As a rule of thumb, the pair of bishops are better than the pair of knights in most situations, they can cover more squares and escort passed pawns easily. However there are closed positions that favor the pair of knights well, plus they are very unpredictable. In most cases the bishops are better.
After researching chess for a bit you might have realized that the bishop is slightly worth more than the knight, however, does this apply to the cases where there are pairs? Is a pair of bishops worth more than a pair of knights?
This is the topic for today.
I think the question becomes a little bit different if we are including pairs, there are actually many situations where the pair of knights work better than a pair of bishops.
You should read this article in order to understand what I’m talking about, it will make you a more complete player. With all of that in mind, let’s get started.
Why is this question important?
The question deals with the value of the knights and bishops, the two minor pieces in the game. In much of a chess game both the knights and the bishops are used separately. Knowing which is one is valuable and in what situation will allow players to be more objective.
If the knight is better in the middlegame then players will maximize the knights in the middlegame. Consequently if the bishops are better in the late game then it will be preserved for the long term. It is part of the game plan.
Shouldn’t the bishop pair automatically be better than the knight pair?
Some people will say that since the bishop is slightly stronger than the knight the bishop pair is clearly better. This is not true, inherently the value of the knight and bishop is around the same.
The only reason why people put the bishop higher is because it is the strongest in the endgame, a phase where the game is decided. The knights can actually excel in certain situations. In other words it is complicated, the position matters too.
Pair of knights are better than a pair of bishops in the middlegame
The most unique characteristic of a knight is its ability to jump over pieces without being blockaded in an isolated square, unlike the bishop.
The pair of bishops could sometimes be non-operational because of the existence of pawns, the knights are not affected by this.
In the middle game there will of course be a lot of pawns that will make the bishops not as active as the knights, in fact in the majority of cases, the pair of knights is better since it has more mobility.
The pair of bishops are usually just lonely pieces that don’t have as much coverage unless they are fianchettoed, and even then they are not doing much since the pawns will cover the center of the board.
The knights on the other hand are much more flexible and can attack and defend at many spots at once without being hindered by the existing pawns/pieces.
The pair of bishops usually does not achieve this feature since many pawns/pieces are getting in the way of their development.
During the middle game the pair of knights usually outshines the pair of bishops since there are still many pieces on the board and the knights can jump over squares, the bishops cannot do this. The pair of knights are also much more unpredictable and can fork out of the blue.
A skewer (the bishop’s version of a fork) is much more observable, a decent rated player will likely spot a skewer as the position unravels.
The fork is much more unpredictable, this is because the knight is an unpredictable piece itself which is another advantage in the middlegame.
Pair of knights are better than a pair of bishops in closed positions
You might think that the strength of the knight pair ends in the middlegame since the bishop is naturally strong at the endgame, and this is where you will be wrong.
In some situations the knight pair is actually better than the bishop pair (though I admit this is much more uncommon).
In endgames where the pawn structure is closed it might be better to have a pair of knights, this is because they can attack the weak pawns more easily. A bishop pair has to go behind the enemy pieces in order to attack the weak pawns (which is not ideal).
Especially if the knight pair can find an outpost where they could not be challenged by a pawn, they will be monstrous on the board. The thing with bishops is they still need to go around the position to attack the weak pawns which the rooks/the king can prevent.
The knights can attack the weak pawns in multiple angles without having to maneuver itself deeper in the position, this is very useful in closed structured endgames. Though the bishop of course dominates open positional endgames, the knights are the masters of closed space.
A pair of knights are also a tricky combination, I can tell you that a fork out of nowhere has made a comeback many times in my own games. This is especially true if the time control is more on the faster side (blitz/bullet).
Pair of bishops are better than pair of knights in the endgame
Now I have talked about closed positions and how the pair of knights are better on them, however in the majority of cases, the endgames would actually be open. In these instances the pair of bishops are way better since they cover more squares than the knights.
The only thing that is limiting the pair of bishops’ potential are the closed spaces where many pawns/pieces are getting in the way, if all things are fair the pair of bishops are just monstruos.
There are even occasions where a well-placed pair of bishops are able to compete with a queen (Fischer vs. Larsen) which is why some people call it “bishop pair from hell”. With such an awesome nickname you would know that it is that powerful in some situations.
If you think about it the bishop is almost as good as the rooks since they cover straight lines, the only reason why the rooks are better is because they could escort passed pawns more easily.
However there are some situations where the pair of bishops would be way stronger than a single rook.
In short the bishop is generally better in the endgame because they thrive in open positions (which endgames usually are), they have more control by having a better range.
A bishop at the center of the board for example can control much more squares than a knight. As long as the position is not closed the pair of bishops would dominate, it is also generally easier to play than a pair of knights (even if the knights are tricky!).
Pair of bishops are better than pair of knights in escorting passed pawns
One of the most important aspects of the endgame is how well the pieces can escort the passed pawns, a promotion after all is one of the most useful things a player can achieve in the endgame.
A good queen promotion is usually a finished game if the opposite side cannot promote themselves.
In this aspect the answer will be the same, the knight pair is better in escorting passed pawns in positions where the structure is much more closed. The pair of bishops on the other hand will be better in escorting passed pawns when the position is more open.
The bishop pair is much better in escorting the passed pawns in open positions, this is because they can much more easily cover targeted squares. A pair of knights will have a harder time targeting key squares since their movements are a mess.
A bishop cover ranges from one end of the board to the other and can even shift cover by just a single move, a knight on the other hand will scramble its way to a square that is even near itself.
The only exception is of course in closed positions since the knights are much more likely to reach the passed pawns while also presenting some tactical opportunities.
So the question is how many endgames are open and how many are closed? This will help us determine which pair of pieces are more worthy to go with. I would say that open positions are slightly more common, although closed endgames occur as well.
The very short answer to this is there is no objective reason why one of the pairs will be better than the other, it really just depends on the position and the game you are playing.
If the theme of your game is much more closed then the pair of knights would do better, if it were more open than the pair of the bishops will have the advantage. If you like a tricky game then the pair of knights is better, if you want an easy game then the pair of bishops will do the work.
You have to analyze the position in order to come to an answer, there is no one-fits-all solution to this. I hope you have learned something, thank you for reading.