Any chess player, whether amateur or master, must know when to offer or accept a trade of pieces or to decline a trade. Without an understanding of the relative worth of chess pieces, one can find their games quickly lost. Throughout this article, we will examine the advantages and disadvantages of each piece on the board, and their value in different positions.
As a general rule, most players give each piece values relative to the worth of pawns. For example, the queen is worth 9 pawns, each rook is worth 5 pawns, each bishop and knight is worth 3 pawns, and each pawn is, of course, worth 1 pawn. In addition, many players believe that bishops are worth more than knights, and an old Russian teaching is to “trade a knight for a bishop whenever you can.” However, these statements should only be taken with a grain of salt, as we will soon see.
The king is the most important piece on the board. While its movement is limited to only squares diagonally and adjacent to it, without the king the game is lost. One should never be greedy about other pieces when their king is at stake. If your king is captured with no escape, you have been checkmated, and your game is lost. Because of this, the king cannot be given a numerical value in relation to the other pieces as it can never be traded and its worth is theoretically infinity.
The queen, one of the two major pieces, is undoubtedly the most powerful piece on the board. It has the power of a rook and bishop combined, being able to move along ranks (horizontally), files (vertically), and diagonally. Due to this ability, the queen, by far, has the highest worth of all non-king pieces. Nine points can be used as a general measure.
The rook, the other major piece, is typically regarded as the second-most-powerful piece. It is able to move along both ranks and files, taking control of a maximum of 15 squares at a time. Rooks can easily checkmate a lone king, and can also serve as a “prison” to prevent a king from escaping from an enclosed area. In addition, if two rooks are paired with each other in the endgame, they can provide mutual support for each other, and their values become much more than that of a lone queen. Due to a rook’s abilities, it is generally given a worth of five pawns.
The bishop, one of the two minor pieces, is able to move along diagonals of its own color. Each player has two bishops, one that travels on light-colored squares and one that travels on dark-colored squares. Because of the bishop’s long-range capabilities, it is much more valuable than a knight in an endgame. As I mentioned before, an old Russian saying is to “trade a knight for a bishop whenever you can.” However, this is not always true.
The knight, the other minor piece, is able to move in an L-shape, hopping over the pieces it passes over – 2 squares in any direction, and another square in a perpendicular direction. Because of its sneaky way of movement that even the queen doesn’t have, the knight can prove to be an extremely valuable piece in closed and heavily blockaded games with huge pawn structures.
The Bishop Vs. The Knight
The value of a bishop compared to a knight is always changing based on the position. When assessing whether you should trade a bishop for a knight, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is your bishop serving an active purpose? If not, how can you move it into a more active and powerful post? If the position is more open, and there are less pieces blocking the movement of your bishop, it can prove to be a much more valuable piece than a knight, especially when paired with a bishop of the opposite color.
2. Is your opponent’s and your own pawn structure blocking the path of your bishop? In other words, are pawns limiting the places your bishop can go? Is the position closed or open? If the position is heavily blockaded by pawns, your bishop’s power is limited as it cannot reach many places and has limited influence over other squares. If this is the case, a knight is sometimes much more valuable since it can find its way into powerful spots that no other piece may be able to reach safely because of its ability to leap over pieces that block te movement of others.
3. Does your knight have support points and is it playing an active role? In other words, is your knight infiltrating your opponent’s territory and putting considerable pressure? Also, can your opponent easily force your knight to retreat into a less preferable spot simply by pushing a pawn up or moving another piece to attack your knight? If your knight is in a less favorable position, such as on the edges of the board, it may be worth trading off for a bishop.
The pawn, the piece worth the least, has its advantages. With a group of pawns, you can form a pawn chain, with pawns mutually guarding each other from capture, limiting your enemy’s movement, and taking control of the board. Pawn rushes forward into your enemy’s territory can cause major devastation especially when pushing pawns towards your opponent’s castled king. In the endgame, when most of the other major pieces are traded off, it’s your pawns’ turn to shine. In the endgame, your pawns could be worth even more than a rook due to their ability to be promoted into any other piece excluding a king. With a king or rook’s support, a pawn can be promoted into a queen in the endgame, which is how most games are won.
Again, here are the values of each piece, but remember to take these values only with a grain of salt!
Queen = 9
Rook = 5
Bishop = 3
Knight = 3
Pawn = 1
And again, be sure to forget the nonsense about bishops being worth more than knights.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy your new knowledge of the game of chess! Good luck!