can correct for each other’s weaknesses.

Moreover, you can checkmate your opponent with a king and two bishops, but not with a king and two knights.

As a result, a bishop pair is generally considered to be stronger than a knight pair.

Below you can see how two bishops complement each other to control a lot of squares on the board.

Keep in mind that although a pair of bishops work together to cover all the squares on the board, they can’t attack the same target unlike the pair of rooks.

3. Your opponent’s pawns are fixed on the same color as your bishop

Your bishop will only be a strong piece if it has something it can actually attack.

So when the game transitions from the middlegame to the endgame, you want to try and fix your opponent’s pawns on the same color as your bishop.

This will make sure that your bishop always has some targets to aim for.

If your opponent’s pawns are on the opposite color as your bishop, you won’t be able to threaten them at all, and you end up with a useless bishop.

Also note that it’s important to fix your opponent’s pawns on the right color by blocking them with your own pawns or pieces.

Else, your opponent will be able to move them to safety after you attack them.

Below you can see that the white pawn on c5 fixes black’s b7 and c6 pawns on the same color as the light-squared bishop.

4. Endgames with pieces on both sides of the board

Since the bishop is a long-range piece, it can influence both side of the board if it’s on a good square.

Meanwhile, the knight can only move a small distance each turn and it takes several turns extra to move your knight from one side of the board to the other.

You can use this to your advantage if your opponent has pieces (especially pawns) on both sides of the board. You can check the principle of two weaknesses for more information.

Below you can see an example in which the white bishop can attack two of black’s pawns on opposite sides of the board, while the black knight can only defend one of them.

5. The bishop can trap the knight

You have probably heard the expression that “a knight on the rim is dim“. This is definitely true of bishop vs knight endgames as well.

As shown below, in some positions it is possible for a bishop to completely trap a knight on the side of the board.

If white doesn’t manage to save the knight with another piece, the black king might simply walk over and capture the knight.

On the flip side, even if the bishop is place on the side of the board, a knight is never able to trap a bishop.

When is the knight stronger?

I hope you didn’t get the impression so far that knights are useless and the bishop is always the better piece!

Let’s look at 4 scenarios in which the knight is better and you should try to trade your bishop for a knight.

1. Closed positions

Knights are strong in closed positions, in which most pawns are still on the board and the (center) pawns are locked.

While the bishop’s movement will be blocked by pawns in these positions, the knight can easily jump over pawns and pieces to go where it wants to be.

As a result, if you have the knight, you want to keep as many pawns on the board as possible. And if possible, try to place your own pawns on the opposite color of your opponent’s bishop.

Below you can see how black’s knight on c5 can easily jump over the locked pawns and attack both the a4 and e4 pawns. Meanwhile white’s bishop has a hard time trying to reach the black pawns on c7 and g7.

2. Placed on good outposts

The value of a knight depends on where it is placed on the board. Knights in or close to the center of the board can control more squares than knights placed on the side.

However, pieces in the center of the board can easily be chased away by pawns. So you want to place your knights on secure outposts.

An outpost is a square close to the center of the board that is defended by your own pawn, but can no longer be attacked by your opponent’s pawns.

As an example of how strong a knight can be when placed on the right square, the former world champion Garry Kasparov famously used to say that “a knight on f5 just about every time justifies a pawn sacrifice”!

Or in other words, a knight of f5 is roughly worth 4 pawns instead of 3.

Below you can see that the two white knights are placed on beautiful outposts and completely dominate the black position.

So if you have a knight, it’s important to prepare an outpost position for it as soon as possible.

3. Endgames with static pawn structures

I already mentioned before that you want to place your pawns on the opposite color as your opponent’s bishop. This way, your opponent won’t be able to attack your pawns.

Fortunately, knights don’t have this problem since they can move to any square on the board.

So if all the pawns are locked, the knight will always be able to find a good target. Although, it might take a few turns for your knight to jump to the right square.

Below you can see an endgame with locked pawns that favors the white knight over the black bishop.

4. Endgames with pieces on one side of the board

Generally, knights are also better in endgames with all the pawns on the same side of the board.

In these types of endgames, the bishop won’t be able to outmaneuver the knight, because the knight doesn’t constantly need to move from one side of the board to the other.

However, even in these positions, it’s important to place your pawns on the right color to minimize the bishop’s counterplay.

Bishop pair vs knight pair

While a bishop and a knight are roughly of the same strength, this doesn’t apply for a bishop pair and a knight pair.

The bishop pair is generally superior because the bishops can work together very well, they cover each other’s weaknesses, and they can checkmate a king.

While a pair of knights will often get in the way of each other, they can not checkmate a king, and it’s difficult to prepare good outposts for both knights.

From my personal experience, I would say that the bishop pair is almost worth an extra pawn. So if two knights are worth 6 points, two bishops would be almost worth 7 points.

Summary

Deciding whether the bishop or knight is stronger isn’t simple. There are many positional factors you need to take into consideration before you trade a knight for a bishop or vice versa.

The bishop is stronger when:

  • the position is open
  • you have the bishop pair
  • your opponent’s pawns are fixed on the same color as your bishop
  • you can play on both sides of the board
  • you can trap the knight on the side of the board

And the knight is stronger when:

  • the position is closed
  • there is a good outpost for your knight
  • the pawns are locked in an endgame
  • all the play is on one side of the board

Try to be more conscious about the knight vs bishop trade in your upcoming games and use what you learned today to your advantage!

If you want to learn more about positional chess, you should read my article on the most important chess imbalances to know.