Bad Bishop

In endgames, a bishop is often called a “good bishop” or a “bad bishop” A bad bishop is the name used for a Bishop that has lots of its own pawns on its own color squares. The opposite is a “good bishop” which is on opposite color squares to its pawns. Typically, a bad bishop will be limited to passive defence of its own pawns (on its color) and also restricted with limited mobility due to being blocked by its own pawns. And the enemy pawns are usually on the opposite color, as in blocked pawn chains, so a bad bishop often cannot attack many enemy pawns.

Good Bishop vs Bad Bishop Endings: In Bishop endings that are Same Color Bishop Endings, one bishop is likely to be good, and the other to be bad. The advantage of the good bishop is very strong, and such endings can usually be won fairly easily, although it may take many moves and its quite painstaking to do so.

Good Knight vs Bad Bishop Endings: These types of Knight-vs-Bishop endgames are usually won for the Knight. With the bishop on the same squares as its pawns, all of the squares of the opposite color are weak. For example, a light square bishop will the pawns on the light squares, then the dark squares are weak, and the enemy Knight and King can often invade on the dark squares. The bad bishop cannot attack any of the pawns on the dark squares, whereas the Knight can attack the pawns on the light squares. This too is usually a long win, but a fairly logical and progressive way to win.

Exceptions: The rule of the “bad bishop” is not always set in concrete. There are certainly positions where it is good to have a so-called “bad” bishop on the same color as its own pawns. There’s at least three exceptions:

  • Bad bishops can defend their own pawns. Sometimes it is an advantage to have a minor piece that can defend the base of a pawn chain. This isn’t likely in a “Same Color Bishop Ending” or a “Good Knight vs Bad Bishop” ending, in both of which it’s likely to be a major disadvantage. But if the ending has other major pieces, such as rooks or queens, then the bad bishop as a defender can sometimes be helpful. For example, if your “bad” bishop can defend the pawn chain against enemy rooks, that can be an advantage in a Rook ending or Double Rook ending.
  • Pawns can support the Bishop. A “bad bishop” might become a dominant bishop if it is supported in an outpost in the center of the board. And the most extreme example is a pawn on the 7th supporting a bishop on the 8th rank.
  • Opposite color bishops. A bad bishop is probably not that bad against an enemy bishop of opposite color. In fact, the enemy’s bishop is likely to be bad too, so it’s a “bad bishop vs bad bishop” ending (opposite bishop endings are drawish).

Related Chess Tactics

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