Bishop vs Knight Endings

Bishop v Knight endgames are where one player has a Bishop and the other player has a Knight, and they both have pawns (and a King). This is a very simplified endgame that is a mainstay of endgame textbooks. In theory, the Bishop is worth 3 pawns, and the Knight is worth 3 pawns, so the material balance depends on who has an extra pawn.

Similar Endgame Types

Firstly, this “B v N ending” must be distinguished from other similar endgames:

Bishop vs Knight Endgame Strategies

The Bishop and Knight are very different pieces, but have roughly the same material value. Hence, these types of endgames depend very much on the position. This makes them interesting, and hence that’s why they are always found in textbooks.

Bishop vs Knight endgames don’t actually occur in practice anywhere near as often as they appear in theory books. Rook endgames or Queen endgames are far more common in real tournament games.

Nevertheless, some of the strategies for this type of endgame include:

  • Material balance: Since the Bishop and Knight are both worth about 3 pawns, the player with the extra pawn has the advantage. In a BvN endgame, a single extra pawn is often enough to win, although there are also many cases where it will still be drawn.
  • Good Knight vs Bad Bishop: The classic endgame position where the Knight will beat a Bishop is where the Knight is “good” but the Bishop is “bad”. A good Knight is a Knight with an outpost that (a) cannot be attacked by pawns, and (b) is on the opposite color square to the Bishop (so the Bishop cannot exchange it). A “bad bishop” means a Bishop that is on the same color as its own pawns, and is restricted in its mobility by being blocked by its own pawns (a truly bad bishop also cannot attack any enemy pawns, which are on the opposite color squares).
  • Open position favors the Bishop: An open position favors the Bishop with it’s long-range powers.
  • Closed position favors the Knight: A closed position with lots of interlocking pawn chains will usually favour the Knight. This is especially true if there are any weak squares that make a good outpost for the Knight.
  • Outside passed pawn favors Bishop: If you have an open position where the Bishop has an outside passed pawn, the Bishop will usually win. The Bishop is great in an open position, and a Knight is quite poor at stopping an outside passed pawn.
  • Knight with outside passed pawn: On the other hand, a Knight with an outside passed pawn will find that the Bishop is good at slowing down the passed pawn (until the King can blockade it), while also attacking pawns on the other wing.
  • What color squares are the pawns on? This matters greatly. If the Bishop can attack any pawns on its own color, it may win them (or at least force the Knight or King to defend them). The same cannot be said of the Knight, which can attack pawns on either color.
  • Swap Bishop and Knight: If the two pieces get swapped, the result is a King-and-pawn endgame. A single extra pawn is even more likely to win in a pawn endgame, so swap pieces if ahead pawns, and avoid piece swaps if down (the usual, general rule for endgame swaps).
  • Swap pawns to draw: As in the general endgame rule, if winning swap pieces, not pawns, and if losing, swap pawns, not pieces. Fewer pawns will make the ending more drawish.
  • Bad Bishop exception: The general rule is to avoid putting pawns on the same color squares as the Bishop, lest it become a “bad bishop” hemmed in by its own pawns. So the player with the Bishop is supposed to put their pawns on opposite color squares. But the exception to this general rule is that the Bishop cannot defend any pawns on the other color squares, whereas the Knight can attack either color squares. So if you avoid a bad bishop by putting all your pawns on opposite color squares, you may find that you end up with weak pawns that the Bishop cannot defend!

These Bishop vs Knight endgames are very theoretical and complex. They are a very advanced part of master chess, although they don’t actually occur that often (except in the textbooks!).