The Knights: Their strengths and weaknesses

knight's strengthsThe knight is the only piece that doesn’t move in a straight line. The unique movement of the knights adds a lot of excitement to the game. Inexperienced players fear the knight and rightfully so – because it can be hard to spot the surprising fork-tricks that the knight can perform.

The Knight’s strengths

The knight performs very well in cluttered positions. This is mainly because he can jump over other pieces is not restricted by closed files and diagonals as the other pieces are. The knight can also be an effective attacking pieces provided he has access to a safe square near the action. Knights are famous for their unexpected “fork-tricks”!

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Examples of the knight’s strengths

Example 1

knight's strengths 2
Knights do well on safe squares (outposts) near the action.

Here we can see an ideal situation for a knight: The knight will hop to the e5-square from where he can put pressure on g6, d7 and also participate in the attack on black’s king-side.

With the help of the well-developed Ne5, white will double-up his rooks on the open h-file, put pressure on the g6-pawn and get a strong attack on black’s king-side. Note that the black Bd7 is trapped by his own pawns.

In most cases bishops are stronger than knights, but here it is clearly not the case. In positions with closed pawn-structures, knights usually out-perform the bishops. (However, if the pawn-structure can be opened, it will usually favour the bishops since their activity will increase.)

Example 2

Knights are famous for their sometimes unexpected fork-tricks! The example below illustrates how black won material with the help of a fork:

knight's strengths 3

The unique movement of the knights make them dangerous in tactical positions.

Qxg2+ wins a piece since after Kxg2, black will play Nxe3+ followed by Nxc2, getting back the queen.
Qxg2+ wins a piece since after Kxg2, black will play Nxe3+ followed by Nxc2, getting back the queen.

Example 3

Since knights are usually worth less than a bishop (particularly if they can’t access a safe square near the middle of the board) they can often be exchanged for a bishop. Knights are good at attacking bishops and threatening to exchange the knight for a bishop:

knight's strengths 5

White plays Na4 with the idea to exchange his knight for the bishop. Bishops are often vulnerable to threats from a knight since they are in many cases more valuable than knights.

Summary of the knight’s strengths

  1. Knights are very strong in cluttered positions – particularly when they have access to an outpost (an outpost is a square that can’t be attacked by enemy pawns).
  2. Due to their unique movement, knights can be very tricky in tactical combinations.
  3. Knights enjoy harassing bishops (threatening to exchange a knight for bishop) since a bishop is usually worth a bit more than a knight.

A knight is a slow-moving piece that often requires a few moves to be developed to its full potential. They are vulnerable to threats from pawns and it isn’t easy to find good squares for the knights since the enemy pawns can often drive them back.

Their main weakness however is that they aren’t very effective in playing a role on both sides of the board. For example, a knight stuck on the side of the board often has a very limited role – or as is often referred to by chess-players: “A knight on the rim is dim (grim).”

Examples of the knight’s weaknesses

Example 1

Material is equal in this position but white is in trouble since the black bishop is attacking him on both sides of the board. Black is threatening Bxg4 as well as Bxb3.

knight weakness 1b

The white knight must choose to defend either g4 or b3 since he can’t defend on both sides.

A knight often can’t defend on both sides of the board. This weakness of the knight is even more apparent in endgame situations where the player with the bishop creates action on both sides of the board – exploiting the fact that the knight can usually only be effective on one side of the board due to his slow movements.

Example 2

Knights are vulnerable to threats from pawns:

knight weakness 2b
If the black piece on e4 were a bishop, then f2-f3 would not be possible since the bishop could simply capture it.

Knights are even more vulnerable to threats from pawns than bishops are. Pawns need support before they can attack a bishop since the bishop can capture a pawn that attacks it. The knight however can’t capture a pawn that threatens him and therefore he is vulnerable to threats from enemy pawns.

Summary of the knight’s weaknesses

  1. Knights are slow which means they can’t move from one side of the board to the other side quickly.
  2. Knights are vulnerable to threats from pawns and pawns can easily drive knights back (unless the knight finds a safe square that can’t be attacked by a pawn.)

Next Lesson – The Bishops: Their strengths and weaknesses

Previous Lesson – The Pawns: Their strengths and weaknesses

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