Would you rather have a knight or a bishop? There has always been a debate as to which is the stronger piece between the knight and the bishop.
Unfortunately, not even the strongest chess player can answer this question firmly (though he leans more towards the bishop!). But we can follow some general guidelines which can help us decide which chess piece will be stronger in the given position.
In this article, I’ll show you some studies and classics played by world champions to help you understand the guidelines much better.
Let’s first look at scenarios where the knight is preferable.
Where Knights Are Better Than Bishops
So when do knights reign supreme over bishops?
When the play is only on one side
Troitsky (Study) – 1924
As we can see in the above position the action on the chessboard is only limited to the Kingside.
1.Kh6 White advances his king and then plans on activating his knight later on.
1…Kh8 2.Nh4 Kg8
Black does not have much choice and has to shuffle around with his king. If 2…Bg83.Ng6#.
3.Nf3 The knight starts his journey! 3…Kh8 4.Ne5
5.Nc6 Kh8 6.Ne7 Bg8 7.Ng6#
The play on one side suits the knight as it is a short range piece and can dominate the bishop in a small part of the chessboard.
When the position is of closed nature
Alekhine, Alexander – Yates, Frederick
London BCF Congress London (10), 1922
The knight is also preferable when the position is closed in nature, that implies that there are no (or almost none) open files or diagonals.
In the above position there are no open diagonals. There is the open c-file but White has complete control over the file.
Alekhine masterfully uses his knight to dominate the bishop. Play out the moves and you’ll appreciate the game yourself!
As we saw from the game, White’s knight on e5 was placed right in the centre controlling many important squares and dominating Black’s pieces. On the other hand the Black’s bishop wasn’t able to create any problems for White, since it was always stuck behind the pawn chain.
When the Knight has a Secure outpost
Fischer, Robert James vs Gadia,O – Mar del Plata, 1960
Another situation where the knight is preferable is when the knight has a secured outpost in the centre. In the above position the square d5 is a secure outpost for the knight as Black cannot attack it with any pawn forcing the knight to move back.
Let us see how the knight dominates after reaching the outpost.
20.c3 Be7 21.Ra1 f6
If 21…Bf822.a4Rb823.axb5Rxb5 (23…axb524.Ra7) 24.Rxa6Rxa625.Qxb5.
This is a strategic surrender. Now White gets a very strong center.
30…Qb7 was better as it prevents d5 and keeps Black in the game. But already in a practical game, such moves are tough to find. Now, White slowly builds up the pressure. Thanks to his bishops and extra space, Black is tied down.
Instead of it, 35…c5 would have been more stubborn.
36.Rdf1 Re7 37.Be3 Nh7 38.Rxf7!
If Black goes 38…Rxf7 39.Rxf7 Qxf7 40.Be6, and the pin wins it all! This is one advantage of having 2 bishops, you can dominate the play on the diagonals.
As you saw, when it comes to knights vs bishops, there is no easy answer to which piece is stronger. Both the knight and the Bishop have their strengths and weaknesses. Every position is different and also there are many other factors which could influence which piece reigns supreme.
The ones given above should give you a good starting point to base your decisions on.
Note: This article has been written by Ojas Kulkarni, who’s a 2200+ Elo rated player.