Having a deep positional understanding is one of every chess player’s goals and one of the features that make a difference between a master and an amateur. But the strategy is not only about weaknesses and pawn structures; it extends to the pieces on the board as well – a chess player must be able to asses which of his pieces are better and recognize different patterns present on the board. Understanding which pieces to keep and why is another important aspect that strategy teaches us. Take the minor pieces, for example. It is well known that the knight and the bishop have equal value; however, one can overcome the other in different types of positions.
As short-range pieces, knights need to be inside the opponent’s camp in order to create damage.
This and the fact that they need outposts to stabilize their position gives us a clear idea of why they are better than bishops when the center is closed. Bishops, on the other hand, are long-range pieces. They need open diagonals in order to be effective, hence an open center. But even in positions where each player has one bishop the two are not always of the same strength.
When talking about same color bishops, there are two factors that make a big difference:
As always, everything must be assessed in regard to the pawn structure on the board.
If you only have one bishop left on the board, it makes sense to place the pawns on the color of the bishop that you’re missing. The decision must always be made in relation to the exact position you have on the board, but this is usually a good way to gain space, restrict the opponent’s pieces and fix weaknesses.
A bishop that has all or most of the pawns placed on its own color is referred to as a bad bishop. This kind of bishop will usually have no activity and it will be difficult (if not impossible) to find a good diagonal for it. However, you must remember that there are always exceptions in chess.
And here it has to do precisely with where the bishop is placed. So, a bishop will be bad only if it is placed inside the pawn chain and stuck there. Otherwise, it becomes a good, active piece.
One game that recently caught my eye was the win of Indian Grandmaster Dronavalli Harika against Women’s World Champion Wenjun Ju.
After 20 moves, the following position was reached:
Harika, Dronavalli – Ju, Wenjun, Lausanne FIDE GP, 2020
The endgame should be about equal, but white has a little plus, as her bishop is better than its counterpart. The structure is similar for both players, but the big difference is noted when looking at the bishops.
White’s pawns are mostly on light squares and this gives life to her bishop, while black’s pawns are on dark squares and her bishop is not very active. It is important to note what the first thing that white does in this position is 21.g4 followed by h3, placing the last two pawns on light squares.
Black is far from lost, as with queens on the board she can still fight for counterplay.
However, this all changed on move 26 when queens were swapped off:
Position after queens trade
Now white’s superiority is clear.
Black has too many weaknesses to take care of and she will eventually be put in zugzwang. White continued here with 27.Bg3 followed by 28.h5!
This move is, again, important, as it fixes the kingside pawns on dark squares. Moreover, it opens the way for the white bishop to another weakness – that of the c7 pawn.
White played beautifully from here on, creating threats on both wings, and soon won her game.