The Bishops: Their strengths and weaknesses

bishop strengths and weaknessThe bishop is the piece that can undergo the biggest changes in its level of development. A well-developed bishop can match the strength of a rook, whereas a bishop locked in behind blocked pawns is hardly worth more than a pawn.

The Bishop’s strengths

Due to their long-distance movements, bishops can quite easily have an impact on both sides of the board. There is usually an advantage for the player who owns both bishops over a player who has a bishop + knight (or two knights). They can also perform their attacking role from a safe distance whereas knights need to come close to the action before they can participate in the attack.

Examples of their strengths

Example 1

The first example shows that a bishop can play a role on both sides of the board. Note how white’s bishop control squares on the king-side as well as the queen-side. Black’s bishop on the other hand is a bit limited due to the fact that he has been forced into a defensive position (defending the b6-pawn).

bishop strengths 1
Be3 plays a useful role on both sides of the board.

Bishops can play a role on both sides of the board.

Example 2

The next example illustrates another advantage of a bishop over a knight. Knights can only have an attacking role if they can get close to the action – which also means they can often be forced to move away from the action. A bishop on the other hand can attack from a safe distance as illustrated in the position below:

bishop strengths 2
Bb2 is effective over a long distance.

Bishops can attack from a safe distance.

White could now play g4-g5 and get a strong attack on black’s king-side. The Bb2 is ideally placed to help attack the black king-side without being exposed to threats himself.

Summary of their strengths

  1. Bishops can easily play a role on both sides of the board.
  2. Bishops don’t need to be close to the action- they can attack from a safe distance.

The Bishop’s weaknesses

Bishops are vulnerable to threats from pawns and knights. This is because a bishop is generally worth more than a knight and will have to retreat when it is attacked by a knight or a defended pawn.

Bishops are severely affected by pawn-structures. They can become almost useless if they are trapped behind blocked pawns.

Another weakness of the bishop is that they can only move on one color. This usually becomes an increasingly important factor when one of the players have only one bishop or when both players have one bishop but they move on opposite color squares.

Examples of their weaknesses

Example 1

The first example illustrates how weak a bishop can be if he is trapped behind a blocked pawn-structure.

bishop weaknesses 1
A bishop trapped behind a blocked pawn-structure can be worthless.

In this position black has more material but white will simply promote the g-pawn and there is nothing black can do to prevent it.

Example 2

This example illustrates that a bishop can only be effective on one color squares and is helpless on the other color squares:

bishop weaknesses 2
A bishop is has no control over squares that aren’t the same color as the ones he moves on.

The black bishop can do nothing to defend the black pawns. The white king will capture them and win easily.

Example 3

In many positions, bishops are worth a half-pawn more than a knight. This makes them vulnerable to threats from knights:

Na4! White will achieve a small material advantage after Bb6, Nxb6 since bishops are usually a bit more valuable than knights.
Na4! White will achieve a small material advantage after Bb6, Nxb6 since bishops are usually a bit more valuable than knights.

In the final position white managed to obtain a small advantage in material since he has two bishops versus black’s knight + bishop.

Summary of their weaknesses

  1. The bishop’s mobility can be severely affected by your own or your opponent’s pawns.
  2. Bishops are only effective on one color of squares. While you still have both bishops this isn’t a big issue.
  3. Since bishops are generally worth more than knights, they are vulnerable to threats from knights.

Next Lesson – The Rooks: Their strengths and weaknesses

Previous Lesson – The Knights: Their strengths and weaknesses

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