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Endgame Fundamentals: When Knights Rule

By Donny Gray

In this article we will look at knights and when they are better. Next month we will take a look at bishops and when they are better.

When someone begins to learn chess, one of the first things you find out is the value of the pieces. Pawns are 1, bishops and knights are 3, rooks are 5, and queens are 9 or 10 depending upon who you ask. But are knights and bishops really equal at 3 points? The quick and easy answer is, of course, it depends upon the position. And this is very true even though it may sound like you are trying to avoid the question. Let’s take a look at this question a bit more with some examples.

First, perhaps, we should take a brief look at the properties of a knight.

The knight move is totally different among chess pieces. The complete move of a knight looks like the letter “L.” Unlike all other chess pieces, the knight can “jump over” all other pieces, either your own or your opponents. Add to the fact that it is the only piece besides a pawn that can move on the first move, and you have a very interesting chess piece.

Unlike the bishop, which is a long range piece, the knight is better suited to being in the middle of the action. Pieces are generally more powerful if placed near the center of the board, but this is particularly true for a knight. The phrases “A knight on the rim is grim” or “A knight on the rim is dim” are often used in chess instruction to reflect this principle.

We can see this in example #1 that the knight on h1 attacks only 2 squares. This is what is meant by “on the rim is dim.” The knight just is not as powerful here. But look at the next example to see how a knight grows in power the closer it gets to the center.

By moving from h1 to e4 the knight now attacks 8 squares! A most powerful knight indeed!

The best a knight can be is when it is supported by a pawn and cannot be attacked by your opponent’s pawn. This is called a knight outpost. A knight outpost on the 4th rank is comparable in power to a long range bishop, and on the 5th rank it is often superior to the bishop. But have a knight outpost on the 6th rank and it can win the game for you! Of course it depends upon the position, but most of the time a strong knight outpost causes major damage.

Let’s take a look now at a knight outpost in a GM game. In the following example the outpost is on the 4th rank but controls the action very well.