Each of the chess pieces have their own strengths and weaknesses. That is why the pieces also have different values. Since the chessmen will be traded at various moments in the game it’s important to understand the value of each piece. Knowing the value will help you make informed decisions and better understand strategies for winning.
Below the video is a transcript (with diagrams).
How to make good exchanges
In this lesson you will learn what is an exchange and I will also show you how to make good exchanges. But first, what is an exchange in chess? Here’s an example:
Your white’s bishop can capture the black knight, but then black will capture your bishop with one of their pawns. When you capture one of your opponent’s pieces and they capture you back, that is called an exchange.
Now here’s why exchanges are important. At the start of a new game, both players get the same number of pieces and it will be difficult to checkmate your opponent’s king when they have so many pieces that can defend him. You must first capture as many as possible of your opponent’s pieces because the fewer defenders they have left, the easier it will be to checkmate their king. But the problem is, if your opponent is a good chess player, they won’t allow you to easily capture their pieces. Also, that is why it will be to your advantage if you know how to make good exchanges. Let’s look at a few examples.
In this position you can capture the pawn, but then your opponent would capture your queen. You should immediately realise that this would be a bad exchange because your queen is worth much more than a pawn. Therefore, in this case it is easy to know that this exchange would be bad for you and that you shouldn’t do it. But it is not always so easy to know whether a particular exchange is good or bad.
Look at this example:
White can capture the rook but then black will capture him back. The question now is should you capture the rook, or shouldn’t you? Would it be a good exchange or would it be a bad exchange?
The secret is knowing whether an exchange is good or bad. The answer is to know the point value of each piece. The stronger a piece is, the higher its point-value. Let me show you the point-value of all the pieces.
A pawn is the weakest of all the chessmen and he is worth 1 point. The knight is worth 3 points and the bishop is also worth 3 points. A rook is worth 5 points. The queen is the strongest of all the pieces and she is worth 9 points. The king is the only piece that does not have a point-value because if your king is in checkmate then you lose the game. Therefore we can say the king is worth the whole game. Now that you know the point-value of all the pieces you will be able to say whether an exchange is good for you or bad for you. Think about this example again:
We said that white can capture the rook but black will capture him back. Should white do it, or not? The rook that you will capture is worth 5 points, and the bishop you will lose is only worth 3 points. Now you can see why this would indeed be a good exchange for white – he gets 5 points and he loses only 3 which means he wins 2 points in the process. If you win more points than you lose, then that would be a good exchange but if you lose more points than you gain then that would be a bad exchange. So here is one of the most important things you must try do when you play chess – you must try to win as many points as possible, or in other words, you must try to make as many good exchanges as possible and you must avoid bad exchanges.
Now let’s look at this example again.
The queen can capture the pawn but then you will lose your queen. Now you can see just how bad this exchange would be because you get only one point but you will lose 9 points. That means a total loss of 8 points which will be very bad for you. Of course, you will occasionally make mistakes – all chess players make mistakes – but the trick is that you should try to make as few mistakes as possible, because usually the player who has made fewer mistakes will win the game in the end.
You know now what the difference between a good exchange and a bad exchange is, but quite often an exchange will be equal. When both players get the same amount of points, such an exchange is called an equal exchange or an even exchange.
Here’s an example:
If you capture the bishop and black captures your knight – you get 3 points, but your opponent also gets 3 points – so this would be an equal exchange.
When you can make an equal exchange, you might be unsure whether you should do the exchange, or not. The answer is actually quite simple – it doesn’t actually matter all that much. At least you are not losing any points and so you are free to decide whether you want to do it, or not.
Next, I’ll show you a few examples of how you can use your knowledge of the point-values of the pieces to decide whether an exchange is good, bad or equal.
Here’s the first example. It’s white’s turn.
You can capture black’s rook, or you could capture the queen. If you capture the queen you get 9 points and if you capture the rook, you get only 5 points. So clearly it would be better to capture the queen since in that case you win more points.
Here’s another example:
It’s white’s turn. You could capture the rook, or you could capture the knight. Which one would you rather capture? Well, you may be thinking – I’d rather capture the rook because then I get more points, but you must also realise that if you capture the rook, black will also capture your bishop. That means you will get 5 points, but you will lose 3 points, so you’re winning 2 points in total. But if you capture the knight, you get the full 3 points. So, in this case you should capture the knight.
Here’s one more example and in this case, it’s black’s turn to move:
Remember that, in the diagram, white’s pawns are moving up towards the 8th rank, and black’s pawns are moving down towards the first rank. Black now moves this pawn one square forward.
If you were white, would you capture the rook, or would you rather capture the pawn? Did you notice it would be much better to capture the pawn because if you capture the rook, then black’s pawn could promote on the next move and become a queen – and the queen would be worth 9 points! The reason why I am showing you this example is to illustrate that even though it’s very important to think of the point-value of the pieces, there are sometimes exceptions, and you should apply your common sense to help you identify those exceptions.
You know now how you can use the point-values of the pieces to help you decide whether you should make certain exchanges, or not. But now I want to show you another reason why it’s good to know the point-value of the pieces. And that is – you can use the point-values to determine which player is leading.
Let me show you what I mean. Take a look at this position:
Imagine you are playing with the white pieces and your opponent has the black pieces. And now I ask you – who has the better chance to win here? In other words, who is leading at the moment? Well, you quite simply count the points to see which side is leading. Let’s count white’s points first. Remember you don’t count the kings because they don’t have a point-value. White has a queen – that is 9 points. The rook is 5 points, the bishop is 3 points, the knight is 3 points, and white has 6 pawns. So, if you add those together you get 26 points. Remember that – white has 26 points. Now we count black’s points. The queen is 9, the rook is 5, the knight is 3 and black also has 6 pawns. If you add those together, you get 23 points. But you will remember white had 26 points. That means white is leading by 3 points.
I showed you how to count the points to see who is in the lead but now let me show you a shortcut that you can use. The trick is – you don’t have to count all the points – if you can simply count the differences then you will also know which side is leading. This is how you do it:
You can easily see that white has a queen and black has a queen – this means there is no need to count the queen because both sides have one. The same goes for the rooks, and also for the knights since both sides have a rook and both sides have a knight. Both sides also have 6 pawns. But now you will notice a difference. White has a bishop, but black doesn’t. You should be able to see that this bishop is in fact the only difference as everything else is the same. This means there is no need to count all the points, you can simply observe that white has an extra bishop, which means he leads by 3 points. So, if you want to see which side is leading, then you can count all the points, but in most cases, it’s easier to just count the differences.
You should now be able to understand why it’s important to know the point-values of the pieces. It’s because knowing their values can help you decide whether an exchange is good or bad and also because it can help you see which side is in the lead. At this point, I also want to tell you that the chess pieces are often referred to as material. So; when you win a point, we can also say you have won material. And the more material you can win during the game, the better are your chances to eventually win the game.
To conclude this lesson, I want to give you important advice. If you want to become a good chess player, it is very important that you not think only about your own moves, but you must also think about what your opponent can do. You shouldn’t only look for opportunities to capture their pieces, but you should also be alert and know where they can capture you. And this is also why it’s important not to be hasty. Take enough time to think about your next move and to also think about what your opponent can do, because if you make your move too quickly, you can easily make a mistake that could cause you to lose material.
We’ve reached the end of this lesson. You now know the point-values of all of the pieces and you know the difference between a good exchange and a bad exchange. You also know how to see who is leading – by counting the points. In the next lesson I will show you how to put your opponent’s king in checkmate!
End of Lesson 2 – How to make good exchanges