Opposite Bishop Endings Often Won

There is a myth that opposite bishop endings are always drawn. Intermediate players will often assume that once they reach an opposite color bishop endgame, it’s an automatic draw. Untrue! You still have to defend vigorously and actively to hold the draw. Some of the exceptions where an opposite color bishop ending can be won include:

  • Attacking King invades the defender’s pawns (active, centralized king)
  • Defender’s King is too far away
  • Two connected passed pawns (especially if they’ve reached the 6th)
  • Two far-separated passed pawns (difficult for a bishop to defend against 2 passed pawns if they are separated on opposite sides of the board).
  • Attacking King can support a passed pawn to Queen (forcing the Bishop to give itself up)

Active King Wins

An active King can win an opposite bishop ending easily. The draw can only be held if the King can be stopped from either (a) supporting the passed pawn to Queen (winning the Bishop by forcing it to take the pawn), or (b) taking more of the pawns by advancing into the area with lots of pawns.

Two Pawns Often Win

Two extra pawns will usually win. An opposite bishop ending can often be won if the player has two extra pawns. There are certainly endings where two pawns up is still a draw, but again it is usually necessary to defend actively in these situations. There are two main types:

  • Two connected passed pawns
  • Two separated passed pawns

Two Connected Passed Pawns

Two connected passed pawns will often win. If they are far advanced (e.g. on the 6th) they will almost certainly win. Less advanced connected passed pawns will still often win, although against inferior player (quite likely except in grandmaster chess). If one player has two passed pawns together, they can often steamroll down to make a Queen, even if not fully supported by the King. The defending King really needs to come over to stop the double-pawn steamroller, and the attacking King will often come over to help support the pawns. The defender will often be forced to give up the Bishop for the 2 pawns. Two passed pawns can often win an opposite-bishop ending, even if material is equal, such as if the other player has doubled pawns, or their extra pawns on the other side are held up by a minority of pawns.

Two Separated Passed Pawns

Two separated passed pawns can also often win in an opposite bishop endings. Passed pawns on both sides of the board can be hard to control. The defensive idea is for the Bishop to block one pawn and the King to block the other passed pawn. But this is easier said than done, especially if the attacker’s King comes up to support one of the passed pawns. The attacker should try to send their King toward the pawn blocked by the defensive Bishop, as obviously the King cannot dislodge the defender’s King if it’s blocking a pawn. Note that there’s no “opposition” because there are usually spare Bishop moves that the defender can make.

The idea that opposite bishop endings are drawish is a rule for intermediate level players. Advanced players and masters know that there are lots of exceptions.

Related Chess Tactics

Read more about these related chess strategies: