If you have stumbled across theoretical values in chess, you would know that the value of the knight and the bishop would be around the same.
Most people, however, consider the bishop to be slightly more valuable than the knight (+0.5, to be exact).
But if you have read any chess book or watched the games of any strong chess player, you will see that they develop the knights first.
Why is this the case?
If the bishop is much more valuable, why wouldn’t you develop it first?
As someone who has been playing for years, this is easy for me to answer. It all comes back to why the bishop is slightly better than the knight in the first place. I will explain what I mean by this throughout this article.
This will also help you to understand the role of the knight and the bishop in the game overall. With all of that in mind, let’s get started.
Why is this topic important?
The bishop and the knights constitute the majority of opening and middlegame play. You will hear advice that you shouldn’t develop your queen early in the game, this is for a good reason.
Your queen is the strongest, however if you develop it too early, it can be threatened with capture from less valuable pieces.
Since the queen is valuable, you do not want to over push its position since it might become trapped.
If your queen is captured then you will most likely lose the game. This is the same with the rooks, they are not exactly known as good pieces in the opening and the middlegame.
The rooks are very strong in the endgame, but they usually don’t become active until there are few pieces left on the board.
This means that the opening and the middlegame, two of the three phases in chess, is mostly a showdown between the knights and the bishops (with pawns on the site).
Learning which to develop first will allow you to maximize their role in the opening and the middlegame. You will learn how to unlock their full potential.
Why do strong chess players develop the knights first?
If you look at the games played between strong chess players, you will notice that they develop the knight before the bishop. This is for a good reason, the knight is stronger in cramped positions.
During the opening and the middlegame, there are so many pieces and pawns that the position can get messy. In these kinds of positions, the knight excels.
Not only can the knight move in many squares that are not easily accessible, but they can also jump over other pieces.
This fact alone means that they can become mobile even when the position is absolutely closed. They are the only piece that can infiltrate a closed pawn structure.
This makes them a logical piece to develop first. They are just stronger when there are many pieces left on the board, why not develop them quickly? Also another factor is the value of the bishop and the knight.
The bishop is treated as a slightly more valuable piece since it is better in the endgame (open positions). This means that the bishops are usually reserved until the endgame comes.
You do not want to take them out too early since they might get exchanged before the endgame, usually it is ideal to make the knights do the work.
Bishops should only be exchanged in the opening/middlegame if it benefits the position. This is the reason why strong chess players develop the knights over the bishops.
Can you have a good opening position even if you developed the bishops first?
Yes, you can get a good position even if you develop the bishop first. I am not saying that you will have a losing position if you develop the bishops before the knights, I am just saying that it is inefficient.
Since the knights are stronger in more messy positions (which the opening and middle game have a lot of), then you should let them shine in such cases.
In the endgame, the knights aren’t so bad, but the bishops are definitely slightly better.
The question is, why would you preserve the knights until the endgame when they aren’t as valuable?
Would it be better to develop them in the opening/middlegame where the position is likely playing to the knight’s strengths?
There are many games played between strong players where the position is fine even when the bishops are developed first.
But for beginners it might be better to follow the simple rule of developing the knights over the bishops.
What are the cases when it is better to develop the bishop first?
Yes, there are cases where it is better to develop the bishop first. This is mostly in open positions where the bishops can unleash their full potential.
Yes, open positions are more abundant in the endgame than in the opening/middlegame, but this is not always the case.
There are some openings/middlegames where the position is so open that the rooks can actually become effective. If the rooks can become effective, the bishops can of course be as effective if not even more.
In these instances, it might be better to develop the bishops in better squares before the knights. Since the bishop flourish in open positions, you should let them shine when such an opportunity arises.
Although this will not be the case most of the time, there will be a game here and there where this is applicable.
In these cases the knights might not be as developed, but you will prioritize the bishops anyway.
Since the positions are open, the knights wouldn’t have as much value, so it might be better to develop the bishops first in these cases.
Other than this I cannot think of any other case where you have to develop the bishop first. This might be the only exception.
Should you still develop the knights first most of the time?
Yes, in most cases the knights would still be developed first. If you take all of the opening and middlegame positions out there, most often than not, the positions are cramp and messy.
This is not surprising since there are so many pieces early in the game, things tend to become complicated. The knights love these kinds of positions since they can jump over pieces.
They don’t have to be limited by how many pieces or pawns that are in front of them, they can just skip over them.
Most games will feature an opportunity to improve the position of the knight first, since they can jump over pieces they have more chances to be developed.
The bishops on the other hand are usually blockaded by your own pawns or by the enemy pawns, this limits their mobility.
The knights can get around this and still move a lot. In most opening books you will find that the knights are developed first.
This is just the norm since in the majority of the cases, the knights outshine the bishops early in the game.
Why do some chess players rarely develop their bishop?
You might have noticed that even if the position in the middlegame is open, some strong chess players still develop their knights over their bishops.
Eventhough in the short term, it is better to develop the bishop, some strong chess players still choose to develop the knight. This is because long-term play most likely beats short-term play.
Eventhough the bishop is stronger in open middlegame positions, it is not worth putting it in play and perhaps risk losing it.
In the endgame, it is considered to be more valuable than the knight, and the endgame is probably the most important phase in chess.
You can make all of the opening and middlegame mistakes all you want, but if you play great in the endgame, you might actually win.
This is why the bishops are always reserved, since the bishop is more valuable than the knight, you want to keep it safe early.
Having the “bishop pair” in the endgame gives a lot of value. So even in positions where it is better to develop the bishop first, it is still fine to choose the knight over the bishop.
It is better to develop the knights over the bishops. The knight is more mobile in the opening and middlegame phase.
Since they can move on squares that are not normally accessible, they are better suited in dealing with cramped and closed positions where the bishops will be normally blocked.
This is because they can jump over pieces, no matter how many pieces or pawns are in front of them, they can still do their own thing.
They lose some value once the endgame comes (open positions), so it makes sense to make use of them when they are still valuable. Also you want to reserve the bishops for the endgame where it can unleash its full potential.
This means that you won’t exchange the bishop in the opening/middlegame unless it is necessary.
A lot of strong chess players prefer keeping their bishop early in the game, which is why they develop the knights first.
In short, these are the reasons, the timing of strength between the knight and bishop should be taken into consideration when deciding which to develop first.
That is all for this article, thank you for reading.